Sexually transmitted diseases are acquired through sexual contact with an infected person. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that nearly 20 million new sexually transmitted disease (STD) infections occur every year, but most people infected with STDs have no symptoms. As a result, many sexually active people pass on and acquire STDs unknowingly.
If you're concerned about your sexual health and that of your partners, you may have considered undergoing STD testing. Many people question whether they're candidates for this important procedure, but by answering the following questions, you can determine whether STD testing is for you.
Am I pregnant or planning on becoming pregnant?
Women in the U.S. who are pregnant or are planning conception are tested for many of the most common sexually transmitted infections (STIs) since they can potentially harm both mother and baby. In addition to the list below, women who are at-risk for STD acquisition may be tested in the early stages of pregnancy for gonorrhea. Otherwise, the following STD infections are included in the standard battery of prenatal screenings:
- hepatitis B
Am I experiencing unpleasant symptoms that correspond with an STD?
Because the most common STDs may cause no symptoms at all, answering "no" to this question does not mean you are safe. However, experiencing symptoms can be a strong motivating factor for many. A few common symptoms of STDs are listed below:
- genital pain and swelling
- painful sex
- genital ulcers or blisters
- painful urination
- genital itching
- body rash
- persistent, unexplained fatigue
- swollen lymph nodes and fever
- penile or vaginal discharge
- vaginal odor
Am I within a high risk group?
People considered to be at high risk for STDs include:
- 15-24 year olds
- those with unmarried status
- injection drug users
- those who have been admitted to a correctional facility
- sex workers or those who have had sexual encounters with sex workers
- those who meet sex partners on the internet
- men who have sex with men
- those who live in areas with a high STD prevalence
Do I know my partners' sexual histories?
You should keep track not only of your own sexual history and partners, but also with the history of those with whom you are intimate. But sometimes discussion is not an option, especially in situations in which you may have been forced to have sex with someone against your will. These situations most certainly warrant STI screening.
If you are unsure of a partner’s history or fidelity, you may consider STD testing. Those who have shared a sexual encounter with a new partner in the last 60 days should also consider testing.
Have I had unprotected sex since I was last tested?
When answering this question, don’t forget to consider anal and oral sex too. Furthermore, if sex toys were used, consider whether they were shared with others without barrier protection. Last but not least, take precautions if you used a condom but it broke. These are all good reasons to consider getting screened.
Have I been diagnosed with an STI previously?
Because infections can weaken your immune system, having an STI can put you at a greater risk of acquiring others. For example, there is a high percentage of HIV and syphilis coinfections. Having trichomoniasis can increase your risk of acquiring HIV. Certain STIs can change the pH of the vaginal environment, making the transfer of STIs more likely.
Debunking the STD Testing Stigma
After answering the questions listed above, it's important for you to note that being regularly screened for STDs shouldn’t feel embarrassing or shameful. Neither should it be assumed that a person being screened for STDs engages in risky behaviors. The fact of the matter is that everyone should be tested at some point in their lives, regardless of the number of sexual partners, sexual orientation, or religious affiliation. Below are just a few facts to consider:
- STD testing is a critical part of early prenatal care and all pregnant women are screened.
- Health guidelines recommend that all adults and teenagers be screened for HIV at least once.
- Health guidelines suggest that all adults born between 1945 and 1965 be tested for hepatitis C.
- The American Sexual Health Association reports that roughly half of all sexually active individuals will acquire an STD in their lifetime.
These days, STD testing can be viewed conversely as a sign of sexual responsibility instead. Routine testing can be proof of a commitment to your own health as well as an act of concern for the well being of those with whom you are intimate. Regular testing for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) can be a vital component of maintaining wellness. Knowing where you or your partner stands with respect to STDs may also contribute to your overall sexual confidence too.