If you’re wondering how long after sex you should wait to get tested for a sexually transmitted disease (STD), you’re not alone. When your goal is to be proactive about your sexual health, it can be hard to find the answers you need. Testing for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) is notoriously complicated, too, because each STI timeline varies according to how your immune system responds to a specific organism.
Follow this primer on STD time and the average window for STD testing for the information you need to stay well and have peace of mind.
What is an STD incubation period?
When it comes to STD testing, it’s helpful to start with some definitions. The STD incubation period is defined as the range of time it takes between when you first come into contact with a sexually transmitted organism and when you develop symptoms of an infection. It takes time for a bacteria or virus to multiply within your body to the point that it will be detected on a lab test. Some lab tests check for antibodies (the immune cells that fight off a virus or bacteria), and these also take time to develop. Some STDs have a very short incubation period, meaning that if you have unprotected sex on a Saturday, you may have symptoms by Monday. However, other STDs have a very long incubation period.
According to the CDC, one complicating factor when it comes to STD incubation periods is that not all STDs cause symptoms in every person with an infection. In fact, many people will be unaware that they have an STD, because they will have no symptoms at all. This is why it’s important to get an STD test within a certain period of time after having unprotected sex, even if you’re having no symptoms of infection at all.
When should I get tested for STDs?
To help stay as safe as possible, the CDC recommends that you get tested for STDs after having an unprotected sexual encounter (including oral sex) with a person outside of a monogamous sexual relationship. However, beyond this general principle, there are specific windows of time during which you should get tested for each STD. It’s important to be aware of these time windows because if you get tested before the window begins, you could have a false negative STD test, according to the CDC. This means that you could get a negative result when you actually do have the STI. It can be agonizing to wait—but it’s definitely worth it to get tested during the appropriate time window. Another important thing to keep in mind is that you should refrain from any sexual activity until you are sure you do not have an STI.
When to get tested for each STD – Window Period
Based on data from the CDC
|STI||What is it?||When to get tested|
|Chlamydia||Bacterial infection||At the two-week mark, just to be sure|
|Gonorrhea||Bacterial infection||At the two-week mark, just to be sure|
|HIV||Viral infection||After two weeks, with a follow-up test in 3 months just to be sure|
|Syphilis||Bacterial infection||After 1 month, with a follow-up test in 3 months just to be sure|
|Hepatitis B||Viral infection||After 3 to 6 weeks|
|Hepatitis C||Viral infection||After 2 months, with a follow-up in 6 months just to be sure|
|HPV (Human papillomavirus)||Viral infection||After 3 weeks to a few months|
|Herpes||Viral infection||After a few days (for a swab), or a few months (for a blood test)|
|Trichomonas||Parasitic infection||After one week to one month|
It can be difficult to make sense of all this information, and to decide when to get tested for each STD. It can also be hard to wait—especially if you’re worried that you may be harboring an STI.
A couple general rules of thumb from the CDC can help make this process less complicated. First, if you’re having symptoms of an STD—like vaginal or penile discharge, pain with urination, or pelvic pain—don’t wait to get tested. If you have symptoms, it means that your infection is within a detectable range. If your sexual partner informs you that they’re positive for an STI, then don’t wait to get treated—get evaluated right away.
If you don’t have any symptoms, the CDC recommends to wait about two weeks to get tested for gonorrhea, chlamydia, HIV, trichomonas, and syphilis. If those tests are negative, then a follow-up test a few months later for HIV and syphilis can give you ultimate peace of mind.
How soon do STD symptoms appear?
When it comes to STD symptoms appearing, each STD has its own incubation period. Check out this STD incubation period chart for a full breakdown.
Incubation period for each STD (data from the CDC)
|Chlamydia||7 to 21 days|
|Gonorrhea||2 to 24 days|
|HIV||7 days to many years|
|Syphilis||10 to 90 days|
|Hepatitis B||6 weeks to 6 months|
|Hepatitis C||2 weeks to 6 months|
|HPV (Human papillomavirus)||14 days to years|
|Herpes||2 to 12 days|
|Trichomonas||5 to 28 days|
It can be vexing to wait around wondering if you’ve contracted an STD during a sexual encounter. However, by researching your next steps and getting informed about incubation periods and testing windows, you’re already well on your way to getting the care you need. Always contact a physician if you have questions or need care.
Frequently asked questions
How soon after sex can HIV be detected?
The time it takes to detect HIV varies by the particular HIV detection test used. According to the CDC, a nucleic acid test (NAT) can detect HIV within 10 to 33 days of being exposed and infected. An antigen/antibody test can detect HIV within 18 to 45 days of being exposed and infected. Antibody tests can detect HIV within 23 to 90 days of an HIV infection. Because of these wide ranges, health experts recommend getting a follow-up test after an initial negative test, just to be sure.
How often should you get checked for STDs?
According to the CDC, the recommended frequency of STD checks depends on your personal activities and risks, and varies based on each STD. For example, men who have sex with men should get tested for syphilis every 3-6 months if they engage in high-risk activities, such as unprotected sex. All sexually active women under the age of 25 should get checked for gonorrhea and chlamydia at least once yearly, and women over the age of 25 who have multiple sex partners should also get tested yearly.
How long should I wait to get tested?
The window periods may provide helpful information when deciding how long you should wait to get STD testing. The incubation period can tell you when you might expect to see symptoms if you’ve contracted an infection, but it’s quite possible that you may never develop symptoms. This is why, when it comes to how long after sex to get tested for STD, the window period is a more important timeline to follow. Always contact a physician if you have questions or need care or treatment.
Where can I get an STD test?
Once you’ve targeted a time period for STD testing, don’t agonize over where to get an STD test. At Solv, we offer telemedicine services and have urgent care locations nationwide that can connect you with high quality, convenient, and confidential care. Our partners are all highly skilled at helping you stay healthy and manage any issues that come along so that you can keep living well. Check out our STD testing near me tool to get started today.
Solv has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
- Time Periods of Interest. HIV, STDs, Viral Hepatitis (July 2018)
- Screening Recommendations and Considerations Referenced in Treatment Guidelines and Original Sources (September 15, 2021)
- STI Screening Timetable
- Sexually transmitted infections (June 24, 2019)
- Types of HIV Tests (May 18, 2021)