Getting tested and treated for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) is straightforward and confidential. Most infections can be cured.
A sexual health clinic (SHC) or genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinic specialises in sexual health, and can provide tests and treatment for many STIs.
Visiting a sexual health clinic
You can make an appointment to go to a sexual health clinic.
Some sexual health clinics also offer a drop-in clinic, so you may not need an appointment. But it is a good idea to call the sexual health clinic first to check this is the case.
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.
Anyone can go to a sexual health clinic regardless of their gender, age or whether they have symptoms. If you're under 16, the service is still confidential and the clinic won't tell your parents.
If they suspect you or another young person is at risk of harm, they might need to tell other healthcare services, but they will talk to you before they do this.
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 about 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.
The clinic will ask how you want to receive your results. They can usually be given to you over the phone, by text, or in an unmarked letter.
Answering some questions
You will see a doctor or a nurse, who will 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've had unprotected sex
- whether you have any symptoms
- why you think you might have an infection
You can ask to see a female or male 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 what is going on and why they are suggesting these tests. If you're not sure about anything, ask them to explain.
Let them know if you if you'd like a woman or a man to do the test or if you'd like someone else to be in the room with you (a chaperone). This could be someone you know, another nurse or a trained member of staff.
- a urine (pee) sample
- a blood sample
- swabs from the urethra (the tube urine comes out of)
- an examination of your genitals
- if you're female, swabs from the vagina, which you can usually do yourself
Testing for chlamydia and gonorrhoea usually requires only a urine sample or a self-taken swab for a woman. Testing for HIV requires a blood sample. Testing for syphilis needs a blood sample and you may also have a swab taken if you have any ulcers.
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 2. 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 the treatment you need.
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 put you in touch with a counsellor.
If possible, tell your sexual partner and any ex-partners so 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 practise safer sex.
Always buy condoms that have the CE mark or BSI kite mark on the packet. This means they've been tested to high safety standards.
Condoms that don't have the CE mark or BSI kite mark won't meet these standards, so don't use them. Get tips on using condoms properly.
Bear in mind that having had an STI once doesn't make you immune to it – you can get the same infection again.
Other places to go for help
Sexual health and GUM clinics have the greatest expertise in testing and treatments for STIs, but you can also go to:
- your GP
- a young people's sexual health service – call the National Sexual Health Helpline 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.