If you think you have an STI
If you think you have an STI you need to get it checked out by a doctor. If an STI is left unchecked the problem can get worse. Many STIs can be effectively treated and those that can't be cured can often be better controlled with treatment.
It can be embarrassing going to visit a doctor to discuss sexually related health concerns and so it is important that you find a doctor you feel comfortable with.
You could also consider visiting a sexual health clinic, FPA Health clinic (formerly Family Planning NSW), youth health centre, women's health centre, Aboriginal community controlled health services or Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander sexual health worker, or visiting a sexual health worker. Many of these clinics not only offer doctors but also nurses, counsellors, and other health care workers who can look after a range of your sexual health needs.
If you think you have an STI it is important not to have sex until you have seen your doctor. This ensures you don't pass the infection on to others.
If you do have an STI your doctor can talk to you about whether you should not have sex and for how long. Your doctor can also tell you whether using condoms or avoiding certain sexual activities will protect your partner from infection.
If you want to get tested for an STI, or have a sexual health check-up, you can choose to find your own doctor or visit a sexual health clinic, family planning clinic, youth health centre, women's health centre or Aboriginal community controlled health services. Choose an option that is convenient for you and will make you feel comfortable.
Visiting a doctor
A doctor, also called a general practitioner (GP), is the first person to see if you have an illness or health problem. In most cases, doctors prefer you to make an appointment in advance.
You might choose to see your current family doctor or you might look for a different doctor. The choice is yours. Everybody looks for different things in their doctor. You might choose a doctor based on convenience, their gender or because they specialise in a particular area. You need to feel comfortable and safe talking with your doctor.
A good doctor will:
- listen to what you have to say;
- not judge your behaviour;
- ask you questions about your health, sexual history and practices;
- explain things in a way that you can understand them;
- talk to you about how to protect your health; and
- answer your questions.
The law requires that consultations with your doctor or any health professional are confidential, though there are situations where they can be required to report information if they have serious concerns about you or someone else's safety. For example they may need to break confidentiality if someone is at risk of seriously harming themselves or somebody else, or if they suspect a young person is being subjected to physical, emotional or sexual abuse.
If you are unsure what a doctor will have to report, then you need to ask them what they are required to report and who they will have to report to. If it is worrying you it is a good idea to ask at the beginning of the consultation.
When you turn 16 years old you have the same right to confidentiality as an adult. More information on the law and people under 18 is available at Lawstuff
How do I get a Medicare card?
The Australian Government provides health care for its citizens through the Medicare program which covers all or part of the costs associated with visiting your doctor.
The first step is to obtain a Medicare card application form. Applications can be made in person at a Medicare office or by calling Medicare on 132 011 or by downloading the form
When you enrol you will need to show proof that you are eligible (e.g. a birth certificate or passport). Young people over the age of 15 are eligible to be enrolled on their own Medicare card. Once you have been approved, your Medicare card will then be sent to you in the mail or you can arrange to pick it up from a Medicare office.
How much will it cost to visit a doctor?
The cost of seeing a doctor can vary.
'Bulk billing' means that the doctor will directly bill Medicare for the cost of the consultation. All you need to do is present your Medicare card.
'Direct billing' is where the doctor charges you the consultation fee. With the receipt your doctor provides, you are then able to claim a portion of the fee back from Medicare (the amount you get back will depend on the amount the doctor charged you). To make a claim you need to visit a Medicare office or return by post a completed application form.
Some doctors who direct bill will offer bulk billing to students, pensioners and health care card holders. Check with your doctor's surgery when you make an appointment.
If you don't have a Medicare card or don't wish to obtain one you can visit a sexual health clinic or pay to see a doctor. Doctors only require a Medicare card for people who want to claim the cost of the consultation. The services sexual health clinics offer are free and do not require a Medicare card.
Sexual health clinics have been set up across NSW to provide a free and confidential service. The clinics offer testing and treatment of STIs. They can also talk to you about contraception, other sexual health concerns, and vaccination for hepatitis A and hepatitis B for people at high risk.
You do not need a Medicare card to visit a sexual health clinic.
What happens when you visit a sexual health clinic?
If you wish to see a doctor, nurse or counsellor at the clinic it is a good idea to make an appointment, however walk-in services are often available for those who are unable to make an appointment or require urgent attention.
When you first attend a clinic you will be asked some questions about your general health and sexual health. They include personal questions such as your sexual orientation, your sexual practice, number of sexual partners, etc. If you answer these questions honestly staff will be better able to meet your needs. Your answers are confidential. You can also choose to remain anonymous when attending a clinic.
When answering questions it is important to also take the opportunity to ask any questions you may have.
Depending on how many staff work at the clinic you may be able to choose whether you would prefer to see a male or female doctor/nurse.
After the initial consultation you will need to return for follow up if the doctor says this is required. You can then be provided with test results and the doctor can check treatment effectiveness, it also provides you with another opportunity to ask questions. Test results, such as HIV and hepatitis C, are generally not given over the telephone.
Sexual health check-up
A sexual health check-up is an opportunity for you to discuss any sexual health concerns you may have, including concerns about STIs and HIV.
If you are sexually active having a regular sexual health check-up is always a good idea. You don't need to have physical symptoms to undergo a sexual health check-up. To find out who you can visit for a sexual health check-up go to getting tested .
A standard sexual health check-up will involve:
- sexual history
- examination and tests
- follow up and
- may involve informing your partners.
