STI home test kit facts

You’ve probably heard us talk about GUM clinics and going to your GP to get tested for STIs (which we will once again highly recommend) but what about other methods? With modern science being what it is there’s now home test kits available. But is an STI home test kit a good or a bad idea? The Mix does some investigating.

A young man is kicking a football. He just took an at home STI test.

While most young people know that a visit to their doctor (GP) or local GUM clinic is the way to go for receiving reliable free STI testing and confidential advice, more of them choose home STI kits to test. A quick Google search reveals hundreds of different kits to use at home. Don’t get us wrong, the fact that they’re so widely accessible is great. Problem is, you don’t know which ones are any good.

What’s the appeal of STI home test kits?

According to Dr Gemma Newman, people choose home testing when they have STI symptoms for a number of reasons: “Some people feel embarrassed about discussing their sexual partners with people,” she says. “Others worry the doctor will judge them. You might have concerns about people finding out you went to a family planning clinic. Or about what’s involved.

Believe it or not, some just find it inconvenient to miss a working day! Regardless, it’s important to remember that doctors who are in sexual health services always take a non-judgmental approach. They only offer tests depending on what you need, and what you want. What’s more, family planning clinics provide friendly, free services as well as any care and advice you may need. Trust me, it can feel pretty lonely and/or scary if you test positive and have no support.

How do STI home test kits work?

Here’s a breakdown of all the different tests available: 

  • Chlamydia – tested using a urine sample or a swab from the cervix;
  • Gonorrhoea – tested using a genital swab;
  • Genital herpes – the best method of diagnosis is with a swab taken from a sore.

Fun Fact: Home tests for HIV used to be illegal. It was only recently that they changed the law. You can now test for HIV at home with a simple oral swap. Test results take around 20 minutes to develop. Who knows, in a couple years time you may even be able to have your results text messaged to you.

There is a higher risk of inaccuracy & some STIs can be tested at home

The accuracy of any STI test kit at home relies on reading the instructions extremely carefully. That’s why we’d probably say that a visit to the clinic is the better option. Plus, some home tests involving urine testing might not be worth your while as a negative result will not rule out infection. 

Not to mention, syphilis testing requires a blood test looking for antibodies (indicating past or present infection) or, more accurately, taking a swab from a syphilis sore. Similarly, doctors can’t give a diagnosis for the sexually transmitted infections (STIs) hepatitis B and hepatitis C without at least one positive blood test.

How much do home STI kits cost?

They have quite the range. Tests vary from about £25 to £300. Luckily, if you’re absolutely set on taking a test at home, several local health authorities in England offer chlamydia tests for free. This is exactly what Leigh, 17, did when she wanted to test herself for chlamydia and got a free test.

“I kept hearing how chlamydia could be asymptomatic so it was preying on my mind. Especially since I knew I’d had unprotected sex in the past,” she says. “It was a simple swab test – I just sent it off and waited seven days. Easy. It came back negative, which was a relief. But the nagging feeling didn’t go away completely. So I went ahead and made an appointment for a full check, including HIV testing, at a family planning clinic. That decision was definitely helped by the fact that I had a vague idea of what testing would be like.

How reliable is an STI home test kit?

If you decide to go ahead with a home test kit, how do you make sure you’re picking a reliable one? Dr Newman recommends buying from UK-based companies that are connected to a sexual health clinic, which might even be linked to an NHS trust. That way they can advise you about who to go to if you need any help. Even if it turns out that you just need emergency contraception.

Loads of teenagers have used home testing for STIs successfully. Most are happy with it as a way of checking themselves for chlamydia, amongst other infections,” she says. “Others have found it more difficult. Or, if they test positive, confused about how to seek treatment such as getting a course of antibiotics.

“I’d always suggest going to a clinic if you can. In that environment, the doctor can help you figure out which tests are best for you depending on your circumstances. And if you prefer to see a man or woman specifically, most clinics can accommodate this. On the other hand, if you feel that home testing is the only way you would ever get checked, go for it. It’s definitely better than doing nothing.”

More support for sexual health

Check out The Mix’s safe sex resources here..

Next Steps

  • Brook provides free sexual health and wellbeing services for young people in the UK. Brook's services include local clinics and online digital sex and relationships tool.
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By Elizabeth Nicholls

Updated on 03-Jul-2022