We all know getting tested is important if you’re sexually active. But it can be a hassle, and bring up lots of fear and anxiety. Here’s a quick guide to help you prepare and know what to expect, so you can have a better, less stressful experience.

1. It’s best to prep all of your questions in advance.

Whether you’re getting tested for your annual physical or you’re experiencing symptoms, take a few minutes to jot down your questions and concerns, and the reasons you want to bring them up. Here are some questions your doctor might ask you too:

“When is the last time you got tested?”

“Do you practice ‘safer’ sex?”

“Do you have any symptoms, such as any bumps, pain when having sex, or anything else not feeling quite right?

“Have you ever had an STI?”

“Are you pregnant?”

It’s important to be honest. Your doctor is there to help you, and they can do a better job when they have all the information. Remember: They aren’t there to judge—and they’ve truly seen and heard it all.

2. Testing isn’t always free.

You may think all testing is free with insurance, but coverage is messy. The cost of STI testing depends on a lot of factors, like your plan’s coverage, copays, deductible, provider’s in- vs out-of-network fees, and negotiated fee schedule.

If you want to use insurance:

First, look up your plan details, and then call your doctor’s office to see if STI testing is covered in-network. Yes, it’s a pain—and even the doctor’s office may not know how much it’ll cost. But it’s worth it to check.

Since not every test is covered by insurance, you won’t know your exact costs until a few weeks after your test. Make sure you get enough info before so that there aren’t big surprises later.

If you don’t want to use insurance:

If you have light insurance coverage, don’t want the results on your records, or are on your parent’s plan, paying out of pocket may be a better option.

But fair warning, things can get pricey. As a general rule, depending on how many STIs you’re testing for, tests can cost up to $600 for both the doctor’s visit and the lab test. It’s best to call ahead to ask how much an STI test will cost out of pocket and what it includes.

Understandably, a lot of us can’t afford this, but it doesn’t mean you should skip testing altogether. There may be clinics in your area that offer free testing, which you can find through the CDC and Planned Parenthood.

Just know that while free/low-cost clinics are great, wait times can be long, results can take up to two weeks, and, depending on income eligibility, you may still have to pay some amount.

3. There is more than one STI test—Know the Types of STIs

There is no single massive test that covers all the STIs out there; instead, there’s usually a test specific to each STI. And while you may think you want to get tested for everything and anything, many STIs are low risk and not worth stressing over unless you have a specific reason or symptoms. Ultimately, you and your doctor should decide which STIs you should be tested for—another reason why being open and honest about your sexual history is so important.

Certain STIs are so common that your doctor may suggest that you get tested regularly for them. Generally speaking, those are chlamydia, gonorrhea, trichomoniasis, syphilis, and HIV.

How Does STI Testing Work?

While it will depend on which STI you’re being tested for, some of the most common STI tests may include:

  • A urine test 
  • A cheek swab
  • A blood test 
  • A physical exam 
  • Testing your sores 
  • Using a swab to gently take discharge or cell samples from your penis, vagina, urethra, cervix, anus, or throat.

4. Routine testing is just good self-care.

Don’t forget to prepare yourself mentally as well. Even if you test positive, you can still go on to lead a happy, normal life full of great sex. All STIs are treatable, and with the two most common ones (chlamydia and gonorrhea), you can be infection-free in as soon as a week with the right treatment. STI testing is a key part of being sexually healthy, and there’s nothing embarrassing or taboo about it.

Most common STIs don’t usually show symptoms, so you can (and should) get tested routinely. Here’s a guide to help you figure out what “routinely” means for you. This might all sound like a pain—and let’s be honest, it kind of is—but it’s important. Viewing testing as a form of self-care can make the whole experience less daunting.

If heading to the doctor or clinic isn’t the best option for you, you can skip the hassle and order an at-home STI testing kit through Fig. You take your samples at home, ship the kit back, and get your results in under a week. No appointments. No judgment. No surprise fees.

Bonus: If you have a partner, tell them you’re going to get tested. Hell, you can even encourage them to join you and make an outing out of it. It promotes good communication in and out of bed. And a healthy sex life is a happy sex life.

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