How often should you get tested for STIs?
Reviewed by our clinical team
In the UK, sexually transmitted infections are pretty common. In 2020, there were almost 320,000 new diagnoses in England alone.
The good news is, most STIs won’t cause lasting damage to your health if they’re treated early. However, for treatment to happen, you have to know that you have an STI in the first place. This is why regular testing is really important.
How often you get tested for STIs like chlamydia and HIV will depend upon your personal circumstances and lifestyle – to find out more, read on.
Who is most at risk of STIs?
If you’re sexually active and having sex, you’re at risk of catching an STI. The risk is higher if you have sex with a new or casual partner. This is the case even if you’re using condoms, as there are several STIs that spread through skin-to-skin contact or through other types of sexual activity, like oral sex or sharing sex toys. In short: everyone who is sexually active can get an STI!
However, there are a few groups of people generally thought to be at a higher risk of catching an STI, including:
- Sex workers
- Men who have sex with men (MSM)
- Trans women
- Black ethnic groups
- People aged 15 to 24
There are various reasons why these groups may have a higher risk, including the type of sex people are having, a lack of access to information and testing. As an example, men who have sex with men may be more at risk of STIs because anal sex is a riskier type of sexual activity when compared to others. The lining of the anus is thin and easily damaged, which means it’s more vulnerable to infection.
Meanwhile, younger people are generally thought to be more at risk because they have “higher rates of partner change” than older age groups.
How often should I get tested for STIs?
If you’re sexually active, it’s a good idea to get tested for STIs every time you change partners – and to ask your partner to do the same. Otherwise, it’s a good idea to get a check-up for STIs once a year, or whenever you develop new symptoms.
However, if you’re a man who has sex with men and you’re having condomless sex with new or casual partners, you should test for HIV and STIs every three months. Black ethnic groups are also advised to get tested more regularly than others if having condomless sex with new or casual partners.
How often should I get tested for HIV?
Generally, HIV should be tested for as regularly as other STIs – i.e. once a year, or more often if you’re changing partners or having a lot of casual, condomless sex. However, it’s also a good idea to get an HIV test when you’re diagnosed with another STI. This is because some STIs can make it easier to catch HIV.
How soon after unprotected sex can I test for STIs?
If you’ve had unprotected sex, and you aren’t sure whether your partner has STIs, it’s a good idea to get tested. However, there are different “window periods” for different infections. It can take a few weeks or even months for some infections to show up on a test; this means you might have to wait sometime after the unprotected sex and you may have to take some tests at different times.
- After 14 days you can test for chlamydia and gonorrhoea
- After 45 to 90 days you can test for HIV (some tests can detect it sooner than others)
- After 12 weeks you can test for syphilis, hepatitis B and hepatitis C
To talk through what you’ll need, it’s best to visit a sexual health or GUM clinic as soon as possible after unprotected sex. This is particularly important if you think you might have been exposed to HIV and you need post-exposure prophylaxis.
It’s also a good idea to go to a sexual health clinic or contraception clinic if you need emergency contraception after unprotected sex.
What STI symptoms should I look out for?
There are lots of symptoms that point to an STI, including:
- Unusual discharge from the vagina, penis or anus – it might be a strange colour or consistency, or have a strange smell
- Pain when urinating
- Lumps, growths or warts around the genitals and anus
- Rashes, blisters or sores around the genitals and anus
- Itching and irritation around the genitals and anus
- In women, bleeding between periods or after sex
Just remember: not all STIs cause symptoms straight away. In the case of HIV, you may not know you have it for years, as it doesn’t tend to cause any health problems in its early stages.
Get tested for STIs with Online Doctor
If you’ve started seeing someone new or you’re due an annual check-up, you can pop to your nearest sexual health or GUM clinic for a free test. As an alternative, you can order one of our accurate home STI test kits and carry out a test in the comfort of your own home.
Please note: our tests aren’t designed for people with symptoms. If you are having symptoms you should see a doctor or nurse face to face.