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Your sexual health

If you’re sexually active, it’s important to be screened regularly for sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

You should also discuss any reproductive or sexual health issues with a doctor or nurse.

What is an STI test?

walk in service signAn STI test is when you’re screened for STIs by a doctor.  It’s also a chance or you to ask questions about your reproductive and sexual health.

Who can carry out an STI test?

It depends on where you’re located and what services you have access to. An STI test is carried out by a health practitioner – your GP, or a doctor or nurse at a sexual health clinic or family planning clinic.

Check face-to-face help for more on how to access health services.

Who needs an STI test?

Anyone who is sexually active should be regularly tested for STIs. How often and when you need to have one depends on your lifestyle and level of sexual activity.

A sexual health check is advisable if any of the following circumstances apply to you:

  • if you think you might have an STI
  • if you’ve had unprotected sex, including vaginal, oral and anal sex
  • if the condom you were using broke or fell of during sex
  • if your partner has another sexual partner
  • if you have more than one sexual partner
  • if you’ve shared injecting equipment
  • if you’re starting a new sexual relationship.

What happens during a test?

The nurse or doctor will usually begin by taking your sexual history. Some of the questions they will ask can seem quite personal, such as:

  • how many sexual partners you’ve had
  • sexual activities you’ve engaged in
  • if you have sex with men, women or both
  • whether you have any symptoms
  • whether you’ve injected drugs and/or shared injecting equipment
  • whether you have tattoos or body piercings.

You might feel uncomfortable about telling the truth when answering questions.

If you don’t give accurate information, you might not get the best advice or be given the right tests. This could mean your health could be seriously affected. Some STIs can lead to long-term health problems if not treated properly.

Check with the doctor or nurse to make sure all the information you give them is confidential.

During the examination (with your consent), your external genital area may be examined for any signs of STIs. A range of tests may be done including:

  • a urine sample and/or blood test
  • vaginal swabs (when fluid sample is collected for examination on a slide under a microscope)
  • swabs from the throat or rectum
  • a vaginal examination may also be performed, such as a cervical smear test (a smear test is a routine procedure that all sexually active women are advised to undertake every two years).

This all sounds very daunting, but it’s a relatively simple procedure that isn’t as bad as it sounds. It’s really important to look after your sexual health, for yourself and for others who you are sexually active with.

Note: there is a national cervical screening programme in Ireland currently, which provides free smear tests to women aged 25 to 60 who are eligible for screening. Cervical screening is the most effective method of reducing a woman’s risk of developing cervical cancer.

Find out more at CervicalCheck, the National Cervical Screening Programme.

Contact tracing

You should also check if contact tracing will take place, and what the laws in your area are are. Contact tracing is the process of identifying how an infection may have spread from person to person.

The doctor or nurse does this by asking you for the contact details of people you’ve had sexual contact with. Contact tracing only occurs if you test positive for certain types of STIs, such as HIV.

What questions should you ask?

Consider a visit to a sexual health clinic or your GP as a chance to ask any questions you have about your sexual health, or to discuss anything that has been worrying you. A good nurse or doctor should encourage you to ask questions.

It’s important you feel like you’re able to ask any questions you have. It’s equally important they answer your questions and explain all procedures in a way you’re able to understand.

Some of the questions you may wish to ask the practitioner before you have a sexual health check:

  • Can someone under the age of 16-years-old to be seen without their parent or guardian present?
  • Is there an age limit at which a young person won’t be seen without a parent or guardian?
  • How much does it cost? (If you go to a public sexual health clinic, these tests are generally free of charge.)
  • Does the service reduce fees in any way for young people or students?
  • Does this service provide free or low cost Hep B vaccinations? (A vaccination recommended by the World Health Organization to be part of childhood vaccination schemes that hasn’t yet been implemented in Ireland.)
  • Are there emergency appointments that can be used for pregnancy testing or emergency contraception?

Check Think Contraception for a list of clinics around Ireland. Find out beforehand to see how much a test will cost.

Some questions you can ask during the examination:

  • What specific STIs are you being tested for?
  • Will the test be a blood test, swab or urine test? (Many people mistakenly think a blood test will detect all STIs, but a urine and/or a swab test should also be carried out to be sure.)
  • If any of the tests are positive, do I have to tell anyone?
  • Will the doctor or nurse tell anyone?
  • What are the treatment options?
  • Will this affect my future fertility, pregnancy or general health?

Feeling comfortable

Stay in tune with how you’re feeling. If you’re feeling uncomfortable with the nurse or doctor, or you detect discomfort in the person you’re consulting, you can choose to see someone else.

See Think Contraception for more information on specific STIs and for information on sexual health clinics around Ireland.

Also see Your Sexual Health and the Irish Family Planning Association for more information about taking care of your sexual health.

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This article was last reviewed on 24 April 2017

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