Picking the right at home STD test can be confusing. There are a lot of things to consider like which STDs you might have been exposed to, the accuracy of the test, costs, and timeliness of getting the results. The uniqueness of your situation will determine which test is right for you or if you should go to a lab instead. I’m going to cover the basics so you can make the best decision for your situation.
How To Pick The Best Home STD Test
We have a lot of ground to cover so you can get exactly what you need. There are several different types of home STD kits and now might not be the best time to get tested. Below you’ll find information on the incubation period of the most common STIs, governmental recommendations, what to do if you get a positive result, which STI kit is best for your situation, and how at home STD testing works.
CDC STD & HIV Screening Recommendations
Before you decide if you should get tested or not, let’s take a look at the CDC’s screening recommendations. I’m going to break their recommendations down by their demographics to make them more concise. You’ll notice that they didn’t mention anything about screening for herpes. We’ll talk about that a little further down in this article.
All Adults (13 – 64 years of age)
- get tested for HIV at least once
Women Under 25 Who Are Sexually Active | Women 25+ With Multiple or New Sex Partners
- annual chlamydia screening
- annual gonorrhea screening
- syphilis, HIV, and hepatitis B screening
- chlamydia & gonorrhea screening if at-risk
- repeat screening if sexually active
- initial screening should be done early in the pregnancy
All Sexually Active Men
- yearly syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia screening
Gay/Bi Men Who Are Sexually Active
- frequent HIV & STD screening (every 3- 6 months)
People Who Have Unprotected Sex or Share Drug Needles
- yearly HIV test
Keep in mind that these recommendations are coming from a very authoritative source, but they’re not the law and don’t cover every situation or demographic. You have to use your own best judgement to decide when and which STDs you should screen for. I think these recommendations are not detailed enough.
For example, if you have unprotected sex or share drug needles the CDC only recommends getting screened for HIV at least once a year. They don’t mention getting tested for any of the other STDs. I’m guessing this is because they’re mainly talking about people who share drug needles. They probably just lumped people who have unprotected sex in with drug needle users out of laziness.
I’m not as smart as the CDC or a medical professional but I think that if you’re having unprotected sex, especially if it’s with multiple partners, that you should get screened for the most common STDs at least once a year. The CDC doesn’t explicitly state this recommendation for people who engage in unprotected sex, but it’s implied by their recommendations for sexually active people. I wish that they would state exactly what they recommend for each demographic, even if some of it is repetitive.
How At Home STD Testing Works
Now that you know a little bit more about whether you should get tested or not, let’s look at how these at home tests work. There are several different ways to do STD testing at home. The two main types of tests you will come across are rapid tests and delayed result testing. Under those two categories you will notice that some tests ask for a blood sample and others require a urine sample. The reason there are urine and blood tests is because some STIs can be detected in your urine while others will require a blood sample.
The general process for each of these tests are the same. They require you to collect a sample and have it analyzed.
STD Rapid Test Kit (Immediate Results)
There are many different types of rapid STD testing kits. They can detect a variety of STDs nearly instantly. The way you use these is similar to any other STD test. You are going to collect a bio sample first. This could be urine, blood, an oral swab, or a swab from your urethra. Once you’ve collected your sample, you’ll need to place the sample on the testing cassette.
After your bio sample has been properly placed, just wait a couple minutes. You’ll only have to wait for about 5 minutes for your results. Your results will be displayed on the test cassette in the form of one or two lines. If your test only has one line (at the C marker), then your test is negative. If it has two lines (one at the C and one at the T marker), then your test is positive. A positive test means you have the STD you’re testing for, assuming the test is accurate.
Lab Result Tests (Several Days)
At home lab tested kits are similar to rapid results, but not so rapid. It’ll take anywhere from three to seven days to get your results back. The way you take the test is usually by providing a urine or blood sample and mailing it to the lab. Your test kit should come with a pre-addressed box that can be used to ship your sample back. The postage should be prepaid as well. They should receive the sample within 3-5 days and you will get your results a couple days after that.
The cool thing about lab tests is that they use the same technology as an in-person STD test. The results will come back lab certified, so they’re pretty accurate. If you are not in a hurry to get your results, then this is a really good option. After you order one of these tests, it can take 3-5 days for the test to be delivered to you, then another 3-5 days for the sample to reach to lab, and 2-3 days for them to interpret the result. All-in-all, it could take up to two weeks to finish the process.
If you’re in a hurry to get your results, go with the rapid test or see if you can get in at a clinic or your doctor to get tested.
STD Urine Tests
Some STIs can be detected in your urine, but not all of them. The most common STDS that can be detected in your urine are chlamydia, trichomoniasis, and gonorrhea. But be careful when purchasing a test. Just because the test is geared towards one of these STDs doesn’t mean it is a urine test. Some tests require a urethra swab which is a little more annoying than a urine sample.
