If you’re having sex, here are some statistics to think about: According to TheSTDProject, there are somewhere between 56-65 million people living in the U.S. with an incurable sexually transmitted disease (STD). The World Health Organization (WHO) states that more than 1 million new STIs are contracted every single day. In the U.S., 110 million people - that’s about one-third of the population - have an STI at any given time. Mind you, these are the documented cases, so you can imagine how many STIs are left undiagnosed and unreported. Even then, not all diagnoses are required to be reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), including herpesand HPV/genital warts.
“There have been recent spikes in the diagnosis of gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis, especially in certain ‘hot beds’ in America,” shares Michael Ingber, MD, who commonly sees STIs in his office. “Many people are hesitant to bring these issues up with their physicians due to embarrassment. Others feel that symptoms like vaginal discharge, burning, or urinary symptoms, which may be related to an STI, may just go away with time,” he adds.
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The wait-and-see approach is ill-advised, though. “By avoiding or delaying treatment, patients are putting themselves at risk of having some bad outcomes such as infertility," or even more serious outcomes in some cases.
Unfortunately, the social stigma surrounding STIs is often more damaging than the infection itself. One of my biggest pet peeves is when people call themselves “clean.” If being STI-free makes you “clean,” does having one make you “dirty”? It doesn’t matter how careful you are, unless you’re not having sex, there’s always a risk of getting an STI. This is why such a large number of people have them, at least at some point. They're having sex!
Guidelines for Getting Tested for STIs
Because so many STIs are asymptomatic, it’s important to get tested regularly. It’s sexy to know your status, but even sexier to help decrease the spread of of infection.
Alexa Amador of HealthLabs, the parent company to STDcheck.com, recommends that people get tested periodically once they start being sexually active. Here are a few guidelines.
If You’re Single/Celibate
Even if you aren't having sex right now, it's a good idea to get tested if you've have sex before but have never been tested. It is recommended for everyone to get tested for HIV at least once in their lives, but more frequently if they are having unprotected sex with more than one partner.
If You’re Single/Having Casual Sex
If you're having casual sex, it's a good idea to get tested for STIs every 3-6 months. It's important to understand that STIs have varying incubation periods that require anywhere between several days to a couple months to pass before they can be detected. You can read more about incubation periods here.
If You’re Starting a New Relationship
Knowing the status of new partners - and sharing your own - should be a sexual health priority in new sexual relationships. If the relationship progresses to monogamy, a yearly check-up should have you covered.
If You’re Trying to Get Pregnant
If you are trying to conceive, testing is recommended so that you have a complete understanding of any STIs that could impact conception or be passed on to your baby.
If You’re in an Open-Relationship and Using Barrier Methods
Even while using barrier methods for protection, people with multiple sexual partners are at risk of infection because it is possible to contract some STIs through skin-to-skin contact. (Plus, no barrier method is 100% safe.) Transmission of STIs like herpes, syphilis, pubic lice, and HPV are still possible. Oral sex is another potential mode of transmission.
If You've Previously Had an STI and Have Completed Treatment
Even if you've completed treatment, it's a good idea to get tested one more time to make sure your STI was fully treated.
At Home Testing Kits for STI Testing
You can always get STI testing at a local clinic or your regular doctor's office, but there is also an increasing number of at-home testing kits to make the testing process more convenient. With at-home testing kits, you can skip the hassle of booking an appointment, and you can test when you feel like it, in the privacy of your home. Most of these tests take only a few minutes, and require saliva, urine, a swab or a prick of blood (depending on what you're testing for). Still Ingber advises that if symptoms persist despite a negative at-home test, patients should be seen immediately by a healthcare provider.
Here we take a look at four STI tests you can do at home.
With myLAB Box, users order the lab-certified tests they want (or a combo pack) and receive them by mail. Tests are quick and easy; they take less than five minutes to complete. Unlike many STI testing kits that are unregulated, myLAB Box uses FDA-approved screening methods.
Tests For: HIV, chlamydia, gonorrhea, trichomoniasis and extragenital complaints.
Results: Take 2-5 days. Users are notified via email.
Cost: A 5-Panel Home STD Test starts at $189; individual tests start at $79.
With EverlyWell, tests taken at home are submitted to and reviewed by a board-certified physician
Tests For: Its 7-test STD test tests for chlamydia, hepatitis C, syphilis, gonorrhea, herpes Type 2 (HSV Type 2), HIV and trichomoniasis.
Results: Take five business days. Users are notified via email.
Cost: A 7-test STD Test is $199 (male or female).
SelfCollect uses FDA-approved collection devices and testing methods, which are delivered by mail. Tests are then sent to a certified lab. However, the prominence of its “Earn Extra Income” link for their ambassador program is a bit off-putting.
Tests For: Everything from anal STDs to oral STDs, as well as male and female STD panels, which test for HPV high-risk virus, chlamydia, gonorrhea, herpes virus I & II and genital warts (optional add-on).
Results: Take roughly four business days and can be delivered via user's preferred method.
Cost: $79 (individual tests) to $150 (full panel)
OraQuick is the first FDA-approved oral swab, at-home test for HIV-1 and HIV-2. It’s widely available at several pharmacies or via Amazon and uses an oral swab – not blood – to test. OraQuick also offers a 24/7 support hotline.
Tests For: HIV-1 and HIV-2 antibodies, not the virus itself.
Results: Take 20-40 minutes at home.
Cost: Around $50 depending on the retailer.
The Bottom Line: Get Tested for STIs
If you're having sex, you should get tested. At-home tests are a handy option, but don't be a afraid to head to your doctor or a local clinic as well, especially if you have questions. Many people contract STIs, but it's best to avoid them if you can - and avoid sharing them with your partners. And while testing can be inconvenient and awkward, well, so are relationships. So protect yourself and your partners.
Want to learn more? Here are some more resources on STDs: