Everyone needs knowledge about sexually transmitted infections, no matter your lifestyle. Getting tested for STIs is not something only promiscuous people should do; it isn’t shameful. If you're having sex with more than one person, you should get tested every two to six months. If you’re in an open relationship, this is something you’ll want to discuss and work out with your partners.
And even if you’re in a long-term, monogamous relationship, it's advisable to get tested for STIs every year. Yes, you trust your partner, but being careful with your health is of vital importance.
Getting tested has become so easy—there are plenty of companies that have made it possible to have a testing kit sent to your home for convenience.
Another option is to have your doctor test you for STIs (including blood work) when you have your yearly gynecological exam or physical. It takes very little extra time and you’re already at the doctor’s office anyway.
Basically regular testing should be a part of your life. Brides spoke with Bryan Stacy, a sex expert and founder of Biem , a no-frills at-home STI screening company, to get the skinny on STIs. Here is everything you need to know.
You probably won’t have symptoms.
If you have an STI, chances are you won’t know without testing. The vast majority of the time there are zero visible symptoms. “The most common symptom of an STD is no symptom. About 80 percent of people that contract an STD won’t know it because they won’t exemplify any signs or symptoms,” Stacy tells us.
Because you’re likely to be asymptomatic, it’s important that both you and your partner are tested for STIs at the beginning of a relationship and screened annually going forward. It is not only a woman’s responsibility, it's the responsibility of both partners to communicate and seek screening. “Only about 65 percent of women get tested for STDs annually, and it’s everyone's responsibility to keep each other, and ourselves, safe,” Stacy adds.
If you’re worried about getting tested (Stacy says this is normal) the most relaxed people are ones who know their status: “People who have the best mental sexual health are those that set up testing regularly (at least twice a year) instead of waiting for an ‘incident’ to happen.” Don’t have sex with someone and then wait five months, quietly panicking. Go get tested.
Use condoms (but they don’t work for every STI).
Condoms (a.k.a. the barrier method) are the best method to avoid STI transmission. When used correctly, a condom is 98 percent effective at preventing pregnancy and HIV transmission. That being said, condoms are not the be-all and end-all STI prevention superheroes we might believe them to be.
With chlamydia and gonorrhea, it is possible (though relatively unlikely) to pass it even if you use a condom. If you give or receive oral sex without a condom or other barrier (such as a female or internal condom), you can pass these STIs by swapping fluids. If you place a hand inside a partner with chlamydia and then touch yourself, you can contract it and visa versa.
Other STIs are passed through skin-on-skin contact such as HPV and herpes (both type 1 and type 2). HPV is so easy to contract and pass that it’s mind boggling. You can pass HPV through everything from intercourse, to oral sex, to hand-sex, to french kissing. And while oral HPV is much less common than genital, it is still a huge health concern.
If you or your partner have genital herpes, it’s advisable to wait to have sex until the outbreak has subsided, as a condom will not likely cover the entire affected area. If you believe you might have herpes, see your doctor immediately to receive a Valtrex prescription. To learn more about the antiviral Valtrex, click here.
If you or your partner has HIV, you should be both using condoms and be on PrEP. To learn more about PrEP, click here.
Speaking of herpes...
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 50 percent of people currently have herpes type 1 and 12 percent have herpes type 2. This is a huge number of people. Type 1 typically causes cold sores or oral sores, while type 2 causes sores on the genitals. But guess what? You can have type 1 or 2 on the mouth or genitals. They’re just two strains of the same virus.
Stacy says some people refer to the herpes virus as the “glitter” of STIs because you can’t get rid of it. That being said, we are literally talking about a skin infection. Herpes is stigmatized because outbreaks look “gross” (a.k.a. they are visible with the naked eye) and therefore we associate it with being “dirty.”
But we have to let go of the crazy stigma around herpes. Stacy says 90 percent of people are exposed at some point in their lifetime. Many people have herpes and aren’t even aware of it. A regular panel for STIs won’t test for herpes. Doctors only test you if they suspect infection; meaning if you have visible sores. “We aren’t sure why some people have symptoms and others don’t. Some triggers have been noted like stress, sunlight, colds/compromised immune system, and an excess of the amino acid arginine,” Stacy tells us. “Some people have found that in times of stress taking a lysine supplement is helpful in keeping the virus suppressed.”
There is no such thing as “clean,” so get over yourself.
There is so much stigma and shame around having an STI, especially one that you are living with and managing (such as the herpes virus).
Having an STI does not make you dirty, and it does not make you unlovable. We have to remove this stigma so healthy conversations can take place between sexual partners. The truth is, the vast majority of people will get an STI at some point in their lives. According to the American Health Association, 80 percent of sexually active adults will get a form of HPV at some point in their lives. (Other organizations have put that number closer to 95 percent.)
See more: 5 STI Myths That Just Won't Die
According to Stacy, “People with STDs and [are] tested are either in the process of getting rid of them, or living with them, and that’s it. It doesn’t make them dirty. And people who look clean and healthy, can still have an STD!”