STD Blood Test
While some of the most common STDs can be detected in urine, there are many more that require a blood sample. Some of these STIs include syphilis, HIV I, HIV II, genital herpes, and hepatitis C. Taking a blood sample sounds painful, but it’s not that bad.
Companies usually provide you with a little lancet that will prick your finger for you. All you have to do is place the lancet on your finger and activate it. It will then send a needle just far enough into your finger to get a few drops of blood. You will probably have to pinch the area (like a pimple) to get the blood to come out. Once the blood starts to come out, use the dropper provided to transfer it to the designated collection container.
Of course, be very careful when working with your blood. Wash your hands well and sterilize your finger before pricking it. Be careful not to get blood on anyone else who may be around and clean up any blood that doesn’t make it into the sample.
What If I Get A Positive Result?
In the case of a positive result, check the policy of the company you purchased your test from. Some companies will get you in touch with a doctor who will send a prescription to your local pharmacy. Other companies tell you to take the result to your doctor on your own.
If you do get a positive result, don’t freak out. Contracting an STD is a normal part of being sexually active. It’s almost inevitable. Chances are you know several people who have or had an STI at some point in their life. It’s nothing to be ashamed of or feel disgusted about. The stigma surrounding STIs is what tells people how they should react. My non-professional opinion would be to react in the same way you would react if you found out you had pneumonia. Talk with a medical professional and follow their advice, but don’t panic or feel ashamed of yourself.
It’s also a good idea to tell anyone you’ve been sexually active with about your discovery. They may have unknowingly given it to your or you may have transferred it to them. Letting them know could prevent hundreds of other people from getting the same STI and prevent long term irreversible damage, like infertility.
STD Incubation Periods
Each sexually transmitted disease or infection has a specific incubation period. If you test for the STI while it’s still incubating, you can get a false negative result. Getting a false negative result doesn’t do anyone any favors. With a false negative result, you are more likely to spread the STI to whomever you’re intimate with. Below you’ll find the incubation period for the most common STDs.
- genital herpes: 2-12 days (CDC)
- chlamydia: variable but 1-3 weeks on average (medicinenet.com)
- gonorrhea: 1-14 days (CDC)
- HIV: 18-45 days (CDC)
- syphilis: 10-90 days, 21 days on avg (oreogon.gov)
- hepatitis C: 1-2 weeks (va.gov)
- HPV: test for women 30 or older
- trichomoniasis: 5-28 days (Mayo Clinic)
- mycoplasma genitalium: 1-3 weeks on avg (LTK)
You will get the most accurate results if you wait until after the incubation period to get tested. Of course, if you think you have an STI you should be sexually inactive during the incubation period until you find out for sure. If you stay sexually active, especially with multiple partners, then your test result can be inaccurate until you’ve completed the incubation period celibate.
If you find out you have an STI that’s curable, it’s generally advisable to test for it again several weeks after treatment to make sure the treatment worked.
Benefits of STD Testing At Home vs A Lab
Whether you test yourself for sexually transmitted infections at home or at a lab is your prerogative. You can’t really go wrong either way, it’s just a matter of preference. Personally, I prefer testing myself at home for several reasons. If you’re shy, I know you’ll be able to relate.
No Embarrassing Doctor Visits
The main reason I like at home testing is because it saves me from the embarrassing doctors visit. This was especially true when I was younger (sexually active since 16). I would have really felt embarrassed to talk to my general pediatrician about STDs so I lied to her about being sexually active. My mom was usually in the room with me and I was not going to divulge that information in front of her.
Even in private I would tell her because I didn’t trust that she wouldn’t tell my mom. I know it’s illegal for her to tell my mom but that doesn’t mean she would tell her. They were too close and friendly for me to trust that. If you go with a home STD test kit, you won’t have to worry about having the embarrassing conversation. Hopefully one day the stigma will go away and talking to our doctors about STDs will be similar to talking to our doctors about a bad cough. Unfortunately, the stigma is still going strong.
Won’t Run Into Anyone You Know
Of course, when you’re going to the doctor’s office you can run into some familiar faces. This is especially true if you’re going to the store to buy an STD test. I’ve run into people I know while buying condoms and that was embarrassing. I could only imagine how judged I would feel if one of my friends saw me buying an over the counter STD test.
Pick Your Sample Method
Another nice thing about doing an at home test is that you get to pick which kind of bio sample you want to give. If you don’t want to swab your urethra, you can buy a urine STD test instead. That way you can avoid the painful swabbing down under. There’s no way to skate around a blood test though. I know there are some HIV oral swab tests, but the other STDs like syphilis still will require a blood sample.
No Time Off Work
Lastly, testing yourself from the comfort of your home is a matter of convenience. You won’t have to ask your boss to take a day or half day off work. These at home kits can be used at anytime. You can take the test at midnight if you want. It’s all up to you.