Whom to see for an STI?

Originally Published: January 31, 1997 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: August 17, 2007
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Dear Alice,

If you think you have an STD, what kind of doctor do you go to?

Dear Reader,

Good question! Fortunately, you have a few different types of health care providers to choose from if you think that you might have been exposed to a sexually transmitted infection (STI), the newer term for a sexually transmitted disease (STD). Women may go to a gynecologist or another women's health care provider, and men to a urologist or another men's health care provider. You can also see your primary care physician or nurse practitioner. Columbia students may visit Primary Care Medical Services for diagnosis and treatment; make an appointment by calling x4-2284 or online through Open Communicator. The Gay Health Advocacy Project also provides free and confidential HIV-testing and counseling services on a walk-in basis to members of the Columbia community (see their webpage for walk-in hours).

In addition to a primary care provider, dermatologists tend to be adept at identifying and treating certain STIs, as the symptoms of many STIs involve lesions, rashes, and warts on and around the genitals. You might also call the local office of your state's public health department to find out if they run an STI clinic near you. Women and men also have the option of going to a local Planned Parenthood health center for diagnosis and treatment of STIs.

To find out where the Planned Parenthood in your area is located, call 1.800.230.PLAN (-7526). Another resource is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) National STD and AIDS Hotline — they can tell you where free and/or low-cost clinics are located near you, as well as answer questions you may have about treatment, transmission, and prevention of STIs. Their number is 1.800.227.8922 (available 24/7).

Some people feel embarrassed visiting a health care provider when they think they may have an STI, so you might want to consider how comfortable you'll feel with certain health care providers during the process of deciding who to see. Will you be able to speak openly? If you are concerned about being able to be open with your regular health care provider, you might consider visiting a health center such as Planned Parenthood. It's important to tell the health care provider that you think you may have an STI, and be honest about what you have been exposed to. Many providers don't automatically test for STIs during a routine check-up — typically you would need to either tell them what you are concerned about, or show them any symptoms you've noticed.

While you're visiting a health care provider, why not take the opportunity to learn more about safer sex? You'll have an opportunity to discuss safer sex guidelines with the health care provider that you see, and learn ways to reduce your risk of contracting STIs. Another valuable resource is Alice's Sexual Health archive, which has many, many Q&As on safer sex and STIs.