Especially when people haven’t gotten an STI test before, it’s normal to be a bit worried that it will hurt. Most tests today are minor, and not much different from how doctors might test for a cold. Typically, an STI test is just peeing in a cup and maybe giving blood. More rarely, doctors might swab a sore, or the throat, anus, vagina, or penis.
While a lot of people worry that doctors will need to put a swab inside the penis or vagina, these tests are done very rarely today. Most stories about these are from before better tests were invented. If you’re worried you’ll get as swab test, you can always call the doctor or clinic ahead of time and ask if they do swab tests. If the answer is yes, you can still ask when they might do them.
*STIs, or sexually transmitted infections, are also sometimes called STDs.
Where can I get an STI test? How long does it take?
You can get tested for STIs at a CLSC, a doctor’s office, or a health clinic like Head and Hands. A visit can take between 15 to 45 minutes, depending on the clinic and what tests you need.
What kind of questions will they ask?
Before the test, the doctor will ask you a few questions. These are to find out what STIs they should test for. Then they will decide where to test. So, if you’ve had oral sex, they might want to test your throat.
It helps if you are as honest as you can. This way you will make sure they test for everything you’re at risk for, and you’ll get any treatment you might need. There is no need to feel embarrassed, doctors have heard it all and are trained not to judge. If you’re not sure about a question they ask, you can always ask for explanations!
Each STI test is performed on a different sample of bodily fluid or tissue, like urine, blood, or a sore. This means that there is no one test that can cover all STIs.
What tests are usually done?
Doctors do an STI test by collecting body fluids, taking swabs, or doing both. These are then sent to the lab.
They test for chlamydia and gonorrhea with a urine sample. This means you have to pee into a small cup. These tests work best when you haven’t peed for 2 hours before giving the urine sample, so try to hold it in. If you do, you’ll also be ready to go when they give you a cup, so you won’t don’t have to wait around until you have to pee. They can do this 2–3 weeks after an STI could have gotten in your body, and it’s the same for swab tests.
Doctors test for HIV, syphilis and hepatitis with a blood sample. You can only detect these infections 1 – 3 months after an STI could have gotten in your body.
The most reliable STI test for herpes is to test a sample of an active sore (the red blister that can show up on your lips or privates). So doctors would just swab a sore with a q-tip. If an outbreak clears up, doctors will do a blood test. But most often, they’d also ask you to come back in if a sore shows up to get the more accurate swab test.
Doctors sometimes do swab tests when they don’t have more up-to-date methods, to confirm a positive result, or to test areas that a urine or blood test can’t, like the throat or anus
For people with vaginas, doctors insert a cotton swab or Q-tip into the vaginal canal. They softly rotate it to get the sample This can be a bit uncomfortable, but it usually doesn’t hurt and it only lasts a few seconds.
For people with penises, doctors insert a very small cotton swab or Q-tip into the tip of the penis. It can be uncomfortable for a moment, but it’s over quickly. Most people say it isn’t too painful. This test is most accurate if you have not peed for 2 hours beforehand.
When should I get tested?
Different STIs can only be show up on a test after different lengths of time. Because of this, it’s recommended to get tested after 3 weeks, and then have another test 3 months later. This is because some STI tests, like the one for HIV, are much better at finding an STI after a few months.
What does testing cost?
If you have RAMQ, testing is always free at a CLSC. If you are from out-of-province you can check with the policy of your home province and they may be able to reimburse you. Private insurance can also reimburse you if you’re covered.
You can call a nurse at Info-Sante (811) to find the nearest clinic that does testing. There are also many clinics such as Head and Hands where testing is available for free.
Will my parents know if I get an STI test?
If you’re over 14 your parents will not be told if you get an STI test. But, if you’re using their private insurance, it might show up on their bill.
If they have private insurance, it might be better to go to somewhere like Head and Hands, where testing is free and anonymous. They won’t even take your name, so there is no way for your parents to find out!
Why is getting tested important?
Most of the time, STIs don’t show any symptoms when you have them. So, if you’re having sex, it’s a good idea to get tested every 4-5 months. This way, you can know if you have anything, get treated early, and help protect your partner(s). Getting treated early also lowers your risk for some potentially dangerous effects STIs can have.
Herpes Factsheet – Scarleteen
Scarleteen’s page on Herpes and Genital Herpes. Includes info on transmission, testing, treatment, etc.
Testing, Testing – Scarleteen
A detailed look at the methods used for testing different STIs and BBIs.
Scarleteen’s The STI Files: Herpes
General information on Herpes (e.g. transmission, symptoms, treatment etc…).
How Long Should I Wait for STI Testing?
A look at the different types of STI testing, how they work and the importance of talking about it with your sexual partner.
STI Testing Windows – When to get tested for STIs
Check out this website to find out more about window periods and when you can get tested for STIs.