In 2017, there were about 420,000 diagnoses of STIs in England, according to Public Health England. And in young people between 15 and 24, a case of gonorrhoea or chlamydia was diagnosed every four minutes. Cases of certain STIs are on the rise across the country — which means if you're having sex and you're not already getting tested regularly, it's time to add a trip to the sexual health clinic to your calendar. But how often should you get an STI test? Here's everything you need to know to start making your sexual health a priority.
Let's start with the basics: it might sound obvious, but it's crucial to get tested for STIs after you've had unprotected sex, even if you don't have any obvious symptoms. As the NHS notes, many STIs don't result in noticeable symptoms, including gonorrhoea and chlamydia — both of which can affect fertility. Waiting for a physical indication of an STI, therefore, might prevent you from receiving necessary treatment.
The NHS does list some common STI symptoms worth looking out for, including pain when you urinate; spots or blisters around the vagina, penis, or anus; and a burning, itching, or tingling sensation around the genitals. Those with vaginas might experience discoloured or strong-smelling discharge, pain during sex, pain in the lower abdominal area, or bleeding between periods or after sex, while those with penises might experience discharge or irritation of the urethra. Presenting any of the above symptoms? Get yourself to a sexual health clinic.
Sexual Health Scotland points out that you should also get tested if a condom burst during sex, or any spillage occurred. If you're in a relationship and want to stop using condoms (or if you're trying to conceive), both of you should get tested before you make the switch. And if a former sexual partner lets you know they've tested positive for an STI, be sure to get checked out yourself.
And then there's the matter of the routine check-up. According to Metro, if you're having sex, it's worth scheduling an annual STD test — just consider it a yearly, slightly less fun holiday, like Christmas or your birthday. Self recommends getting tested after you have sex with a new partner, and if you have multiple partners, you should switch that annual STI test to a twice-yearly one.
Not sure where to go to get tested? The NHS recommends going to a sexual health or genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinic, many of which offer drop-in services if you're unable to schedule an appointment. Use their online tool to find an appropriate clinic near you. Your GP might offer STI testing and treatment, as may your local community contraception clinic, while some pharmacies also offer STI testing.
So there you have it: all you need to know about when and where you should get an STI test (although you should talk to an actual qualified doctor if you have any concerns). Why delay, readers? Go forth and get tested!