During a sexual health check-up you will be asked questions about your sexual history. These are standard questions that your doctor will ask every patient. While many questions are of a personal nature, you need to answer as honestly as you can as the information you provide will enable your doctor to better support your health needs. You can skip any questions you prefer not to answer.
Your doctor must respect your confidentiality. There are a limited number of situations where they can be required to report information, for example if they have serious concerns about you or someone else's safety. When you turn 16 years old you have the same right to confidentiality as an adult.
Questions may focus on:
- whether you have any physical symptoms
- any previous STIs you may have had
- sexual behaviour (eg what kind of sex you have had)
- relationship history (eg how may partners you've had)
- menstrual cycle and contraception (eg how regular your periods are)
- drug and alcohol use
- general questions, if not already known, about your health and medication history.
Examination and tests
Physical examinations can be embarrassing but they are an important part of a sexual health check-up. Your doctor will do his/her best to make sure you feel comfortable. You may want to consider whether you feel more comfortable undergoing a physical examination by a male or female, and therefore choose your doctor accordingly.
If you have concerns about a physical examination, discuss these with your doctor beforehand. Your doctor can explain what the procedure will involve.
A physical examination might involve:
- genital examination;
- swabs (long cotton bud) from the cervix, vagina or rectum, tip of the penis or back of the throat;
- blood tests for STIs;
- urine tests for STIs; and
- pap smear (smear taken from the neck of the womb) for early screening of cancer.
Remember you can say no to having any of these tests or have them at your next visit. Your doctor may recommend tests if he/she believes there's a chance you have an STI.
If tests are taken, then it is important that you return to your doctor for follow up. This allows you to find out the results of the test. Sometimes you may be able to get the results by phoning but for some STIs, such as HIV, your doctor will require you to attend in person.
If you have had symptoms, returning for follow up allows your doctor to monitor your treatment.
If you do have an STI, it is often important to work out who else you have recently had sex with. This is so that your sexual partner/s can go and visit their doctor to get tested. This helps in reducing the continual spread of STIs.
Generally you will be asked to tell your sexual contacts yourself, but you may choose to ask your doctor to make contact instead. If your doctor makes contact with your sexual partner/s your doctor will respect your confidentiality and not reveal your name or identity to your partner/s.
Whether your partner/s need to be contacted depends on many factors including which STI you have and even whether it is possible to trace your sexual partner/s.
Your doctor will advise you on whether you should not have sex while your STI is treated or if the use of condoms or stopping specific sexual activities will protect your partners.
When should I have a check-up?
You need to consider having a sexual health check-up:
At the beginning of a new relationship, particularly if you don't plan to use condoms.
- If you have recently ended a relationship.
- If you have had unsafe sex or believe there was some risk to your health during a sexual encounter.
- If you have genital symptoms such as pain, discharge, itching, etc.
- If you think you might have an STI.
- If your partner has recently had an STI.
- If you want information on preventing pregnancy.
- Regularly, if you get paid for sex work.
- Regularly, if you have frequent changes in sexual partners.
- Regularly, if you have sex with people outside your relationship.
- If you are concerned about some aspect of your sexual health.
- Regularly, if you are sexually active and part of a population group in which there is a high frequency rate of STIs.
Should I get tested?
The decision to get tested for STIs is a personal decision. Your doctor can discuss with you what tests to have based on your sexual history and potential risk for STIs, but the decision of what tests to have remains yours to make.
Some people don't like to get tested because they are concerned about their confidentiality. All health care settings do their best to maintain and protect your privacy and confidentiality. A range of measures are used to protect your confidentiality and the law requires that consultations with your doctor or any health professional are confidential (with some exceptions such as where someone is at risk of seriously harming themselves or somebody else, or if they suspect a young person is being subjected to physical, emotional or sexual abuse).
Before getting tested it may be worth discussing with your doctor the advantages and disadvantages of testing.
Some of the advantages of being tested include:
- Effective treatment of the STI and/or ongoing monitoring and management.
- Able to make better informed choices about your lifestyle and future plans.
- Ease of mind - comfort in knowing with certainty what illness you may or may not have.
- If you have HIV, you can treat many STIs and therefore minimise the impact it has on your immune system.
- Better able to make decisions about your sexual practice and safe sex strategies.
- If you have an STI, you can act to protect your sexual partners and tell former partners so they can act.
Some disadvantages of being tested include:
- You may become anxious and concerned while waiting for the results.
- Some STIs may have implications for your insurance coverage.
- Concern about others finding out about your health.
- Impact it may have on your partner, friends and family.
- You may become stressed or upset when you're informed about your STI testing results.
What happens if I have an STI?
If you have an STI, your doctor will talk to you about treatment options. Many STIs can be easily treated and cured. However, some do require ongoing monitoring and management.
Even HIV can now be more effectively managed through taking anti-HIV drugs (known as antiretroviral drugs). While not a cure, the drugs have dramatically improved the health of people with HIV and reduced the risk of people with HIV progressing to AIDS.
The STI section of this website provides information on how different infections are treated.
Some people become extremely upset when they find out they have an STI, particularly one that can't be cured. If you feel that way ask your doctor to provide information on what support services might be available to you. You can also check the who can I talk to section of this website.
Can I still have sex?
If you have an STI, your doctor will discuss your options for protecting and maintaining your health and that of your sexual partners.
Using a condom during sex can protect your partner from some STIs, with other STIs you should not have sex until the infection has cleared or you have had a follow-up appointment with your doctor.
If you think you have an STI it is important not to have sex until you have seen your doctor.
If you have an STI it is important that you do not pass it to your sexual partners.