Getting tested for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) is a normal part of taking care of your sexual health. We asked a Student Health Services nurse some of the most common questions BU students have about STI testing: Where to go, what to expect, how to talk to your sexual partners, and more.
1. How are STIs transmitted?
STIs are most commonly transmitted through sexual activities that include skin-to-skin contact and fluid transmission, such as oral and penetrative sex.
2. When should I get tested for STIs?
It’s important that you don’t wait until you notice a symptom because many people don’t have symptoms at all.
- If you’re sexually active, get tested at least once a year.
- If you plan to have a new sexual partner, get tested.
- If you have multiple or anonymous partners, get tested every 3 months.
- If you have symptoms or think you’ve been recently exposed, get tested immediately.
3. What are common STI symptoms?
People often have no symptoms at all. When someone does have symptoms, they may include: urethral or vaginal discharge, itching, rash, lesions (blisters, sores or warts), pain with sex, or burning with urination.
4. I don’t have any symptoms, should I still get tested?
Yes, definitely! It’s possible to have an STI and not show any symptoms at all. See question #2 above for guidelines about how often to get tested. Getting tested regularly can help you identify an infection early, prevent the spread of the infection to others, and can help prevent an undetected STI from causing other potential health concerns down the road.
5. Where can I get tested?
You can get tested right on campus at Student Health Services, located at 881 Commonwealth Ave. (STI testing is the most common appointment at SHS!) Here’s how to get tested:
- Go to patientconnect.bu.edu
- Select: Appointments > Primary Care > Sexual Health > STI Screening
- If you have symptoms or an exposure, you will need to schedule an appointment to be seen by a provider.
- If you do not have symptoms or exposure, fill out a questionnaire and SHS will contact you about next steps for lab tests.
6. How much will STI testing cost?
The testing laboratory company that works with SHS will charge your health insurance that’s on file with the university. If you have the AETNA Student Health Insurance Plan (SHIP), the lab tests are billed through your insurance, with no out of pocket costs. If you have another insurance provider, you can check with your insurance about coverage. Off-campus options for STI testing may charge your health insurance, or may be free of charge. Check with those locations for details.
7. What should I expect when I go in for STI testing?
If you request a routine test and have no symptoms, SHS will order lab tests for chlamydia, gonorrhea, HIV, syphilis, and hepatitis C. If you have symptoms, a clinician will determine what tests are necessary, and you may need to come in for a physical exam first. If you are visiting SHS for a lab visit, the lab tech may request a urine sample, vaginal or rectal swab, and possibly a throat swab.
8. Is it confidential? Will my parents find out?
Your STI test results from SHS are confidential. The test results are sent to you, not the subscriber of your insurance plan. However, it’s important to note that because your health insurance is billed for STI testing, the subscriber of your health insurance plan may get an Explanation of Benefits (EOB) that states that an STI test was performed. An EOB is a statement from your health insurance plan that may describe health care services delivered, including diagnosis or test codes. This means that if your parent or guardian is the holder of the insurance policy you use, they may see that an STI test was performed for you. If you’re concerned about your privacy, you can find free STI testing near you at gettested.cdc.gov.
9. I tested positive for an STI. What do I do now?
If you test positive for a STI, it is important to notify your healthcare provider immediately. If you were tested at SHS, we will follow up with you. It is also important to refrain from sexual activity until after you have been treated. Many STIs can be treated, and others can be managed with the support of a healthcare provider.
10. How can I talk with someone I am (or may be) sexually active with about STI and testing status?
If you’re unsure how to start this conversation, here are a few tips:
- Find a comfortable time and place. Maybe during dinner or on a walk. Whenever possible, have the conversation before sexual activity.
- Be direct. Approach the conversation with openness. Emphasize that knowing your STI status and getting tested is important for their health and yours.
- Keep the conversation focused on health. Having a conversation about STI status and testing isn’t about judgment! Have an open conversation, share your STI testing status, and consider suggesting that you get tested together.
“Before we have sex, let’s talk about our sexual health. I last got tested for the STIs (name of STIs) and I tested (positive or negative) for (STI) Have you had a chance to get tested?
11. How do I disclose that I have a STI to a sexual partner?
If you’re feeling nervous about disclosing your STI status to a sexual partner, you are not alone – STIs are common. Similar to the tips mentioned above for talking about STI testing with a partner, find a comfortable time and place, be direct and approach them with openness, and take a health-centered approach to the conversation.
Before starting the conversation, you can also talk to your doctor and do some research so you can answer questions you think your partner may have.
- “I take my sexual health pretty seriously and I care about yours too. I was recently diagnosed with (name of STI). I’m taking medication/treating it. Before we have sex, we should talk about how to best practice safer sex in a way that works for us.”
- “I went for a routine STI screening and found out I tested positive for (name of STI). Since we’ve been involved, I wanted to let you know so you can get tested, since sometimes STIs don’t show any symptoms.”
- “I got my results back and tested positive for (name of STI). It’s treatable and I was prescribed medication. I’ll get tested again soon to make sure it’s gone. You probably have some questions. Let’s talk about it?”
If you feel unsafe in your relationship, please tell your healthcare provider. SHS can help support you though services from SARP.