The process of getting tested for a sexually transmitted infection isn’t sexy.
Though getting blood drawn and peeing into a cup in a doctor’s office is sterile, it doesn’t generate warm, fuzzy feelings. And sexually transmitted infections bring to mind painful sores and embarrassment.
But someone who regularly gets tested is responsible. That’s attractive.
Each STI has its own specific test, and the types of tests one person needs is specific to his or her own risk factors and sexual practices.
According to Mayo Clinic, the standard STI test panel should include chlamydia, gonorrhea, HIV, syphilis and hepatitis. Women should consider getting tested for human papillomavirus as well.
Female patients shouldn’t assume they are getting tested for STIs whenever they get a Pap smear, which generally tests for other abnormalities, such as mutations associated with cancer. Some doctors don’t run STI tests unless the patient asks for the tests.
After you’ve gotten tested, the next hurdle comes: discussing the results with your partner or partners.
Even if one’s test results are negative, broaching the subject of STI test results with a sexual partner is awkward at best; at worst, people make assumptions about someone’s sexual past just because he or she has gotten tested. Likewise, if you ask someone about his or her status, he or she might take offense that the question was even posed.
That’s the wrong way to go about the conversation. People who take the initiative to get tested obviously have a mind for staying healthy, and will likely take steps to have safe sex too.
The fact that you’ve gotten tested should be a point of pride. Asking someone about his or her STI status should not be awkward. It should be a regular conversation whenever you’re considering a new sexual partner.
There are several ways to start the conversation. First, let your partner know that you’ve been tested. That opens up the discussion to talk about his or her STI status too.
Make the conversation about health, and not necessarily about needing to know every detail about his or her past. Both partners benefit from being tested regardless of how many people they’ve had sex with before.
Lastly, use the tools available to facilitate this discussion. Organizations like Planned Parenthood offer advice on how to disclose your STI testing results and how to start the conversation with your partner about getting tested.
Knowing your current STI status, as well as using condoms, can help to keep you and your sex life happy and healthy. Oral sex is less risky, but health experts recommend using condoms or dental dams. If you are not sure you are ready to get tested, or if you have other questions about the different STIs, talk to your health care provider.
Comprehensive STI testing is available at the University Park Health Center. Anonymous Rapid HIV testing is offered at the Office for Wellness and Health Promotion, as are free condoms.
Online tools, such as Qpid.me, offer students a way to confirm STI test results and share them with others digitally and confidentially.
Getting tested for STIs might not be sexy, but staying free from STIs is.
Natalie Chau, Brooke Sanders and Lucas Griffin are peer health educators of the Office for Wellness and Health Promotion.