What happens when you visit an STI clinic
Not all STIs (sexually transmitted infections) have visible or obvious symptoms.
Even if you think it's unlikely you've picked up an STI, it's still good to get checked just to be sure. There's absolutely nothing to be embarrassed about.
Here's what to expect from your visit and the follow-up.
Visiting a sexual health clinic
NHS sexual health clinics are free and confidential. The experienced staff at these clinics specialise in sexual health and testing for STIs.
Most clinics offer walk-in services that are first come-first serve. This means you don't need to make an appointment but you will usually have to wait to be seen.
Alternatively, you can make an appointment for a specific day and time if you want to.
Sexual health clinics are sometimes called GUM clinics – GUM stands for genitourinary medicine.
Live in Scotland? Find your nearest clinic at the Sexual Health Scotland website.
What do STI tests involve?
A standard STI test involves a urine sample and, if you have any visible symptoms, a visual examination by the nurse or doctor.
Sometimes a swab test may also be taken. For the swab test, a cotton bud will be used to take a few cells from the vagina, penis or mouth.
Only HIV and syphilis tests need a blood sample.
What happens when I visit an STI clinic?
Most sexual health clinics work in the following way:
- Arriving and signing-in
When you arrive at the clinic, you'll be asked to fill out a form. The form asks for your name and address. You don't have to give your real name if you don't want to, but make sure you give your real contact details so that the clinic can give you your test results. The clinic staff won't tell your GP about your visit without your permission.
The form might also ask for information about any symptoms you're experiencing.
If you'd like to see a male or female nurse specifically, let the receptionist know.
- Consultation with a nurse or doctor
The doctor or nurse will call you through and ask some questions about your sexual history, such as when you last had sex, whether you used protection, and whether you have any symptoms.
Everything is confidential and being honest helps the staff give you the right test, treatment or advice.
- Tests and urine samples
You will be advised of the right STI test for you, and quite often you'll just need to give a urine sample.
The doctor or nurse will let you know if they think a visual examination, a swab or blood test is needed as well.
- Advice and follow-up
If the nurse or doctor has diagnosed an STI, they'll talk you through the treatment.
Otherwise, they'll confirm your contact details, your preferred method of contact, and let you know when to expect your results.
Getting your STI test results
Some STIs can be diagnosed and treated during your visit. For others, test results take about two weeks to come back. You can receive your results by text, phone call or letter.
If you test positive for an STI you'll be asked to go back to the clinic to discuss treatment. The most common treatment for STIs is antibiotics, but this will depend on your results.
Consider letting any current or recent sexual partners know if you test positive for an STI so they can also get tested. The clinic can do this for you without revealing your name if you'd prefer not to tell them yourself.
Protecting yourself and practising safe sex
Use a condom every time you have sex to minimise the risk of getting or passing on an STI. Sexual health clinics can usually give you these for free.
Most universities provide a free sexual health service, which can offer testing and advice. Visit your university or student union's website to find out where you service is.