More than half of all Americans get a sexually transmitted disease or infection (STI) at some point in their life. Routine STI testing alerts you to any changes in your sexual health and can give you the peace of mind knowing your all clear.
Who should get tested for STIs?
Simply put, if you are sexually active, you should receive STI testing. Many doctors will defer or phase out routine STI testing after you’ve been in a long term, monogamous relationship.
When do you need an STI test?
It’s always up to you if you need an STI test, but there are many factors that may persuade you to get one.
- You’ve never had a test. If you’ve been sexually active and never been tested, it’s a good idea to. While you may not have any symptoms of an STI or the sexual experience was in the distant past, getting tested will reassure you that your health is optimal.
- Something went wrong or was unplanned. If you’ve had sexual relations where protection was compromised (e.g., a condom broke) or your inhibitions were lowered (e.g., due to the effects of alcohol or drugs), getting tested for an STI is a good idea.
- You have a new sexual partner. Remember that unless both you and your partner have been tested for STIs, are confirmed STI free, and have been practicing safer sex since being tested, you are at risk of STIs.
- If you want to start a family. Some STIs can be transmitted to the baby and other infections may lead to infertility and other complications. Before you start a family, get tested to ensure the safety of all involved.
- If a past partner tells you they have an STI. While your past partner having an STI isn’t a guarantee that you have it too, it’s best to get checked out and receive a clean bill of health.
- If you want to switch contraceptive methods. Condoms are the only way to protect against STIs. If you and your partner want to stop using condoms and switch contraceptive methods, you should both be tested first.
- You have symptoms of an STI. If you have any of the below symptoms, you should get tested for an STI immediately and avoid all sexual activity until receiving treatment.
- Pain when urinating or ejaculating
- Discharge or pus from the penis or vagina
- Experience pain or discomfort during sex
- Bleeding during or after sex
- Visible blisters or sores on the genitals
- Itching or rash on the genital area
How do STI tests work?
Most STI tests are quick and painless. Depending on which infections you’re being testing for, you may give a blood sample, a genital swab, or provide a urine sample.
During the test the medical practitioner will also ask you a series of questions regarding your sexual history and habits. They will likely ask about your sexual orientation, number of sexual partners, sexual practices, any symptoms you may have, and whether you’ve participated in behaviors that are considered risky such as intravenous drug use, body piercing, and tattoos.
If you are not comfortable talking with your regular health care provider about STIs, there are many clinics that provide confidential and free or low-cost testing. In all cases, information gathered during STI testing is kept confidential.
Why is STI testing important?
Many individuals with STIs and STDs will have no symptoms and do not know they’ve been infected—in fact, most HIV is transmitted by the 25% of infected people who do not realize they are infected. Most STIs can be cured with medication, but to cure it you need to know you have it. Early detection makes the STI easier to treat and less likely to cause long term damage or lifelong conditions. Additionally, many STIs if left untreated can lead to infertility.