Swabbing for STIs

Swabbing properly when you get an STI test seems like a no-brainer, but it could be less straightforward than it seems. These days, most of us have to swab ourselves, so making sure it’s done right the first time means getting good results and saves us from taking a trip back to the clinic to do it over. 

For starters, make sure you’re swabbing the right places. If you like to bottom or you like sucking dick, peeing in a cup won’t be enough. Bacterial infections—like chlamydia and gonorrhea—can be localized. So, if you have something in your butt or your throat, a pee test won’t catch that! Your doctor might not ask what kind of sex you’re having, so you might need to ask to get swabbed. 

When you’re swabbing yourself, you’ll get one plastic tube and a swab package for each of the spots you’re testing, along with labels. Before you do anything, make sure all of your information is right on the labels—if any of it is wrong or if there’s a typo, the lab may not process your test and you’ll have to do it again. 

When you get to the bathroom, take a look at the swab packets. If there is one swab in the packet and it looks like a big Q-tip (that’s the cotton swab), you’re good to go. Some packets will have two swabs: one that looks like a big Q-tip and one that looks like a little pipe cleaner (that’s the flocked swab). If you’re a trans guy, the flocked swab is for your cervix. If you’re not a trans guy, don’t use the flocked swab. Throw it out. If you use it in your throat or in your butt, your test will get rejected. 

You need to use the cotton swabs for your throat and butt. Don’t be afraid to ask a nurse or doctor if you need to clarify or if you need a new swab. It’s better to ask and get it done right the first time. 

Wash your hands. 

To swab your throat, stick the swab in your mouth so it touches your uvula—that little dangly thing at the back of your throat—and the area around your tonsils (or where they would be, if you don’t have any). Coat it in saliva from that area and avoid rubbing the swab on your cheeks, teeth, or tongue.  

To swab your butt, there are a few things to keep in mind. First: if you need to poop, do it before you swab. The lab will be testing for bacteria in the mucous, not in a poop sample. It’s fine to have trace amounts on the swab, but there shouldn’t be a lot.  

Second: stick the swab tip just inside—no more than an inch. It just needs to be in your anal canal, and doesn’t need to go that far in. Leave it for about 10 seconds, twist it around to collect mucous from inside your butt, then slowly pull it out. If the woven swab tip comes off the stick, get a new swab (it’s rare, but it happens sometimes). 

For both swabs:  

When you’re done collecting each sample, place it in the test tube before moving to the next swab. It’s not worth mixing it up or making a mistake. 

Unscrew the test tube and keep it upright—you need that liquid to stay in. Place the swab in—swab-side down—and look for the small line on the stick. Break the stick at that line and throw away the end piece that you broke off. Put the test tube lid back on tightly and make sure the right label goes on it: “rectal” means your butt and “pharyngeal” means your throat. 

Once you’ve done your first swab and made sure it’s sealed and labelled properly, wash your hands. Then do the second swab, and follow the same test tube steps. 

Wash your hands.  

Take the test tubes with the swabs back to the counter/sample drop off, and you’re done! Results are typically ready in a few days, but it’s a good idea to ask before you leave.