"The thing about coming to tattoo parlors, about being unhealthy, about hepatitis and HIV, all of that, that's an outdated mode of thinking," Bob Martin of Gotham Tattoo said. "We're safe, we're clean.
The innovative program is Internet-based. Clients go to the Web site www.stdtest.org, print out their own lab slip and head to the tattoo parlor, or six other traditional laboratory locations. The project is a collaboration between the city and the non-profit group Isis.
"We're trusting the Internet and the security and privacy of the systems in order to do our personal banking and finances; why not trust the systems with our sexual health," Isis spokesperson Deb Levine said.
The confidential results are accessible online with a personal identification number. The anonymity of the Internet erases any stigma, Dr. Jeffrey Klausner of the San Francisco Department of Health said.
"For STD control, we need to make it as easy as possible, we need to erase the barriers, we know people are embarrassed," he said.
But testing is crucial. In San Francisco, syphilis among gay men is on the rise. There were 274 cases in the first half of 2008, compared to 203 cases in the same period last year, a 35 percent increase.
People can get tested for free, whether they go to Gotham Tattoo or a clinic, although it is hoped patients will make a contribution.