A Guide to Regular STD Screenings

If you could have been exposed to an STD, you need to tell your doctor. STD testing is not a routine part of a yearly check-up. And since the test for each type of STD is different (for example, some are blood tests, others use genital discharge samples), you need to tell your doctor what you could have been exposed to. If you may have had exposures to STDs but you don't know which ones, then your doctor would consider testing you for several diseases.

Doctor talking to her patient about her STD test
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What STD Tests Do You Need?

There is no single STD test that can test for all STDs—let alone give you a full and accurate picture of your sexual health. Sexually active individuals should be regularly screened for chlamydiagonorrhea, herpes, and HPV. and females should have a Pap smear, which can detect early signs of cervical cancer. The CDC also recommends universal HIV testing.

Depending on your individual risk factors, there might also be other STD screening recommendations that apply to you.

Without appropriate testing, people may not realize they have an STD for years. That can make it very easy for asymptomatic diseases to get worse and to spread to other people. That's something that can have serious consequences, such as an increased risk of infertility. 

Barriers to Regular STD Testing

The shame and stigma associated with STDs can make it difficult for some people to ask their doctors for testing. It is important that you don't hesitate to talk about all issues that affect your health—including those that might be associated with a stigma.

You might consider visiting a clinic like Planned Parenthood if you think it is easier to explain your situation there than to ask your regular physician for tests.

Often, if a person does not know they are at risk (for example, if their partner was exposed without telling them), there are no red flags in their medical history that point to the need for testing. Health insurance payers may not approve random tests without a clinical indication—such as symptoms or an exposure.

Common Misconceptions About STD Screening

Don't feel silly if you have heard some of the incorrect assumptions about STD tests. Here are the facts about different kinds of testing for STDs:

  • Some people may incorrectly assume that their annual exam included comprehensive STD testing or that there's an "STD panel" that includes every possible disease—both of these are not true.
  • Many women assume that the Pap smear they get during their annual exam is also an STD test. Although it may include an HPV test. it does not test for other STDs.
  • Despite the name, a venereal disease research laboratory (VDRL) test is only a test for syphilis. It doesn't test for any other STDs.
  • An HIV test only detects HIV and does not include other STD tests. 
  • If you are treated for one STD, don't assume you'll be STD-free after a course of antibiotics. Without additional tests, other STDs can remain undetected.

Take Charge of Your Sexual Health

If you think you have been tested, but don't know what you've been tested for, there's a good chance that you weren't tested at all. Similarly, "I got tested for everything" is never what you want to hear when your partner is talking about STD testing. In general, when someone says that, it means that they don't know what STDs they have been tested for.

If you have been tested for STDs and received a positive or negative result from your doctor, it's important for you to ask exactly what you were tested for. It may turn out you were only tested for one disease, such as HIV or chlamydia. In short, if you want to know whether you are free of STDs, you should ask for the tests you want.

A Word From Verywell

If you are sexually active, you need to protect your health by overcoming any discomfort and asking about regular STD screening. Learn which tests are recommended for your age, gender, and lifestyle. You can check your medical paperwork or electronic medical record to see what you have and have not been tested for. Then it might be time to either ask your doctor for the tests you need or to explain test results.

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  1. Rizza SA, Macgowan RJ, Purcell DW, Branson BM, Temesgen Z. HIV screening in the health care setting: status, barriers, and potential solutions. Mayo Clin Proc. 2012;87(9):915-24. doi: 10.1016/j.mayocp.2012.06.021

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