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Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) refer to conditions that can pass from person to person through sexual contact. They are common infections that many people may not be aware they have, meaning many people may unknowingly transmit them. Many quick, safe, and readily available STD tests can help prevent further transmission and health complications.

Rather than use the older term STDs, many doctors now tend to refer to these conditions as sexually transmitted infections, or STIs. Early detection and treatment are vital to prevent transmission and complications due to untreated STIs.

Regular testing is important, and healthcare professionals can advise about STI tests. If people do not feel comfortable doing so, many clinics, pharmacies, or services can provide confidential and free or low-cost testing.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 5 people in the United States has an STI, with almost half affecting young people 14–24 years. Treatments are readily available so people can receive help as early as possible.

Learn more about STIs here.

Why people should test for STIs

Routine testing for STIs is essential, as early detection and treatment can help prevent health complications. Many people may consider an STI test after noticing symptoms. However, some people may not be aware they have an STI, as some conditions, such as chlamydia, may not present any symptoms.

If left untreated, some STIs can result in long-term health problems. For example, in addition to causing discomfort, some STIs may result in infertility, birth complications, and some cancers.

Each STI has a different incubation period, referring to how long it takes for symptoms to appear. In some cases, tests can detect an STI after a few days, while other STIs may not show up on a test for many months. Many STIs are treatable with early detection, and medications are available to help manage the symptoms of others.

Learn more about how long chlamydia symptoms take to show.

Who should have a test for STIs?

The CDC advises that sexually active people have an STI test once a year. However, some people may have different testing requirements, so a doctor or another health professional may help determine which tests a person needs.

Some doctors suggest that people who may be at higher risk, such as during pregnancy or those with multiple or anonymous partners, may require more frequent testing.

Learn about contracting an STI here.

What STIs should people test for?

Typically, sexual health clinics test for the more common STIs, such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis. If people know that a previous partner has tested positive for a specific STI, it is advisable to get tested for the same STI. A person can also discuss their sexual and STI testing history with a healthcare provider, who can offer help and suggestions about appropriate tests.

To get a reliable test result, people should perform the test within a specific timeframe after exposure due to incubation periods. Below are some common STIs and their testing windows:

  • Gonorrhea: 5 days to 2 weeks
  • Chlamydia: 1–2 weeks
  • Trichomoniasis: 1 week to 1 month (not mentioned)
  • Hepatitis: 9–10 weeks for hepatitis B (HBV), up to 3 weeks for hepatitis C (HCV)
  • Syphilis: within 2 weeks after sores appear
  • HIV: 10–33 days for a nucleic acid test, 18–45 days for an antigen, or antibody, test, 23–90 days for an antibody test
  • Herpes: 1–4 months

Learn more about how long it takes for STI symptoms to develop.

Medicare, Medicaid, and most insurance plans typically cover some STI tests as part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Some people may choose to see their doctor or visit a sexual health clinic for an STI test, while others may prefer at-home tests. A 2019 study notes that at-home testing kits are becoming more available and are likely to contribute to higher rates of testing and treatments.

Individuals have many options for STI testing, some of which include:

Doctor’s office

Most primary health providers have facilities to screen for STIs. Depending on the history and exam results, a health professional can collect samples through swabs, urine, or blood samples.

Some clinics can test the sample on-site, while others send the samples to a laboratory. People can expect results within a few days to a week. Depending on the results, doctors may prescribe antibiotics or antiviral medications.

However, visiting a doctor for STI screening and treatment may be expensive and may range from $50-200 without health insurance coverage. People should check their insurance coverage and co-pays first before visiting their doctor.

City health centers and community clinics

Some city health centers or community clinics may offer testing services. Many offer both appointment and walk-in services.

Aside from free testing and treatment for STIs, health centers also provide pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), a preventive treatment for HIV. They may also offer family planning services, counseling, and free condoms for STI protection.

Urgent care centers

Many urgent care centers can offer discreet, immediate diagnosis and treatment for individuals who do not want to go to their primary care provider. However, some of these centers do not have lab or diagnostic testing capacities.

Urgent care doctors will also provide the appropriate medications. However, if the STI has progressed beyond what prescription medication can treat, it may be necessary for individuals to follow up with their health providers.

Most insurance companies cover urgent care visits, but most often, individuals need to pay a deductible.

Pharmacies and big-box retailers

Most pharmacies, such as Walgreens and CVS, and big-box retailers, such as Target and Walmart, sell home-test kits for STIs. However, a person should know which STIs they are checking for before buying.

Some grocery and pharmacy chains also have low-cost health clinics that may also provide STI testing. However, unlike at-home tests, these kits may only test for a limited range of STIs.

Lab-based tests and at-home tests

Some providers, such as QuestDiagnostics, allow people to choose whether to buy at-home test kits or to schedule an appointment online and perform a test in person in one of their labs. Other providers, such as Everlywell and LetsGetChecked, allow a person to choose a specific test from a range of tests available on their website.

The costs of kits vary according to the type of test and the provider but typically range from $49–220, with more expensive options testing for a wider range of STIs.

Most insurance providers do not cover at-home test kits. However, most accept flexible savings account (FSA) and or payments.

Samples from at-home tests undergo the same analysis as lab tests and are just as accurate. However, it is important to carefully follow the instructions for how to collect and store the samples.

Read more about at-home STI tests here.

Local Planned Parenthood health center

Planned Parenthood health centers also offer STI testing. They receive government reimbursements and grants from public programs, such as Medicaid and Title X, which means people can get STI testing and treatment for free or at a very low cost, depending on their income, demographics, and eligibility.

Others

Students enrolled at universities can visit their student health centers, which may supply STI tests for roughly $10–20. Most cities also have LBGTQ+ community centers that can help with STI testing.

Mobile reproductive health centers can also offer community-based STI screenings and other reproductive health services to migrants, people from low-income households, people who do not have insurance, people from marginalized groups, people living in rural areas, and others. This Mobile Health map provides a list of participating mobile health clinics throughout the U.S.

Most STI tests only require a urine, blood, or swab sample and do not typically require the assistance of a health professional. However, a healthcare professional will need to carry out a Pap smear, which checks for human papillomavirus (HPV), to ensure the safety and accuracy of the test. If a person is experiencing symptoms, such as warts, sores, or lesions, it is advisable to talk with a doctor.

Also, while individuals can order most tests online or buy them in stores, some states require a doctor’s order to authorize a lab test.

Some commonly asked questions that people may ask include the following:

How are STI tests done?

Typically, STI tests require either a urine, blood, or swab sample from the mouth, genitals, or anus. Some STI tests require a combination of samples.

How long do STI tests take?

Except for rapid HIV tests, which can show results in about 20 minutes, most other STI test results take between 2 days to 1 week.

How much is STI testing at planned parenthood?

Planned Parenthood offers STI testing at a reduced cost, or sometimes free, depending on an individual’s eligibility.

Does urgent care do STI tests?

Yes, urgent care does STI tests and can also provide appropriate antibiotic and antiviral medications.

Usually, a person can manage and treat STIs with early detection and intervention.

There are many STI testing options available that allow people to test themselves routinely. Untreated STIs can cause permanent damage to a person’s reproduction and health.

In addition to regular testing, it is important to use condoms or other barrier birth control methods during sex to prevent transmitting and contracting an STI.

Learn more about male and female condoms here.