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STI Testing

Generally speaking, if you are sexually active (this includes oral sex!), you should be thinking about whether you might be at risk for STIs and whether you should seek testing. You should consider undergoing testing for STIs if:

  • You have a new sexual partner
  • You have multiple or anonymous sexual partners
  • You or your partners have other sexual partners and it’s been 3 to 6 months since your last test.
  • Symptoms are showing up
  • You had sex with someone with an STI
  • You had sex without a condom, or the condom broke

If you’re having sex with new partners or your partners have other sexual partners, consider getting tested every 3 to 6 months. If you feel like you were exposed to an STI or you’ve been involved in sexual activities that carry a higher risk of contracting something you may want to get tested more frequently. Finally, we recommend yearly testing for everyone.

You should always seek medical attention and testing if you have symptoms including pain when you pee, unusual discharge from your urethra or front hole, painful lumps in the groin or warts/ulcers/sores on or around the genital area. Don’t forget, if you practice oral, anal or frontal sex, consider getting tested if you have discharge, pain or lesions in the mouth, throat, anus or frontal hole.

Testing for STIs can involve a urine sample, blood tests, genital exams and sometimes swabs. Some tests are done in a clinic, but you may also be sent to a lab. Your healthcare provider will explain which tests you need. You can refuse any tests you don’t want, but the ones being recommended to you are in your best interest. Always ask questions if you are unsure.

Cisgender guys are often scared because sampling used to require swabs from the urethra (or the inside of the penis); however, with newer tests, infections once tested by this means can now be tested by a urine sample. Sometimes your healthcare provider will still recommend a swab from the urethra (to determine whether they have given you the appropriate antibiotic) when you’ve noticed discharge, it burns when you pee, or if you’ve had sex with someone who has an STI. This can be a little uncomfortable, but it’s over quickly.

At a minimum you should be tested for the following:

  • Gonorrhea/Chlamydia
    • Urine test (if you have had any type of sexual contact – oral, anal, or frontal)
    • Rectal swab (if you have had receptive anal sex, i.e. a penis in your butt or you are having symptoms from your rectum such as discharge, bleeding, or pain)
    • Throat swab (if you have performed oral sex on someone with a penis, i.e. you have had a penis in your mouth)
    • Urethral swab (this may be recommended if you are experiencing symptoms or have had sex with someone with a STI – to determine if they should offer you treatment immediately and/or whether you are being treated with the appropriate medication).
  • Syphilis/HIV
    • Blood Test (if you have had any type of sexual contact – oral, anal, or frontal)

You should also talk to your healthcare provider about being tested for the following:

  • Hepatitis A (all men who have sex with men because of risks associated with oral/anal contact, i.e. rimming)
    • Blood Test – You only need this test if you have not received a previous immunization for Hepatitis A. This test is not testing you directly for the Hepatitis A virus, rather, it is testing to see if you have protection (antibodies) against Hepatitis A. If the test is negative, it means you need to be immunized against Hepatitis A.
  • Hepatitis B (if you have had any type of sexual contact – oral or anal)
    • Blood Test – You only need this test if you have not received a previous immunization for Hepatitis B. Most people now receive that vaccine in school. The test is testing for both the infection and to see if you have protection. Again, if the test is negative, it means you need to be immunized against Hepatitis B.
  • Hepatitis C (if you have shared drug equipment or have had unprotected anal sex)
    • Blood Test – This is testing to see whether you have the infection or not. There is no immunization against Hepatitis C.
To find a testing time and place that works for you, check out our “Access” section

A window period refers to the time between a potential first exposure to an STI/HIV and when the test will give an accurate result. In other words, there is a period of time when a test may be falsely negative. This is particularly important for HIV. HIV screening now looks for certain proteins in the virus, as well as antibodies (proteins that the body makes to fight the virus). The test must therefore be done once the virus has multiplied enough to be detected and the body has had enough time to produce antibodies. This normally takes 15-20 days but could take up to 3 months. If you have a high risk or suspicion of acquiring HIV, it is important to have testing repeated at 3 months after the potential exposure, in order to confirm a negative test.

If you test positive for an STI, it’s okay. People have sex. People get infections. It’s not uncommon. You’re not a slut (unless you proudly identify as one-and that’s okay).

If it’s an STI that can be treated (chlamydia, gonorrhea, NGU, syphilis) you’ll get the treatment for free and it will go away. For anything bacterial, you shouldn’t have sex for at least 7 days after you (and your current regular partner, if you have one) get treated or else you’ll just be passing the infection back and forth. In some cases, you might need to get a follow-up test done in 3-4 weeks just to make sure it’s gone completely. For STIs that can’t be treated with antibiotics you will likely be prescribed something that can help prevent outbreaks, or in the case of genital warts they may choose to remove them.

Your health care provider should be up-to-date with local practices for treatment of STIs based on local epidemiology and antibiotic susceptibility. They should be using the following guidelines:

In Alberta, several STIs are “notifiable” under the Alberta Public Health Act. This means that health care providers and laboratories are obligated to notify Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health of any confirmed cases. This allows proper identification of individuals who test positive in order to ensure effective and timely treatment and to prevent further transmission. Public health staff may anonymously notify previous sexual contacts on your behalf to inform them of a potential infection so that they can seek testing and treatment. Notifiable STIs in Alberta include: chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, non-gonococcal urethritis, mucopurulent cervicitis and HIV/AIDS.