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Understanding STD Tests: Results, Accuracy, Costs, And Where To Go

Written by Andrew Le, MD

UpdatedMay 29, 2024

Regular STD testing is crucial for safeguarding sexual health and reducing transmission rates of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Each year, the US reports approximately 26 million new cases of STDs, with young individuals between 15 and 24 years old accounting for half of these cases.

STDs can remain asymptomatic, meaning infected individuals might unknowingly pass them on to their partners. These infections can lead to severe health consequences if left untreated, making regular STD testing essential to maintaining sexual health.

In this article, our focus will be on the importance of STD testing. We'll cover different test types, results, accuracy, preparation, and locations, among other aspects.

By staying proactive and informed, individuals can take charge of their sexual well-being and promote healthier relationships.

STD Tests Overview

STDs can be spread through various sexual activities such as vaginal, anal, and oral sex. To prevent their spread, it's important to practice safe sex. This involves regular testing and having open conversations with your sexual partners about your sexual health.

Talking openly with your partners about your sexual health and history is a key part of having healthy and caring relationships. It also helps in stopping the spread of STDs.

STDs include a range of diseases like HIV, herpes, chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and HPV.

Getting early treatment if you have an STD is important not only for your health but also to keep your partner safe. Detecting STDs early and getting treatment is crucial for caring for your and your partner's health.

Let's explore some of the most common STD tests available:

  • Urine Tests: Urine tests are non-invasive and can detect various STDs, such as chlamydia and gonorrhea. These tests are particularly convenient as they do not require a blood sample.
  • Swab Tests: Swab tests involve collecting samples from the genital area, mouth, throat, or rectum using cotton swabs. They commonly diagnose infections like chlamydia, gonorrhea, herpes, and human papillomavirus (HPV).
  • Physical Examination: Some STDs, like genital warts and herpes, can be diagnosed through a visual examination of the affected areas.
  • HPV DNA Test: This test screens explicitly for high-risk strains of human papillomavirus (HPV) that can cause cervical and other cancers.
  • Rapid Tests: Rapid tests are available for certain STDs like HIV and can provide results within minutes, allowing immediate diagnosis and timely medical intervention.
  • Nucleic Acid Amplification Tests (NAATs): NAATs are susceptible tests that detect the genetic material of the pathogens, making them practical for diagnosing chlamydia, gonorrhea, and trichomoniasis.

If an STD is detected, treatment may involve medication, such as antibiotics or antiviral drugs.

It is important to complete the entire course of treatment as prescribed, even if symptoms improve, to ensure that the infection is fully treated and prevent reinfection or the spread of the disease to others.

STD Test Results

Receiving the results of an STD test can be an anxious experience. It's essential to understand the outcomes and follow any necessary next steps. Test results can be classified into three categories:

  • Negative: A negative result indicates no infection was detected during testing. However, it's crucial to remember that some STDs may not be detectable immediately after exposure, so regular testing is still necessary.
  • Positive: A positive result indicates the presence of an infection. If you receive a positive result, seeking immediate medical attention for further evaluation and appropriate treatment is essential.
  • Inconclusive: An inconclusive result means the test did not provide a definitive answer. In such cases, a repeat test or additional testing may be necessary.

Now, let's explore the pricing of STD tests.

STD Tests Cost

The cost of STD tests can vary depending on several factors, such as the type of test, the location (country and region), the healthcare provider, and whether you have health insurance.

In the US, the cost of STD testing without insurance can range from $50 to $200 or more per test, depending on the specific STD being tested for. However, many public health clinics and community health centers offer free or low-cost testing services, especially for uninsured or underinsured individuals.

If you have health insurance, the cost of STD testing may be covered partially or in full, depending on your insurance plan. You must check with your insurance provider to understand what tests are covered and what out-of-pocket expenses you may incur.


Before making any decisions about your healthcare, it's important to stay informed about potential costs and policy updates.

Prices and healthcare policies can change over time, so you should check with local healthcare providers or public health centers for the most up-to-date information on the cost of STD tests in your area.

