If you are sexually active, especially with multiple partners, using protection and getting tested for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) is critical for your health and reducing the spread of infection to others.
STDs are common; you may have one without knowing it since many don’t have symptoms. Many experts use the term sexually transmitted infections (STIs) because it’s possible to have an infection without signs of the disease. You should also not assume your medical provider is testing for STIs during a pelvic exam or pap smear. If you think you need a test, talk with your doctor directly. Discuss your concerns and what tests you feel you need.
How often and what tests you need depend on various factors, including your sexual behaviors, age, and other risk factors. Here are guidelines and how to screen for STDs.
What STD Tests to Get
While it's possible to test for a specific STD, talk to your doctor about what tests to take for precautionary measures. Some of the most common tests include:
- Hepatitis B
Specific STD tests are only recommended for those who have certain risk factors. For example, genital herpes is recommended for those with symptoms because good screening tools are not available. Also, regular herpes testing is not currently recommended for men without symptoms.
What Happens During an STD Test
Although getting an STD test for the first time can be stressful, knowing what to expect and how important it is for your health can lower your anxiety.
Most STD tests are done with urine or blood samples. For example, chlamydia, gonorrhea, HIV, and syphilis are done in this manner. Other infections require a cervical, vaginal, or urethral swab.
Some STDs are challenging to test and may have unreliable results. For example, providers may take a tissue scraping or culture of blisters for a lab examination. Blood tests can also show past herpes infections. However, it’s possible to still have herpes with a negative result, especially if you have symptoms.
At-home test kits are available for some STDs, such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, and HIV. Although they can be done from the comfort of your home, they are not always accurate. It typically requires either a urine sample or an oral or genital swab that is sent to a lab. Some tests require more than one sample that can be done from home. Contact your healthcare provider to confirm the results if you have a negative test result but continue to have symptoms.
How to Prevent STDs
The only guaranteed way to avoid an STD is to abstain from sex. However, there are ways to lower your risk of infection and prevent spreading it to others. Some ways to practice safe sex include:
- Using condoms
- Testing before engaging in sexual activity
- Insisting a partner tests before engaging in sexual activity
What to Do if You Test Positive
Consider getting additional testing if you receive a positive result. Your healthcare provider may recommend specific treatments. Also, inform any sexual partners so they can be tested and treated. It is possible to pass infections back and forth.
Remember that getting tested is the right thing to do so you can receive treatment and prevent the spread of the disease. It may be emotional to get a positive result. Talk to your provider if you have any questions or concerns.
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