Written on June 27, 2023 by Sendra Yang, PharmD, MBA. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.
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Every year many people become infected with STDs, or sexually transmitted diseases. STDs are caused by infections with different organisms, such as bacteria, parasites, and viruses.[1,2] The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that one in five people have a sexually transmitted infection in the United States. In 2021, nearly 2.5 million new cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis were reported, though the numbers continue to rise.
More on STDs
STDs are transmitted or passed from person to person primarily through vaginal, oral, or anal sex. Many times you may not even know if you have an STD, because STDs do not always present with noticeable symptoms. That’s why it is essential to get tested for STDs, especially if you have had unprotected sex or you think you may have been exposed to a sexually transmitted infection. But how soon after sex can you test for STDs? The answer is more complicated than you would think. Let’s first discuss what STD testing is and the incubation and window periods to understand when you can test for STDs after sex.
What Is STD Testing?
STD testing is a laboratory test that helps determine if you have an STD.[2,5] There are various types of STD testing, which can differ depending on the specific STD. The type of test used to detect the STD can use different samples or specimens (urine, blood, swabs) and detection methods. STD testing can look specifically for the infectious organism (antigens) or for markers your body produces against the infection (antibodies).
Incubation and Window Periods
The incubation period can impact when you can test for STDs. The incubation period is the timeframe from exposure to an infection to when the first signs and symptoms of that infection present.[6-8] During incubation, the causative organism will multiply and reach a threshold where clinical signs and symptoms appear. Often, symptoms prompt people to seek testing. Common STD symptoms include painful urination, bumps, sores or severe itching near the penis or vagina, vaginal bleeding or foul discharge, discharge from the penis, and painful sex. However, STDs will not always show symptoms or may only present with mild ones. Each STD will have a different incubation period.
The window period can also influence when you can test for STDs. The window period is the timeframe from exposure to when a test can detect the STD in your body.[7-9] Getting tested before the window period could yield a false negative result. The window period is also dependent on the type of test used.
When to Test for STDs
How soon after sex can you test for STDs? Detection of STDs can vary based on multiple elements, including the infectious organism, type of test or sample used, incubation period, and window period. Here are six STDs and the things that could impact how soon after sex you can test for the STD[5-12]:
- Infectious organism: Chlamydia trachomatis bacterium
- Types of tests or specimens: urine or a swab of vagina, rectum, or throat
- Incubation period: unclear incubation period, but proposed to be one to three weeks. Chlamydia usually has no symptoms
- Window period: one to two weeks
- Infectious organism: Neisseria gonorrheae bacterium
- Types of tests or specimens: urine or a swab of vagina, rectum or throat
- Incubation period: two days to two weeks. Gonorrhea often has no symptoms
- Window period: one to two weeks
- Infectious organism: Treponema pallidum bacterium
- Types of tests or specimens: blood tests or rapid plasma tests
- Incubation period: 10 to 90 days, averaging 21 days. Most times, symptoms are too mild to notice
- Window period: one to three months
- Infectious organism: human immunodeficiency virus
- Types of tests or specimens: blood test, antibody test, antigen/antibody test, oral cheek swab
- Incubation period: mild body aches with fever in one to two weeks, up to months and years
- Window period: varies depending on the type of test—ranges from two weeks up to three or four months
- Infectious organism: Trichomonas vaginalis parasite
- Types of tests or specimens: a swab of the vagina
- Incubation period: five to 28 days, often with no symptoms
- Window period: one week up to one month
- Hepatitis C
- Infectious organism: hepatitis C virus
- Types of tests or specimens: blood test, antibody test
- Incubation period: two to six weeks, up to six months, often presents with no symptoms
- Window period: two months up to six months
If you are sexually active, the CDC recommends routine STD testing to help protect your health. Additionally, the CDC advises you to have an open dialogue with your healthcare provider about your sexual history.
STD Prevention Strategies
The best STD prevention method is to avoid getting infected in the first place. Some ways you can protect yourself from getting STDs include:
- Get appropriately vaccinated against STDs that have a vaccine available
- Reduce your number of sexual partners
- Ensure you and your sexual partner(s) are not infected with STDs
- Use condoms correctly and consistently each time you engage in anal, vaginal, or oral sex. It is not recommended to use natural condoms for STD prevention.
- Abstain from having anal, vaginal, or oral sex
At-Home Lab Testing for STDs Through Everlywell
Everlywell offers at-home lab testing for sexual health, including for STD tests for men and female STD testing. The STD test checks for six sexually transmitted infections: chlamydia, gonorrhea, hepatitis C, HIV, syphilis, and trichomoniasis.
How Much Does STD Treatment Cost Without Insurance?
What Antibiotics Treat STDs?
What STD Causes Painful Urination?
- CDC - STD Diseases & Related Conditions. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/std/general/default.htm. Last reviewed March 2, 2023. Accessed June 23, 2023.
- Sexually transmitted infections (sexually transmitted diseases). Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/9138-sexually-transmitted-diseases--infections-stds--stis. Accessed June 23, 2023.
- STI prevalence, incidence, and cost estimates. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/std/statistics/prevalence-incidence-cost-2020.htm. Last reviewed February 18, 2021. Accessed June 23, 2023.
- Sexually transmitted disease surveillance, 2021. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/std/statistics/2021/default.htm. Last reviewed April 11, 2023. Accessed June 23, 2023.
- STI treatment guidelines. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/std/treatment-guidelines/default.htm. Last reviewed June 13, 2023. Accessed June 23, 2023.
- Incubation period. Biology Articles, Tutorials & Dictionary Online. https://www.biologyonline.com/dictionary/incubation-period. Accessed June 23, 2023.
- STI screening timetable. University of Oregon. https://health.uoregon.edu/files/STI_screening_timetable.pdf. Accessed June 23, 2023.
- Time periods of interest. HIV, STDs, Viral Hepatitis. North Dakota Department of Health. https://www.ndhealth.gov/hiv/Docs/CTR/TimePeriodsReference_HIVSTDsHep.pdf. Accessed June 23, 2023.
- Types of HIV tests. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/basics/hiv-testing/test-types.html. Last reviewed June 22, 2022. Accessed June 23, 2023.
- Understanding the HIV window period. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/basics/hiv-testing/hiv-window-period.html. Last reviewed June 22, 2022. Accessed June 23, 2023.
- Sexually transmitted infections. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/yellowbook/2024/posttravel-evaluation/sexually-transmitted-infections. Accessed June 23, 2023.
- Detailed STD Facts - Chlamydia. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/std/chlamydia/stdfact-chlamydia-detailed.htm/. Last reviewed April 11, 2023. Accessed June 23, 2023.
- Which STD tests should I get? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/std/prevention/screeningreccs.htm. Last reviewed December 14, 2021. Accessed June 23, 2023.
- How You Can Prevent Sexually Transmitted Diseases. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/std/prevention/default.htm. Last reviewed February 22, 2023. Accessed June 23, 2023.