Nobody wants to get a sexually transmitted infection (STI). But it happens: more than half of all people will get an STI at some point in their lives. This blog will go over everything you need to know if you think you might have one.
First, a note about terms: While you may be more familiar with the word “STD,” we prefer to use STI, sexually transmitted infection, because it is more accurate and a less dramatic term for something that is very common.
So what if you think you might have an STI?
First, don’t panic. The most common STIs, like chlamydia and gonorrhea, are easily treatable and you’ll go on with your life.
And don’t get down on yourself! Most adults will have at least one STI in the course of their lives. And yet, there’s still so much stigma around STIs. We’re here to say that an STI is just another health issue, like having the flu or spraining an ankle. No one judges you if you sprain your ankle, right?
How do you know if you have an STI?
Here’s the thing: you can have an STI with no visible symptoms.
And even if you don’t have any symptoms, you can still give it to a partner. However, here are symptoms of some of the most common STIs:
Chlamydia: painful urination or sex, yellowish vaginal discharge, or milky discharge from the penis.
Gonorrhea: Most women experience no symptoms. Men can experience burning while peeing and swollen testicles.
HPV (Human papillomavirus): small swelling that can be flesh-colored or grey; clusters of warts; itching; discomfort during sex.
Herpes: Most people learn they have herpes when they experience sores. But again, herpes can be present (and infectious!) with no symptoms at all!
How often should you get tested for STIs?
Because it’s so common to have an STI without having any symptoms, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends annual testing. But you should especially make sure to get tested if:
- You’ve started seeing a new partner, and you’re considering having sex without protection like condoms or dental dams.
- You’ve had sex with more than one person in the past few months, or with someone who has had sex with other people recently.
- Any of the above apply and you haven’t been tested in a year. (If you’re under 25, you should get tested every year.)
The full CDC recommendations are here.
What is an STI test like?
It may depend on the clinic or the STI you think you might have. At carafem, you’ll have a private conversation with a clinician about your symptoms and history.Then you’ll give a urine sample or have a vaginal swab to screen for the most common STIs. You can even do your own swab if that’s more comfortable for you! You’ll get your results within a few days.
What about your partner?
If you have a new partner, or have never talked with your current partner about STIs, now is the time. Some things to ask each other:
- When was the last time you were tested, and what were you tested for?
- Have you had sex without a condom since the last time you were tested?
What is the best way to protect against STIs?
The best methods for protecting against STIs are the “barrier” methods like condoms and dental dams. Many people in monogamous relationships (especially those in which one partner is taking another form of birth control, or where conception is not an issue) will choose to forgo methods like condoms – but you should always make sure both partners have been tested before you go this route.
How do you get tested for STIs?
If you live in the DC or Atlanta areas, carafem does STI testing! Click here for more info and to schedule an appointment!
If you live elsewhere, you have a lot of options:
- If you have a primary care physician and feel comfortable, you can have their office test you.
- Reproductive or women’s health care centers have been a staple for decades. You are sure to find non-judgmental staff and some of these clinics may offer sliding scale fees.
- More and more of those walk-in clinics you find at drugstores, like MinuteClinic, can offer testing, which can be a great choice if you are too busy to make an appointment.
- Still looking for a place to get tested? There are lots of great resources here.
If you think you may have an STI, or you’re worried because you haven’t been tested in a while, just get it done!