Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs): Prevention & Testing

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs), previously termed sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are infections that are spread through sexual contact. There are many ways to prevent STIs, so it is important to choose the methods that work for you. 

You should get tested for STIs if you have not been tested since your last sexual partner(s). To minimize the spread of infection, it is recommended that any person who is sexually active be tested once a year.  Depending on your sex practices, you may want to get tested more frequently. 

  •  STIs are preventable
  • Don't ignore symptoms of an STI. Some STIs can be asymptomatic and not have symptoms. Get treatment early.
  • Many STIs are curable. Both you and your partner(s) need treatment.
  • Most STI tests are covered by insurance. If you don't have insurance, there are still places to get free or reduced fee testing.
  • You can ask for STI testing at your usual health care provider or at a walk-in clinic.
  • Whatcom County Health and Community Services offers free STI testing to people without insurance or symptoms by appointment only.


There are many ways to prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Choose the methods that work for you and your partner(s).

  • Have Fewer Partners: The more people you have sex with, the greater your chances of getting an STI. Ask new partners if they have been tested for STIs since their last partner(s).
  • Don't Mix Drugs and Alcohol with Sex: Drinking alcohol and using recreational drugs can affect your ability to make healthy and safe decisions about sex. If you are thinking of drinking alcohol or using drugs, make a plan with your partner(s) beforehand.
  • Don't Use IV (injected) Street Drugs, and Never Share Needles: Some STIs can also be spread through IV drug use.
  • Get Vaccinated: HPV (common types), hepatitis A, and hepatitis B can be prevented with vaccines. Talk to your health care provider about getting vaccinated.
  • Use Condoms: Condoms are a highly effective way to prevent STIswhen you use them correctly and consistently. Use a condom every time you have anal, vaginal/internal genitalia, or oral sex. You can also use a dental dam for oral sex if a condom does not work for you.

How They Spread

You can get STIs during vaginal/internal genitalia, anal (butt), or oral (mouth) sex. STIs can be transmitted through the exchange of blood, semen, and vaginal/internal genitalia fluids, or through skin contact. There are things you can do to: CDC - STI Diseases & Related Conditions


When to Get Tested

Many people do not have any symptoms even when they have an infection, so it is always good to get tested for STIs regularly. If you do have symptoms of an STI, you should get tested as soon as possible. Anyone 14 years old and up can legally consent to STI testing in Washington State. Some common symptoms of STIs are:

  1. Abnormal vaginal/internal genitalia discharge.
  2. Discharge or bleeding from the penis/external genitalia or anus.
  3. Pelvic or abdominal pain.
  4. Sore throat if you have oral sex.
  5. Sores around the sites you have sex.
  6. Swollen or tender testicles.
  7. Unusual and prolonged itching.
  8. Pain or burning when you pee.


Where to Get Tested

Almost all primary care providers can test for STIs at their clinic. Try calling your usual health care provider first to find out what STI tests they offer. 

If you do not have a health care provider or cannot go to them, you can get tested at a walk-in clinic.

Whatcom County Providers that Offer Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI) Testing (PDF)

STI Testing at Whatcom County Health and Community Services

We offer limited STI testing for people who don't have insurance or symptoms. Find out if you are eligible for our free STI testing:

Call us at 360-778-6100. Currently, STI testing is by appointment only. 

We offer tests for these STIs:

  • Chlamydia and Gonorrhea
  • HIV
  • Syphilis