Howdy, friend. When’s the last time you got tested for STIs?
April is Sexually Transmitted Infection Awareness Month. Although it’s probably a little harder to get into a celebratory spirit about STI screening than it is about Black History Month in February or Women’s History Month in March, there’s no time like the present for having important conversations with yourself, your healthcare provider, and your partner(s) about checking in on the state of your sexual wellness.
Many people assume that if they get an STI, they’ll know it. But some highly common STIs like chlamydia and gonorrhea can be present in the body without any noticeable symptoms.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t potential consequences, however. In addition to potentially passing the infection on to others, individuals with untreated chlamydia or gonorrhea may develop pelvic inflammatory disease (in people with a uterus and fallopian tubes) or epididymitis (in people with a scrotum and testes). Both of these conditions can cause infertility.
That’s one of many reasons why getting tested regularly is so important. Screening can catch infections that you don’t even know you have, allowing for early treatment and intervention that can keep you and your partner(s) healthy and safe to go on doin’ it like there’s no tomorrow.(Unless the concept of tomorrow is an important part of your sex play, in which case, keep on doing you.)
The stigma around STIs — particularly chronic conditions like herpes — isreal and pervasive, and unfortunately the fear and shame that stigma generates can discourage people from getting tested or seeking treatment when they need it.
But the reality is that more than half of all people will have an STI at some point in their lifetime. Like any other illness that affects our bodies, STIs aren’t a reflection of a person’s character — they’re a normal part of the human experience no more deserving of judgment than asthma or the flu.
Getting tested is confidential and mostly painless. For chlamydia and gonorrhea, it can be as simple as giving a urine sample, though in some cases providers may opt for taking a swab of the cervix or end of the urethra at the tip of the penis. Other infections, such as syphilis, require a blood test. Rapid HIV testing can be done with either a finger stick or cheek swab, while some other conditions, like herpes and genital warts, tend to rely on a visual diagnosis. For people who have cervixes as well as individuals who have unprotected anal sex, Pap testing of those areas for certain strains of HPV are also important; check in with your healthcare provider to find out how frequently you should be screened based on your age and sexual habits.
Even if you’re in a monogamous relationship, all sexually active folks should get tested at least once a year. If you have multiple sexual partners or other risk factors, more frequent testing might make sense. In some cases, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends getting tested as frequently as every three months. If you’re not sure how often is right for you, you can always ask a healthcare provider.
If you have private insurance, you can get tested through your primary care provider by requesting STI screening at your annual checkups or by visiting Planned Parenthood. If cost is a concern, Planned Parenthood and India Street Health Center both offer sliding scale and reduced-cost screening options. And our friends at Frannie Peabody offer free, low-barrier screening for HIV and hepatitis C year-round, both at their offices and some community events.
Getting tested and treated for STIs doesn’t just keep you healthy — it also protects the health of your partner(s) and, in a very real public health sense, the wider communities to which we all belong. So do your part for yourself and the greater good and make an appointment today. Your junk and your neighbors will thank you for it.