STD Test Preparation

Regular STD testing is essential to maintaining sexual health as it helps to detect and treat infections early, reducing the risk of transmission and potential complications.

It is important to prepare for STD testing to ensure accurate results and to make the process as comfortable as possible. Here are a few things to remember when preparing for an STD test:

Know What to Expect

Before scheduling an STD test, it is important to understand what will happen during the test. STD tests may involve:

  • Physical exam
  • Blood test
  • Urine test
  • Swab test

Some tests may require fasting or avoiding sexual activity for a certain period before the test. Knowing what to expect can help reduce anxiety and ensure accurate results.

Schedule an Appointment

STD testing can be done at various healthcare facilities, including clinics, hospitals, and private doctors' offices. It is essential to schedule an appointment to ensure availability and avoid long wait times.

By placing a call beforehand, you can verify the service's availability, gather necessary information about the testing process, and address any queries. While many clinics operate on appointment-based systems, some might also offer the convenience of walk-in testing services, allowing you to get tested without a prior appointment.

This flexibility can be particularly beneficial for individuals seeking prompt testing. Regardless of the approach, planning ahead and confirming the testing service's availability will contribute to a smoother and more efficient experience while prioritizing your sexual health.

Be Honest About Sexual History

During an STD test, healthcare providers will ask about sexual history and behaviors. It is important to be honest and open about sexual activity to ensure accurate testing and appropriate treatment. Healthcare providers are trained to be non-judgmental and confidential.

Follow Pre-Test Instructions

Before an STD test, healthcare providers may provide specific instructions to follow. These may include:


Some STD tests, such as blood tests, might require fasting before the test. Fasting involves refraining from consuming food or beverages for a certain period of time before the test.

Fasting helps ensure that your blood sample isn't affected by recent food intake, which could potentially influence the test results.

Avoiding sexual activity

In certain cases, you may be advised to abstain from sexual activity for a specific period before the test. This is particularly important for tests that detect pathogens in bodily fluids, such as urine or genital swabs.

Avoiding sexual activity helps prevent the introduction of foreign substances that could interfere with accurate test results.

Stopping medications

Your healthcare provider might recommend discontinuing specific medications before an STD test. Some medications can affect the accuracy of test results, and your provider will guide you on which medications to stop temporarily and for how long.

However, it's important not to stop medication without consulting your healthcare professional first.


It is essential to follow these instructions carefully to ensure accurate results.

Bring Necessary Documents and Information

When going for an STD test, it is essential to bring the necessary documents and information. This may include:

  • Insurance information
  • Identification
  • List of medications

It is also essential to bring a list of questions or concerns to discuss with the healthcare provider.

STD Test Accuracy

The accuracy of STD testing is of paramount importance. Medical tests for sexual health can produce false results. Therefore, it's important to understand their limitations before making decisions.

When discussing the accuracy of STD tests, two critical aspects come into play: sensitivity and specificity.

  • Sensitivity refers to a test's ability to correctly identify individuals with the disease, yielding positive results for those infected.
  • Specificity relates to a test's ability to accurately identify individuals who do not have the disease, providing negative results for uninfected individuals.

But how accurate are STD tests? Let's explore the details.

Types of Tests

Fortunately, there are several types of STD tests available, each catering to specific infections and detection methods. It is essential to recognize that the accuracy levels of these tests vary based on the type of STD being screened for. These include blood, urine, swab tests, etc.

Understanding the Variability

Take, for instance, the HIV antibody test, boasting a remarkable accuracy rate with a sensitivity of 99.5% and a specificity of 99.9%. Conversely, the herpes blood test exhibits a different accuracy rate, with a sensitivity ranging from 70.2% to 99.5% and a specificity ranging from 86.4% to 96.8%.

False Positives and False Negatives

False positives and negatives are possible with any STD test. A false positive occurs when a person is diagnosed with an STD despite not having it. A false negative occurs when a person is not diagnosed with an STD despite having it.

