I. What Types of Conditions Are Tested With STD Testing?

Modern home STD tests can test for over a dozen of the most common diseases people get from sexual contact. These tests can be ordered one by one if you think you may have been exposed to a specific disease, or as a combination kit that checks for several STDs from a single sample. The number of diseases a kit can check for is often included in its name: “Basic 3,” “Standard 5,” or “Total 14.” Unsurprisingly, the cost of a kit goes up with the number of STDs that are screened, though as a rule, the combination kits are less expensive than multiple single-test kits purchased separately.

II. How Does STD Testing Work?

Several testing companies offer at-home STD tests, and the basic method is the same for almost all of them. Start by ordering the kit you want on the company’s website. Nearly all testing companies offer to ship a kit to your address in discreet packaging. The standard testing kit requires blood and urine samples, as well as a vaginal swab from women. Almost all kits include everything needed to collect these samples and preserve them for shipping safely. Items to check for in the kit include:

  • At least one lancet for finger-prick blood draws
  • Alcohol pads and adhesive bandages for the site of the blood draw
  • A blood testing card for collecting the sample, or a secure plastic swab container
  • One sterile cup for collecting urine, along with a pipette to transfer the needed amount to the included test tube
  • Sterile cotton swabs for vaginal swipes, along with a container to hold them in transit
  • Biohazard bags to safely contain samples and prevent contamination during shipping
  • A return package, which may have the appropriate amount of prepaid postage included on it
  • Detailed instructions for collecting and packaging samples, along with a scannable bar code or serial number for checking results online

Once the kit arrives and you’ve made sure everything on the inventory slip is in the box, you can gather the samples. Follow the instructions for collecting urine and blood exactly, and be aware of potential contamination that can occur from resting sterile items on the sink, for example. An adulterated or otherwise contaminated sample can yield false results or come up as spoiled.

The instructions may require you to prepare for the urine sample by gently cleansing the opening of the urethra with an antiseptic wipe before collecting the urine, and all blood collection systems advise that you prep the site of the needle stick with an alcohol pad to prevent infection. Pack everything according to the instructions and mail it out as soon as possible.

After the lab receives the completed kit, the samples inside it are put through the same tests used by a doctor to check for STDs. Be aware of the difference between some tests. Some kits are marketed as being FDA approved, while some others claim to use “FDA-approved methods/technology.” The second type can be less expensive, and it may be equally accurate, but the specific method or lab used by these services might not be certified as accurate by the FDA.

The results are usually available online or through the company’s app within a few days or weeks. If your test is positive for some STDs, such as Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, or Trichomoniasis, you may get a phone call from one of the company’s doctors to consult about your options and possibly prescribe antibiotics over the phone. For other STDs, it is recommended to speak with your own healthcare provider about treatment as soon as you can.

III. How to Get Tested

Most at-home STD testing kits make the majority of their sales through the internet. Ordering a kit is usually as simple and direct as buying anything else online, and virtually all of them take credit and debit cards securely. Prices can vary a lot, but comprehensive testing kits generally hover in the $150 to $300 range. The price goes up with the number of STDs being screened, but virtually all of the reputable testing companies treat this as a one-time fee. It is not usual for a company to request additional money for detailed results, or to require a subscription for what should be a one-time test.

Privacy is mandated by U.S. healthcare law, and every company that handles a patient’s medical information is required to protect confidentiality and prevent the transfer of information to third parties without consent. The results of an STD test are especially sensitive for most patients, and a reliable company to work with should have a section on its website disclosing how it protects personally identifying information. Kits are generally packed in such a way that their contents are hard to guess at, and return packaging is similarly discreet. You should feel free to discuss testing, or the results of your test, with your doctor, but as a rule there’s no requirement to do so to get results from an at-home test.

IV. Other Testing Options

At-home STD testing is a relatively new phenomenon, coinciding with the ease of private transactions over the internet. The traditional path of checking for STDs at the doctor’s office is still very common, and the personal attention you get from a medical professional may result in a somewhat more informative set of results. Testing in the office or lab can also make it more convenient to consult with the physician about treatment options and other issues that arise from having an STD, such as partner notification. Bear in mind that no at-home test company can release your results to a spouse or partner, though some laws may require a good faith effort to notify spouses and other potential partners of positive HIV tests.

Specific notification laws aside, the professional ethics of healthcare providers ensure that in-person STD testing is as discreet as taking an at-home test, and the major difference is in the comfort a patient feels with the process. If you feel unsure about collecting samples or preserving them without contamination, it may be a good idea to get assistance from a nurse, lab technician, or another professional who is familiar with the protocols for collecting samples. The test can then be mailed out just the same as if you drew your own blood or urine.

It is difficult to establish any consistent difference in cost between at-home and in-person STD testing. This is due to several factors, such as the variation in what gets tested and what fraction of the office visit your insurance can cover. As a very general rule, in-person medical care from a doctor is likely to be more expensive without insurance than mailing a sample to a lab, however.

 

V. Frequently Asked Questions

What STDs are tested for in an at-home test?

Even very basic kits check for Chlamydia and Gonorrhea. More comprehensive tests can check for up to 14 of the most common STDs, including HIV/AIDS.

Should I stop taking my medication for the test?

Never stop taking prescription medication without talking to your doctor. None of the STD tests in use require this.

Do I have to fast?

No STD test you can take at home requires fasting.

Do I need my own medical supplies to take a test at home?

Virtually all home STD test kits contain everything needed to collect and mail samples.

How reliable are at-home STD tests?

Most testing companies use methods approved by the FDA, and their accuracy is comparable to results from any authorized testing lab.