Sexually transmitted infections: Are they curable, when to get tested and other common questions

Couple holding hands

If you are having sex, it’s time to consider getting tested for sexually transmitted infections. It’s a perfectly normal part of health care designed to keep you safe and healthy.  

If you have considered getting tested but still have questions, you are not alone. University Health Center medical experts answer these frequently asked questions:  

How common are STIs?  

They’re more common than you may think. One in two people will contract a sexually transmitted infection by age 25, according to the American Sexual Health Association. Chlamydia, genital herpes, gonorrhea, syphilis and human papillomavirus are more prevalent among college-aged people. Many of these are on the rise in the U.S., especially among younger people. 

How can I get an STI?  

You can get an STI when you have sexual contact with an infected person. This includes vaginal, anal and oral sex (receiving and giving) and mutual masturbation. Although the risk is low, it is possible to transmit certain STIs from skin-to-skin contact like kissing or cuddling.

How do I know if I have an STI?  

STIs have a variety of symptoms or no symptoms at all. Many time, symptoms are ignored or misinterpreted as something unimportant. If you experience STI symptoms, these may include:  

  • Unexplained abdominal/pelvic or testicular pain 
  • Genital discharge 
  • Burning urination 
  • Genital rash, itching or sores  

If left untreated, STIs can sometimes cause severe consequences like infertility, cancer and pelvic inflammatory disease . Talking with a doctor and having an examination followed by testing is a good idea if you have any questions or concerns.

Are STIs curable?

Some are, and some aren’t. For example, syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia and trichomoniasis are, hepatitis B, herpes simplex virus, HIV and HPV are not. However, all STIs can be treated, and the symptoms managed.

How often should I get tested?

Anyone sexually active should get tested annually for common STIs and HIV. You should also get tested if you are showing any of the signs or symptoms mentioned above, if you have a new partner(s) and if you share needles. Depending on your risk factors, your doctor may advise you to get tested more often for certain STIs.

Which STIs should I get tested for?  

STIs are not like allergies; you can’t get a massive test for all STIs. These tests are specific to each infection. Talk to your doctor about which STI tests you need. Certain STIs are more common than others, so your provider may suggest you get tested regularly for them.  

Remember to be honest and open with your provider about your sexual activity, including what type of sexual contact you participate in, as this determines where and how you should be tested. Your provider is here to help, not judge you. What you share will help your provider choose the most appropriate tests for your circumstances so that your testing will not cost more than necessary. Your risk factors will determine which tests are most important for you. 

How can I get tested for STIs and/or HIV at the University Health Center?  

Step 1: Call the University Health Center at 402.472.5000 and follow the options to speak to a nurse. Tell the nurse that you’d like to get tested. The nurse line is available Monday through Friday from 8:20 a.m. to 4:40 p.m. 

Step 2: The nurse will ask you a few questions and put an order in for your testing at our laboratory.  

Step 3: Walk into the lab at your convenience and check in at the health center front desk Monday through Friday between 8:20 a.m. and 4:40 p.m. Tell the medical receptionist that you’re checking in “for lab only.” Our staff will check you in and direct you to the lab, where you will complete your testing. 

Step 4: Nursing staff will call you in a few business days with results and schedule follow-up as needed. Results will also be available in your One Chart | Patient portal in about two to three business days.  

Who will know I got tested at the health center?  

All lab services and clinic medical records are strictly confidential. This information is kept between you and your doctor. However, there are a few things you should know:  

  • Minors (students 18 and younger) do not need parental consent for STI testing or treatment. STI testing and treatment information will not be shared with parents of minors without the minor’s permission  
  • If you use health insurance to get tested, consider who else has access to that information (like a parent or partner if you share health insurance). Please tell the medical receptionist at check-in if you do not want to submit your charge to insurance  
  • Positive results for some STIs, like HIV or syphilis, may be shared with state or city health departments for tracking purposes. Still, laws prevent health departments from sharing your test results with your family, friends or employer 

If you have further questions or concerns, talk to your doctor. 

How much does it cost? 

Student fees cover the cost of doctor-ordered chlamydia, gonorrhea, and HIV tests for currently enrolled UNL students who pay University Program and Facilities Fees. Other tests will have a charge. In some cases, these costs may be eligible to be covered by grant funds; talk to nursing staff to learn if this option is available for you. Charges can also be submitted to insurance or paid out of pocket at a discount. Financial assistance is available to those who qualify. For pricing information, call the health center at 402.472.5000 and press the Billing and Insurance option.  

What if I test positive? 

First, remember to breathe. Side effects and health outcomes of many STIs can be treated, and many STIs are curable. Different treatment methods are used for different STIs. For some STIs, there are several treatment options. Your provider will tell you more about this after your test.  

How do I tell my partner(s) I have an STI? 

Some conversations seem really hard to have. Telling someone you have an STI may be one of them. But it’s not just about you; your partner(s) needs to know so they can get tested and treated if necessary.  

Everyone gets an STI from a person. Open communication prevents the spread of STIs, so talk to your partner(s). Many couples report this conversation actually brings them closer together.  

Make a plan. As soon as you’re ready, bring it up with your partner(s). You could talk to someone else about it first and practice what you will say. You could also journal about it or practice speaking in a mirror. You could even write your partner(s) a letter. The main point is to communicate. Be there for them the way you hope they would be there for you.  

How to stay safe

STIs are very common and can spread easily. So what can you do to stay safe? Here are seven tips:

  1. Use condoms and use them correctly.
  2. When possible, limit casual sex and always use condoms with new partners.
  3. Get tested between partners and after unprotected sex.
  4. Make informed choices about the level of risk you are comfortable taking with your sex life.
  5. Talk with your partner(s) about the potential risk of acquiring STIs.
  6. Get vaccinated for HPV, the most common STI.
  7. If you or your partner is infected with a curable STI, both of you should start treatment immediately to avoid reinfection.