What to expect at an STI clinic
We guide you through the process of getting tested
If you’ve ever had unprotected vaginal, anal, or oral sex, are showing some symptoms that may be a sexually transmitted infection (STI) (burning pains, unusual discharge, or lumps and bumps around your genital area), or want to get a clean bill of health before entering a new relationship, then you should definitely get an STI test.
This may be a bit intimidating if you haven’t had it done before, but honestly, it's no big deal. There are a lot of free STI testing services and most STIs can be treated easily. Treatment is quick, easy and painless, and will have you sorted out in no time. STIs are nothing to be ashamed of! Even if you're not showing symptoms, every sexually active person should get tested now and again, as most STIs won't even show symptoms.
If you still feel a little bit nervous about going, feel free to bring along a mate for support. Apart from that, you don't need to bring anything but yourself!
Here’s what will happen when you arrive
Some STI clinics operate a walk-in service whereas some offer an appointment, so it's best to check the website or give them a call first. When you arrive, you’ll usually be given a number that will be called when it’s your turn. You’ll be given a form to fill in some personal information and contact details. It’s important that you fill this in correctly, because these details may be used to contact you with your results.
Meeting the doctor or nurse
When you meet with the doctor or nurse, they’ll ask some personal questions about your sexual health risks and general health. They’ll ask things about when you last had sex, and what kind of sex it was (vaginal, anal, oral). Don’t feel embarrassed or uncomfortable discussing this - they are a health professional who is well used to hearing about this sort of thing. Based on your answers to these questions they’ll decide what tests you need to do. After that it’s time for your test!
Remember, if you've only recently had unprotected sex, you may have been infected with an STI that won't show up in the test yet. As such, it's best practice to go back for a follow-up test 5-8 weeks later. The staff at the clinic will be able to advise you better on this.
What will happen during the actual test
Males (or people with a penis)
- Firstly, you need to not pee for one hour before you get tested.
- Your skin and testicles will be examined for any rashes, lumps, bumps and discharge.
- A swab may be taken from your penis, anus and/or throat, depending on what kind of sex you’ve had. Don’t worry, it won’t hurt!
- You may then be asked for a urine sample and have your blood checked for HIV, Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and Syphilis.
Females (or people with a vagina)
- Your skin will be examined for any rashes, lumps and bumps.
- A smear test may then be done, but this is less likely if you're under 25. If a smear test is done, the doctor or nurse may inserts a small instrument called a 'speculum' that lets them see the inside of your vagina. This may be a little uncomfortable, but shouldn't hurt too much.
- A swab may then be be taken from your vagina, throat and/or anus, depending on what kind of sex you’ve had. Don’t worry, this won't hurt, it might just be a little uncomfortable! Some clinics might give you a kit to go to the bathroom and take a swab yourself.
- The nurse might do a blood test for HIV, Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and Syphilis. Sometimes a urine sample will be taken too.
In the majority of clinics, you'll get your results back in 1-2 weeks. In other clinics, rapid testing is offered where you can get your results on the day of the test, but this isn't available everywhere. The staff at the clinic will be able to let you know exactly when you'll get your results, and how they will contact you.
If you test positive for any of the results on the day, you’ll have a little chat with one of the staff at the clinic. They will provide you with antibiotics or any other treatment required. For a lot of infections, symptoms clear up very quickly after taking antibiotics, so the whole thing may be over soon! If you are attending a free clinic, the treatment might also be free of charge too. The nurse or doctor will also give you some pointers on safer sex going forward.
If you test positive for anything in the full results you’ll receive in two weeks, you’ll be invited back to the clinic to receive any treatment or medication you require. If symptoms persist after receiving treatment, make sure to go back to the clinic for a follow-up.
Counsellors may also be available in some clinics and you may be advised to attend for pre test counselling and safer sex education.
You can also test yourself for some STIs at home, find out more about that here.
Remember: The age of sexual consent in Ireland is 17. If you're over 16, you can consent to medical treatment including any treatment or tests needed.