There is so much taboo around the conversation of STI’s and sexual wellbeing in general. With the pandemic putting us in and out of lockdowns, knowing how to safely access STI tests no matter what the local restrictions are, is a vital skill which a worryingly low amount of people know.
Data from Public Health England found that in a study with people over the age of 15 only 1,256,123 men (including trans men) and 2,167,548 women (including trans women) in England have received either an in person or online consultation throughout the year 2020. Although these figures seem really high, this is just over the population of Manchester! What could be causing such a low number of people to test if they have an STI? Is it a lack of knowledge where to get access to them or are people just scared and ashamed to find out the results?
There are many reasons why people may be scared to take STI tests but hopefully this will help to destigmatize and ease any worries you may have. STI at home testing kits will almost always come in discreet packaging so there’s no need to be embarrassed about them having any indication of what they are to anyone else. All you need to do is take the test, put it back in the packaging and send it to the nearest postbox with the label provided. Simple!
Many STI’s such as HPV and Chlamydia are often asymptomatic, so it’s recommended that you have an STI test after every new partner or every six months with a regular partner. As some infections won’t show up straight after sex, to get a more accurate result, Oxfordshire Sexual Health Service recommends ‘to wait: 2 weeks for chlamydia and gonorrhoea and 4 weeks for syphilis and HIV.’
There are usually two types of at home testing kits. The first one will test for Chlamydia and Gonorrhea and is usually tested with a urine sample for people who have a penis and a vaginal swab for vulva owners. The other test is less common as it tests for HIV and Syphilis (which are more rare), but can also test for Hepatitis B and C. This test is taken through a blood test which is usually only a finger prick – which is great if like me, your veins are elusive and refuse to play ball. The results of your tests will usually come via a text to the number you provide on the form, which says something along the lines of ‘The results of your recent swab are negative (all clear)’. If the result is positive, you will get advice and they often tell you to visit the clinic.
With in-person testing, I personally have experienced two different types of STI screenings. The first was when I had symptoms (which thankfully just turned out to be a slight case of thrush and a reaction to the condom) and the other was from when I had to have a course of the Hep B vaccine and so I took the test myself whilst I was there. The first test I had was a full screening, so I lay down on the magic chair with my feet at the stirrup and the nurse came and took samples of my vaginal discharge and then took a swab from my vaginal canal to send off for testing, then I sat up and she took some blood from my arm and after a tiny plaster I was all good to go home! With the second one, after a lovely chat about STIs and general sexual health, the nurse led me to a private bathroom where I (just the same as at home) took the swabs – which surprisingly are painless and you just swish the stick for ten circles and then I just sealed it up and put it down the magic chute.
Finding an at home STI test is a lot easier than people may think, it’s just about knowing where to look. I recently went to a conference with the charity Sexpression:UK where I was introduced to the most amazing website – https://www.brook.org.uk/ – which offers a wide range of sexual and mental health support.
You can also select the ‘find a service’ and choose the service you want to use, adding your location and it’ll find your nearest sexual health clinics to arrange either an at home or in person screening. This makes it so useful for Uni students because no matter where you are, you can find the help you need.
They also have an amazing range of articles on destigmatizing living with STIs and life changing medicines like PrEP and PEP!