Getting tested for STDs is an activity that comes with its own cloud of suspicion and shame, just like getting your period or crying in public or accidentally coughing too loud. We get it--STDs aren’t exactly a fun topic. Although getting tested regularly is something we should all be comfortable with, most people know so little about the ins and outs of STD testing that booking an appointment often feels too scary. But there are consequences for looking the other way: studies show that people between the ages of 15 to 24 represent half the STD-carrying population--but only a quarter of the sexually active population.
So we at Adolescent would like to say sayonara to the era of STD-testing stigma! To combat a lack of available resources, we’ve compiled this FAQ sheet about the importance of getting tested to encourage you to take the best possible care of your body.
Q: When should I start getting tested?
A: The general consensus is age 18, since it is often assumed that minors are not engaged in sexual activity. However, that may or may not be the case. Once you have had physical contact and fluid exchange with another person, you’re already exposed to anything they may have. The risk of infection is especially high with unprotected sex or oral contact. If you are old enough to engage in sexual activity, you are old enough to take responsibility for your sexual health.
Q: If I’m not having intercourse, should I still get tested?
A: Yes, absolutely! To iterate the above statement, any exchange of fluid could carry the potential risk for an STD. Although activities like kissing and touching present very minor threats, it’s still there. You probably don’t have to panic just yet, but keep the idea in the back of your mind as you begin to experiment with other people. This includes relationships outside the cisgender heterosexual norm, as well. Queer men especially are at a high risk for STDs, so getting tested regularly is very important.
Q: Are my parents going to find out?
A: They don’t have to! Planned Parenthood and similar organizations provide STD testing without parental permission. In general, this falls under the blanket of doctor-patient confidentiality. That means the testing and the results stay between your doctor and you. If you’re worried about it, ask your doctor expressly not to share your information with anyone else--parents or legal guardians included.
via: Instagram | Planned Parenthood
Q: What are the doctors going to do to me? And how much will they find out about me?
A: Most STD testing is pretty straightforward. Things like chlamydia and gonorrhea can be detected in a urine sample. Herpes, hepatitis, HIV and syphilis testing require a blood sample. You probably won’t feel more than a tiny prick. For people assigned female at birth, getting a pap smear once a year when you reach maturity can help detect cervical cancer and other abnormalities. The doctors cannot tell who you’ve had contact with, how regularly you have sex or even what you’re doing, but bear in mind that it’s your doctor’s job to take care of you. Being honest with your physician is very important, and remember: they’re bound to confidentiality unless something harmful is happening. Doctors have your best interests at heart when it comes to testing and treating STDs, so being transparent will help you get the care you need. This applies to more serious situations, as well. If you’re being sexually abused, your doctor is the ideal person to confide in--they’re not the police, and they won’t tattle to your abuser, but they are trained on how to handle circumstances of abuse and have the resources to help you.
Q: Will I know if I have an STD?
A: It’s not unusual for the carrier of an STD to be oblivious to their status, thus unwittingly putting an unsuspecting and undeserving partner at risk. Some symptoms are detectable but others can be latent. Things like itching, burning and painful urination are the standard symptoms. Don’t panic! Not every symptom you’ve ever experienced is an STD. Things like razor burn, ingrown hairs, urinary tract infections and bacterial infections can appear very similar to STD symptoms. While it’s good to express your concerns to your doctor, you don’t need to freak out every time your body feels abnormal. Getting tested regularly will alleviate the stress of not knowing what’s going on with your body. Even if you have only had one partner since the last time you were tested, there is no guarantee that your partner has been as faithful as you have, and you could be at risk because of it. Encouraging your partner to come with you to get tested is a good way to eliminate relationship tension and build on a foundation of mutual respect.
via: We Are Sweet
If you’re a member of the LGBTQ community, keep in mind that looking after your sexual health and well-being is just as important as it is for cisgender and/or heterosexual persons--if not more so. Men who have sex with other men represent almost half of the diagnosed cases of HIV/AIDS. Queer men often fear that a positive STD test will bring with it serious repercussions, like workplace discrimination or ostracization, but your STD status shouldn’t be a nail in the coffin for your reputation--and, regardless, a thriving social life doesn’t count for much if it’s at the expense of letting a virus secretly wreak havoc on your body! Being tested is never something to be ashamed of, and it is absolutely necessary. Although women who have sex with other women are believed to be at very low risk for STD transmission, studies have yielded a surprising number of abnormal pap smears within the demographic. Planned Parenthood and other organizations extend their services to all people seeking them, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation. If it is still a source of anxiety to get tested, there is an online database of LGBT centers that can help you get the care you need comfortably.
There really is no substitute for prioritizing your reproductive health. Even if you take preventative measures against STDs (as you should!), there is no way to account for human error. Accidents happen, people slip up and the best defense against unwanted consequences is to take matters into your own hands. Respect your life, respect your body and respect those with whom you choose to share it by getting tested regularly and comprehensively.