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Screening tests for STIs

6-minute read

Key facts

  • Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are infections that you can pass on to your partner during sexual activity.
  • Common STIs include chlamydia, gonorrhoea, syphilis, genital herpes, hepatitis B and HIV.
  • You can have an STI without noticing any symptoms.
  • If you’re sexually active, ask your doctor how regularly you should be tested for STIs.

What are STIs?

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs), previously known as sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), are infections that you can pass to your partner during sexual activity. There are several different types of STI. They may cause symptoms, but you can also have an STI without noticing any symptoms. STIs often cause health problems if left untreated.

Common STIs include:

These infections are caused by a bacteria or virus.

If left untreated, some STIs can affect your long-term health and/or fertility.

Am I at risk of STIs?

STIs can be passed through vaginal, oral or anal sex. If you have unprotected sex, you may be at risk of an STI. The best way to protect yourself from STIs is by using condoms for penetrative sex and having regular STI checks.

Learn more about safe sex.

Should I have an STI test?

If you are sexually active, your doctor will ask you about risk factors for STI and may recommend regular STI testing, even if you don’t have any symptoms of an STI. You may also want to consider an STI test:

  • if your partner has recently had an STI
  • if you have a new partner

Early detection of an STI can help prevent you passing it on, and reduces the chance of you developing complications.

How often should I be tested?

Males who have sex with males should test for gonorrhoea, chlamydia, syphilis and HIV every 12 months. You should be tested more often if you have multiple sexual partners, as STIs may show no symptoms.

Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people are at higher risk, and should also be tested every 12 months. You should also get tested for hepatitis C if you are HIV positive, or you have ever used injected drugs.

If you are pregnant, you should be tested for hepatitis B, C, HIV and syphilis.

If you are pregnant and under 30 years of age, you should get tested for chlamydia (and also gonorrhoea, if you are high risk).

Even if you aren’t in one of the risk groups above, you can still ask your doctor about STI checks at any time.

What happens during an STI test?

There are different types of STI test. The type you should have will depend on your individual situation. Your doctor may ask you some questions to assess your risk of STIS and decide which test you need.

In some cases, a urine sample may be enough for testing. In other situations, you might need blood tests or throat swabs, anal swabs or vaginal swabs. You can usually carry out anal or vaginal swabs yourself, or a doctor or nurse can do it for you.

What does an STI test cost?

Pathology testing is often bulk billed so there will be no cost to you. You may have to pay to see the doctor, or you may be bulk billed. Sexual health clinic services are often free.

How can I get tested?

You can visit your doctor or a sexual health clinic to get tested.

Other places you can be tested include:

  • family planning clinics
  • youth health centres
  • women’s health centres
  • Aboriginal community health services

Find a service: Use the healthdirect SERVICE FINDER tool to find a sexual health clinic near you.

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find a sexual health clinic near you.

What follow-up is involved?

You will usually need to see your doctor to get your test results.

If you do have an STI, your doctor will probably discuss contacting your current and past sexual partners. You can choose to contact your partners yourself, or there are anonymous services you can use, such as Let Them Know, Better to Know or The Drama Downunder.

Your doctor will also discuss treatment with you. Most types of STI can be cured, while others such as herpes and HIV can be well-controlled with medicines.

If you do not test positive for an STI, ask your doctor how to protect yourself from future STI infection, and when you should return for your next STI check.

Resources and support

  • Play Safe provides contacts for help, support and information on STIs, as well as where to get tested at sexual health clinics, GPs, Indigenous Health or other services.
  • QLife provides anonymous and free LGBTIQ support about sexuality, identity, gender, bodies, feelings or relationships on 1800 184 527.
  • Lifeline provides support and advice in a personal crisis on 13 11 14 (24 hours a day, every day of the year).

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: March 2023

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