Getting tested and treated for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) is straightforward and confidential. Most infections can be cured.
A sexual health or genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinic specialises in sexual health and gives tests and treatment for many STIs.
Visiting an STI clinic
You can make an appointment to go there or sometimes there's a drop-in clinic (which means you can just turn up). You might feel embarrassed, but there's no need - the staff at these clinics are used to testing for all kinds of infections. It's their job and they won't judge you. They should do their best to explain everything to you and make you feel at ease.
You can go to a sexual health clinic whatever age you are, regardless of whether or not you have STI symptoms. If you're under 16, the service is still confidential and the clinic won't tell your parents.
If they suspect that you or another young person are at risk of harm, they might need to tell other healthcare services, but they will talk to you before they do this.
Find sexual health services near you, including sexual health and GUM clinics.
Your name and details
When you go to a sexual health clinic, you'll be asked for your name and some contact details. You don't have to give your real name if you don't want to. If you do, it will be kept confidential. Your GP won't be told of your visit without your permission.
If you have tests and the results aren't available during your visit, the clinic will need to contact you later, so give them the correct contact details. They will check how you want to receive your results. They can usually be given to you over the phone, in a text or in an unmarked letter.
Answering some questions
You will see a doctor or a nurse and they'll ask you about your medical and sexual history. Be prepared to answer questions about your sex life, including:
- when you last had sex
- whether you have had unprotected sex
- whether you have any symptoms
- why you think you might have an infection
You can ask to see a female doctor or nurse if you prefer, but you might have to wait longer than usual for one to become available.
Having STI tests
The doctor or nurse will tell you what tests they think you need. They should explain to you what is going on and why they are suggesting these tests. If you're not sure about anything, ask them to explain.
The tests might involve:
- a urine (pee) sample
- a blood sample
- swabs from the vagina, which you can usually do yourself
- an examination of your genitals
Testing for chlamydia and gonorrhoea usually requires only a urine sample. Testing for HIV and syphilis needs a blood sample.
Tests for herpes aren't usually done unless you have sores on your genitals or anus. In this case, a swab will be taken from a sore. This will be uncomfortable for a moment.
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Getting your test results
With some tests, you can get the results (and treatment, if you need it) on the same day. For others, you might have to wait for a week or two. If this is the case, the clinic will check how you would prefer to receive your results.
If you test positive for an STI, you will be asked to go back to the clinic to talk about your results and your treatment. Many STIs can be cured with antibiotics. Some infections, such as HIV, have no cure, but there are treatments available. The clinic can advise you on these and can put you in touch with a counsellor.
If possible, tell your sexual partner and any ex-partners so that they can get tested and treated as well. If you don't want to do this, the clinic can usually do it for you (it's called partner notification and the clinic won't reveal who you are).
Using condoms to protect against STIs
The best way to protect yourself from getting or passing on an infection is to use a condom every time you have sex. The clinic can give you some condoms so you can practice safer sex.
Always buy condoms that have the CE mark on the packet. This means that they've been tested to high European safety standards. Condoms that don't have the CE mark won't meet these standards, so don't use them. Get tips on using condoms properly.
Bear in mind that having an STI in the past doesn't make you immune to it - you can get the same infection again.
Other places to go for help with sexual health issues
Sexual health and GUM clinics have the greatest expertise in tests and treatments for STIs, but you can also go to:
- your GP
- a young people's sexual health service (call the Sexual Health Line on 0300 123 7123)
- a community contraception clinic
- a pharmacy
They may be able to offer tests for some infections and advise you on where to go for further help.
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