Bedroom Insider

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Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Everything You Need to Know About STI Testing

Lesbian couple at romantic date

The idea of STI testing can seem daunting. The possibility of bad news looms over your head. But getting tested for sexually transmitted infections (STIs, also known as STDs) is a way to be proactive about your sexual health and to potentially prevent more significant health concerns down the road. The more you know about STI screening, the more prepared you are to make smart choices, so we've gathered information to make you smarter about STI testing.

You Should Get Screened When

  •  You have symptoms of STIs
  • You have a new partner, and you haven't been tested in the last 3 to 6 months
  • A sexual partner revealed they have an STI
  • You had unprotected sex

You Should Get Tested Even If You Have No Symptoms

You might think that because you feel okay and have no outward symptoms that you are STI-free or that you cannot transmit an infection to another person. But this isn't necessarily the case. Some infections, including certain strains of HPV, chlamydia, herpes, and gonorrhea, have no symptoms. And you can still transmit them to a partner.

Just because you have no symptoms doesn't mean there's no reason to worry. Remember that HPV can be asymptomatic? But some HPV can lead to genital and anal cancers even if you don't have any warts on your body.

Some Infections Don't Show Up on Tests Right Away

It's smart to get to the nearest clinic or your doctor for STI testing if you've been with a new partner or suspect symptoms of an infection. A clean bill of health can reassure you and enable you to have sex with a new partner with fewer worries. However, you can have an infection that doesn't show up in test results immediately.

Consider when you might have been exposed (through vaginal, oral, or anal sex) because this determines when infections will show up on test results. The amount of time it takes for an infection to appear is known as the “window period.” Below you'll see window period for some STIs.

  • Gonorrhea and chlamydia can take 2 weeks to appear
  • Syphilis shows up between 1 week and 3 months
  • HIV and Hepatitis B and C appear between 6 weeks and 3 months

If you ask to be tested for everything after two weeks, it's possible that your results will be negative because of the window period but you'll still have an infection.

The window period can overlap with how long it takes for symptoms to appear, but you might see symptoms before a test can be performed (for example, gonorrhea symptoms can show up as soon as two days after exposure but may need two weeks to show up on a test) or test positive for an STI even if symptoms have yet to appear.

There Are Multiple Test Types
No single test can determine if you have an STI. Several tests can detect multiple STIs, but if you want to be sure, you may want to request more than just the standard test.

The following tests are common:

  • Visual tests happen when a doctor looks for open sores (herpes), bugs (pubic lice, scabies) warts (HPV), or other signs of infection.
  • Urine tests can be used to detect gonorrhea and chlamydia.
  • Blood testing shows infections by Hepatitis A and B, herpes, HIV, and syphilis.
  • Swabs of your cheek, any visible sores, genitals, or anus are used to determine trichomoniasis, herpes, gonorrhea, and chlamydia. Swabs can also be used to detect related infections such as bacterial vaginosis and yeast.

You can request more than one test or a test that covers more infections if you're concerned.

If You Have Certain STIs, You're More Likely to Have Others

Routine STI screening typically looks for gonorrhea and chlamydia, which are common. If you test positive for either of those infections, your doctor may recommend further testing for HIV, syphilis and hepatitis.

Testing Takes Time

Some doctors can use rapid HIV tests to reveal your results within 20 minutes, but providers may need to send samples out to a testing facility, which takes time. Results can take days or weeks. Make sure to ask your doctor when results will be in.

No News Can Mean Good News

Depending on your clinic, you might get a call that indicates a clean bill of health. Or they may only contact you if something's wrong. So no contact means you're STI-free. You can always contact your provider to inquire about your results to make sure. Some providers may have online portals where you can log in to check on your sexual health information, too.

The Test Might Come Back Positive

We're all aware that the results of STI screening might be positive. In fact, fear of positive results prevents some people from scheduling an appointment at all. But knowing for sure provides you with a plan of action. You can both seek treatment to protect your own health from deteriorating and take steps to prevent transmitting an infection to your partner. For example, you don't want to have sex when you have a herpes outbreak, and your doctor can suggest a regimen to suppress outbreaks. The news might seem dire, but having an STI is something you learn to live with rather than the end of your life.

Discussing your STI status with a partner can be difficult. You might worry that they'll think you've cheated; although, this doesn't have to be the case if you weren't regularly screened or an STI took a while to show up. An unsupportive partner can be traumatic if you've just learned that you have an STI. However, it's important to have your current partner seek testing if he or she was exposed.  Try to have the conversation when there are no distractions or stress and remain calm when you do. A pamphlet with information might help reassure your partner.

Having an STI doesn't mean you're unclean, promiscuous, or even bad aboutt sexual health. Anyone can become infected, even during their first sexual contact. And STIs like HPV can spread through skin-to-skin contact, which means you can become infected even if you used a condom.

Furthermore, a positive result means you may want to contact previous partners to warn them to check their health. Again, these conversations are challenging but all you really have to say is something such as “I just got my STI results back, and you may want to get screened if you haven't lately.” 

There may be other solutions if you're worried about alerting sexual partners. Some providers offer an STI notification service. You can also use a third-party service such as Don't Spread It or STD Check to send a message while remaining anonymous. In some instances, you may not be able to contact a partner, but doing so when you can offers vital health information not only to previous partners but to any partner they might have after you.

Many STI tests come back negative, and you can breathe a sigh of relief. But even if you have an infection, being armed with knowledge can help you ask the right questions and get on with your life.

By: Adriana Ravenlust
Follow on Twitter @adriana_r