Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), are very common. Many people do not receive prompt treatment or don’t even seek treatment at all for STDs due to the immense stigma and discrimination that surrounds it. Besides that, many STDs often don’t cause any symptoms at all; even if symptoms do appear, it is very mild and goes away fast. Severe health complications, such as cancer and infertility, may arise if the infection is left untreated. The only way to be sure and safe is to get tested.
Should I get tested for STDs?
As mentioned previously, STDs rarely show any symptoms. Getting tested is the safest option to know for sure if you are STD-positive.
If you’re in a mutually monogamous and long-term relationship, in which both you and your partner were tested before getting sexually active, or unless you’re sure that your partner has been loyal, you may not need to be tested for STI that often. That being said, many people that have been in long-term relationships, weren’t tested before they got together. If you are in a similar situation to this, both of you should get tested to be safe as there is still a possibility that one or both of you may have been carrying an undiagnosed STI for years!
On another hand, if you’ve been sexually active, it is advised to be tested for STIs. It is imperative that you get tested if:
- You’re in a new relationship;
- You’ve had any unprotected sexual contact – vaginal, anal, or oral;
- You have multiple partners;
- Your partner has cheated on you or has multiple partners;
- You have symptoms that suggest you might have an STI, even if the symptoms are mild.
It is important to get screened if you’re pregnant as STDs may have adverse effects on the fetus. Your gynae-cologist would most probably get you tested for STDs, among other things, at your first prenatal visit.
“I’m not sure if I’m experiencing symptoms of an STD…”
STD symptoms can appear briefly then disappear, but it doesn’t mean that the STD is gone for good. It is very common for STD symptoms to be so mild that they don’t bother you. Note that there are different types of STDs and the symptoms for each may be different as well! You might be infected with an STD if you experience these symptoms:
- Abnormal discharge followed with an odd smell from your vagina or penis;
- Sores or bumps on and around your genitals, thighs, or butt cheeks;
- Itching, pain, irritation or swelling in your vagina, vulva, penis, or anus;
- Burning sensation when you pee and/ or frequent urges to pee;
- Symptoms that mimic the flu, such as, fever, body aches, fatigue and swollen glands.
Keep in mind that these symptoms can also be caused by factors that are NOT STDs too; for example, urinary tract infections or yeast infections.) Don’t fret! Your doctor can help you with the types of testing or treatment that is suitable for you.
How can I know what type of STD tests I need?
STD testing isn’t always part of your regular check-up or ob-gyn exam. However, don’t fret! Just go to the clinic (gynaecologist or infectiologist) and ask for STD testing. Even though you might feel embarrassed or awkward, it is extremely important to be honest with your doctor about your sex life, so he or she can figure out which STD tests make the most sense for you, especially if you engage in anal sex. Standard STI tests are unable to detect certain anal STIs; as a result, your doctor might recommended an anal Pap smear to screen for precancerous or cancerous cells, which are linked to the human papillomavirus (HPV).
How do I prepare for STD testing?
You don’t need to prepare for STD testing, but you can prepare for your exam by thinking back through the last several months and jotting down notes about any symptoms you may have experienced, no matter how mild they seemed. It will be helpful to your doctor if you can tell him or her when your symptoms started to appear, how your symptoms felt, where they were located on your body, what your symptoms looked like and how long they lasted. By doing so, you are also helping your doctor narrow down the possible types of STDs. Again, you don’t have to feel ashamed or embarrassed, the conversations between a patient and a doctor are always confidential, and the more information your doctor has, the better he or she can determine the type of STD test you may need.
How are STI tests performed?
Your doctor will review your medical history, then perform a pelvic exam to check your overall health and to look for symptoms.
STD screening is quick, easy, and most of the time, painless! Aforementioned, there are different types of STDs, therefore, each STD has its own test. STD testing may include:
Urine and blood test
STDs such as gonorrhea, syphilis, chlamydia, and HIV, can be tested through urine or blood samples. For a urine test, you will be asked to pee in a cup given by either a nurse or your doctor whereas blood test requires drawing some blood as samples to be tested or a finger prick. In some cases, accuracy for both urine and blood tests may not be as reliable as other forms of testing. For example, if HIV is contracted, it can take a couple of weeks to a few months for tests to detect the infection.
Vaginal, cervical, or urethral swabs are often used to check for STDs. If you have a vagina, your doctor will use a cotton applicator to take vaginal and cervical swabs during a pelvic exam. For urethral swabs – it doesn’t matter if you have a penis or vagina, your doctor will insert a cotton applicator into your urethra. If you engage in anal sex, a rectal swab will be taken to check for infectious organisms in your rectum. Cheek swabs are done by rubbing the inside of your cheek with a soft swab to test for HIV.
Pap smears and HPV testing
Specifically, a pap smear is not a STD test, it cannot determine whether or not you have an STD, instead, it looks for early signs of cervical or anal cancer.
People assigned female at birth who have persistent or recurring HPV infections, especially infections by HPV-16 and HPV-18, are more vulnerable in developing cervical cancer.
People who engage anal sex are also at an increased risk of developing anal cancer from HPV infections.
Your doctor will recommend a separate HPV test to check for HPV. If it is negative, it is unlikely that you’ll develop cervical or anal cancer in the near future. However, HPV tests alone aren’t very useful for predicting cancer. CDC stated that about 14 million Americans contract HPV each year, and most sexually active individuals will at least contract one type of HPV at a certain point in their lives, and most of these people never develop cervical or anal cancer.
Some STIs, such as herpes and genital warts, can be diagnosed through a physical test, in which your doctor will look for sores, bumps, and other signs of STIs.
Samples may be taken from areas that seem abnormal for laboratory testing.
It is vital to inform your doctor if you noticed any changes on or around your genitals; if you engage in anal sex, inform your doctor about any changes on or around your anus or rectum.
Don’t worry about what type of tests you need, you can depend on your medical practitioner to do it quickly and, in most cases, painlessly. If you are required to do a blood test and you are sensitive to needle jabs or pricks, it’s okay to let your doctor know so he or she can provide a topical anesthetic or take steps to make sure you’re as comfortable as possible.
At-home STI testing
Many people use at-home test kits to test for certain STIs, such as HIV, chlamydia, and gonorrhea. How does it work? Easy! All you have to do is to collect a urine sample or an oral or genital swab and then send it to a lab for analysis. This method is used by a lot of people because of the privacy of doing it in your own home. However, some tests require more than one sample and may have a higher rate of false-positive results. If your test results come back as positive, contact your doctor to confirm the test results. Do the same thing if your results are as negative but you’re experiencing symptoms.
What should I do if I find out I have an STD?
If your results come back as positive for an STD, the next step is to receive treatment as recommended by your doctor. Besides that, you should also inform your current sex partner or partners, so they can get evaluated and treated as soon as possible because infections may be passed back and forth unknowingly.
Learning you have an STD will definitely cause one to experience a wave of emotions. You may feel ashamed, angry, upset, or afraid. Having an STD is nothing to feel ashamed of, and it doesn’t mean you’re “dirty” or promiscuous, it just shows that you’re a normal human being who got an infection. STDs can happen to anyone who’s been sexually active and some can even be spread in non-sexual ways too. If you or someone you know is having a hard time dealing, there are a lot of online as well as in-person support groups for people living with STDs, which may give you a safe place to talk and interact with people who