Your Doctor vs. the Free Clinic for STD Testing

It can be frightening to think that you might have a sexually transmitted disease (STD). But finding STD treatment shouldn't be scary. Even if you don't feel comfortable talking about sex with your primary care doctor, you can always visit an STD free clinic. Sometimes, that can even help you avoid worry.

Woman waiting at STD clinic
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Factors to Consider

Whether you choose to go to your doctor or an STD free clinic could depend on a number of factors including:

  • If you have a regular physician
  • Whether your insurance covers STD testing
  • Whether you are comfortable talking to your doctor about sex
  • If your doctor is comfortable dealing with sexual issues
  • The lab options your physician has available for STD testing

Pros and Cons of Seeing Your Doctor

As much as you may dread speaking to your regular doctor about any sexual, there are some advantages to doing so. These include:

  • Convenience
  • Working with a physician who is familiar with you
  • Less fear of being stigmatized for visiting an STD clinic
  • Easy access to your medical records, as well as a better understanding of your general health, medication use, and potential risk factors

On the other hand, with your doctor, insurance is a big factor. Depending on how comprehensive your insurance coverage is, visiting your doctor for STD treatment and testing can be quite expensive.

You might have a co-pay. You might also have to pay for preventative screening. Not all insurance companies will pay for it if you don't have symptoms. Your doctor might also not have access to some of the more convenient urine tests for certain STDs or may not realize they are available.

Pros and Cons of an STD Free Clinic

The main advantage of seeing an STD free clinic is simple—STDs are all they do. The benefits include:

  • Affordability
  • Access to a wider range of STD test options unavailable in some private medical practices
  • Providers who are up to date on current STD treatment regimens
  • A greater likelihood of rapid testing options, allowing you a single visit instead of two
  • Doctors who are skilled in dealing with sexual issues

This last issue is particularly important. Although no doctor should ever discriminate because you have an STD, it does sometimes happen. Doctors can be just as ignorant about STDs as laypeople. They have been known to make it quite difficult for people to receive proper care after receiving a highly stigmatized diagnosis, such as for HIV or anal STDs.

It doesn't happen often, and it is usually illegal. By contrast, this sort of discrimination is less likely to occur in an STD free clinic that specializes solely in sexual health care.

The main disadvantage of visiting an STD free clinic is inconvenience. STD free clinics don't always keep the most convenient hours. They may also have very long waits.

Before simply dropping in, you should always check with your local STD free clinic. That way, you can see if it is possible to make an appointment. You can also check what, if any, information you need to bring with you. It's also important to check their hours. STD free clinics often only see patients on a limited schedule.

STD Screening Guidelines

The decision on who you see is a highly personal one, and there are no right or wrong answers. The decision depends in large part on whether you are worried about a possible recent exposure or simply want to include STD screening as a part of your preventive health care.

If it is the latter, it is best to know what your options are rather than asking the provider to "test me for everything." In 2016, the U.S. Preventive Service Task Force issued new guidance for STD screening, outlining which tests are most appropriate for different groups.

USPTF STD Screening Recommendations

The USPTF screening recommendations include:

  • Chlamydia and gonorrhea for sexually active females 24 and younger, or older women at increased risk
  • HIV for adolescents and adults 15 to 65, or anyone older or younger at increased risk
  • Syphilis, hepatitis B, and HIV for all people who are pregnant
  • Syphilis, HIV, and hepatitis B for people at increased risk

A Word From Verywell

Whether you're looking for preventative STD screening or testing and treatment for a presumed infection, both your local STD free clinic and your regular doctor can be great options. The choice is up to you. The most important thing is that you get good care.

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  1. Lee KC, Ngo-metzger Q, Wolff T, Chowdhury J, Lefevre ML, Meyers DS. Sexually transmitted infections: Recommendations from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Am Fam Physician. 2016;94(11):907-915.