The likelihood of a false positive or false negative depends on the specific test and the STD being tested for. For example, the chlamydia swab test has a high rate of false negatives, meaning that it may not detect the infection even if it is present.

Follow-Up Testing

If a person receives a positive STD result, following up with confirmatory testing is essential. Remember that STD testing is confidential, and the healthcare provider will keep your results private.

STDs, such as HIV, may not show up on a test immediately after infection. In these cases, follow-up testing is necessary to confirm the diagnosis.

STD Test Locations

As STDs continue to be a prevalent issue, it's essential to know where to go for testing. Awareness of STD test locations and services can help you take control of your sexual health and overall well-being.


STD testing services can be located through various search directories and platforms, including:

There are numerous clinics that offer affordable or free STD testing; some may also provide treatment and counseling services.


Confidentiality is a top priority at STD testing locations. Your personal information and test results will be kept private and only shared with authorized individuals as required.

If you are concerned about privacy, you can ask about their policies and procedures before making an appointment. Some locations may offer anonymous testing options. Some also send a text message or email anonymously to let your partner know it's time to get tested.

STD Test Frequency

The frequency of STD testing depends on individual risk factors and sexual behavior. As a general guideline:

  • Sexually Active Individuals: People who are sexually active with multiple partners or have new partners should consider getting tested at least once a year.
  • High-Risk Groups: Individuals with higher risk factors, such as men who have sex with men or individuals with a history of STDs, may need more frequent testing, such as every three to six months.

STD Test Limitations

There are some limitations to be aware of. It is essential to understand these limitations to ensure accurate testing and interpretation of results. Let's take a closer look.

False Negatives

One of the limitations of STD testing is the possibility of false negatives. False negatives occur when a person has an STD, but the test result returns negative. This can happen if the test is taken too soon after exposure before the body has produced enough antibodies to be detected. False negatives can also occur if the test is not done correctly or the sample is not handled properly.

False Positives

Another limitation of STD testing is the possibility of false positives. False positives occur when a person has no STD, but the test result returns positive. This can happen if the test is not specific enough to distinguish between different types of infections or if there is a cross-reaction with another virus or bacteria.

Limited Test Coverage

Not all STDs can be detected through standard testing methods. Some tests are designed to solely screen for particular infections, while others offer a more comprehensive range of coverage.

Window Period

The window period denotes the duration between an individual's contraction of an STD and the moment when the infection becomes detectable through testing. Throughout this interval, test outcomes may register as negative, even if the person is indeed infected.


STD testing is crucial for protecting sexual health and preventing the spread of infections. The test accuracy is key for early detection and effective treatment, influenced by sensitivity and specificity. Different tests vary in accuracy for different STDs.

However, testing has limitations—false results can occur. Testing frequency should match personal risk factors. Open communication with healthcare providers, test accuracy awareness, and regular testing empowers individuals to manage sexual health.

Stay informed, proactive, and health-conscious to navigate STD testing confidently. Prioritizing sexual health fosters safer relationships and a healthier future for all. Knowledge empowers for a safer lifestyle.

FAQs on STD Tests

1. What are the symptoms of an STD?

Symptoms vary depending on the specific infection but may include genital sores, discharge, pain during urination, and flu-like symptoms.

How can you prevent getting an STD?

Using condoms consistently and correctly, limiting sexual partners, and getting tested regularly are effective ways to reduce the risk of getting an STD.

What is the best way to get tested for STDs?

Visiting a healthcare provider or a reputable testing center is the best way to get tested for STDs.

How often should you get tested for STDs?

The testing frequency depends on individual risk factors, but sexually active individuals should get tested at least once a year.

What happens if you test positive for an STD?

If you test positive for an STD, seek medical attention promptly for evaluation and treatment.

Can STDs be cured?

Many STDs are curable with appropriate treatment, but some viral infections can only be managed, not cured.

What are the long-term effects of having an STD?

Untreated STDs can lead to severe complications, including infertility, pelvic inflammatory disease, and an increased risk of HIV transmission.