How to have safe sex is something everyone should be asking. Condoms are the easiest and first answer but there are other things we have to think about as well. Such as…
How Often Should I Get Tested For STI’s (Sexually Transmitted Infections)?
It seems like a simple enough question, but thanks to the lack of sexual education (at least in America), and the inherent stigmatization that such miseducation produces, there is still a great deal of confusion as to when, and how frequently, sexually active adults should be tested for Sexually Transmitted Infections and Diseases.
Fortunately, most medical professionals agree on a few standard policies that will ensure both your sexual happiness as well as your peace of mind.
The answer to this is actually simple: You should be tested every six months to a year. Less if you are having protected sex in a monogamous relationship, more if you are having unprotected sex with multiple partners (which we don’t recommend!) – this is not how to have safe sex.
Admittedly, there are a few finer details that make this policy difficult to adhere to. For one, there’s the social stigma: condom usage, for instance, can be unpopular for several different reasons, be it a loss of sensation, the awkwardness of buying them in public, or the fear of killing the mood by having to find and put one on.
Then there comes the more innocent but no less dangerous mistakes that come from being uninformed about STIs: those who think that all diseases are permanent and socially scarring and that herpes is a death sentence are more likely to take the wrong precautions, lash out at their partners unnecessarily, and simply miss out on more fun than the rest of us.
In nearly all scenarios like these, be they someone’s reasoning for not wearing condoms or for not getting tested, the rationalizations I hear always come down to simple embarrassment. And my response about how to have safe sex is always the same:
Responsibility is sexy. Be a grownup. Talk with your partner. Wear a condom. Get tested every six months.
The best way to assume responsibility is to get educated. The more you know about the different types of STIs that are out there and the threats they pose (and more importantly, don’t pose), the less embarrassed or afraid you will be to discuss them with your partners, and the less averse you will be towards ensuring your own sexual health.
While six months is the standard baseline for any individual, it is true of course that depending on your age, gender, sexual orientation and then type of disease, you should be tested more or less frequently.
To that end, with each STI I have listen the frequency of checkups for each of these subgroups. I am the first to admit that I have failed to include transgender people as well as individuals with predominantly alternative sexual lifestyles. This is not out of neglect, but rather because I believe theirs are groups so complex as to deserve their own article.
- Why It’s Important: If for no other reason than because it’s such a “buzzword” STI, and such a commonly misunderstood one at that. Luckily, the public perception of Herpes has begun to shift to that of a disease whose stigma is greater than its actual threat. You probably have the right idea about herpes: there are two kinds, Herpes Simplex Virus 1 and HSV 2; the former is the oral kind and the latter is the genital; nearly everyone has at least HSV-1, and while it is permanent, it’s symptoms don’t add up to much more than the occasional irritating outbreak and embarrassing conversation.
When Should You Get Tested?
- Interestingly enough, the Center for Disease Control recommends that, unless symptoms are presenting themselves, people should not worry about getting tested for herpes. Rather, it is something that should be screened for if you have knowingly been with a partner who has herpes, or as part of a larger test for STIs. In this case, the standard frequency of testing applies to nearly everyone.
- Why it’s Important: Because it’s easily the scariest, nastiest one to get, at least as far as symptoms go. Gonorrhea is so named from the Greek “gonos,” meaning semen, and “rhoia,” meaning discharge or flow. And even that makes it sound better than it is; for the poor individual who suddenly finds their sexual organs excreting mysterious, pus-like fluids, often accompanied with burning sensations, reactions of panic and horror are understandable. Thankfully, gonorrhea is neither permanent nor fatal. In fact, as one of many STIs that is bacterially-based, it is easily treated with a round of antibiotics.
When Should You Get Tested?
- Since it doesn’t always present symptoms, Gonorrhea should be included on any biannual screening. If symptoms have presented themselves, then see your physician as soon as possible and be sure to take your full course of antibiotics.
- Why it’s Important: Once again, another STI with very little forewarning, as reportedly only 70% of women and 50% of men demonstrate symptoms. Chlamydia, much like it’s “older brother” Gonorrhea, is by-and-large not life changing, as it’s a bacterial STI that can be cured with a round of antibiotics. However, it is an infection that, if left unchecked, can cause major health complications, particularly in women. For women, infection occurs when bacteria enters the cervix, and so untreated chlamydia can lead to cervicitis, or can spread to the uterus and fallopian tubes, causing Pelvic Inflammatory Disease.
When Should You Get Tested?
Whenever you have unprotected sex with a new partner. This may sound extreme, but honestly if you’re having unprotected sex with so many new people so often, then you’ve got bigger problems on your plate.
- Why It’s Important: Because it’s allegedly the disease the reduced Nietzsche to sobbing in a town square over a dead horse and left Al Capone trying to feed imaginary ducks in his private swimming pool. Syphilis draws most of its reputation as the disease that will drive you insane. And while technically this is true, it really doesn’t apply to the majority of cases, and almost definitely does not apply to yours. Syphilis causes mental degradation after ten to fifteen years of not being treated, which, now that penicillin exists, is more than enough time to treat.
When Should You Ge Tested?
- The one “convenient” thing about syphilis is that its symptoms are clear and occur in stages. If you see sores and are unsure, go to a doctor (which is honestly a rule to keep no matter what).
HUMAN PAPILLOMA VIRUS (HPV)
- Why It’s Important: Mostly because, even though it’s the STI that has only just entered mainstream dialogue, it is the most commonly diagnosed. As a result, it exists as the paradigm of every problem characterizing the STI discussion: its threats are both exaggerated and underestimated, its transmissions misunderstood; it’s both something that everyone is going to get, and that very few people are going to worry about having.
That being said, HPV has earned its reputation for a reason: left untreated, HPV can cause cervical cancer in women and esophageal cancer in men (yeah, just from going down, guys). And you should know that women are at a higher risk than men, to the extent that there actually isn’t a test for HPV in men. Instead, men are expected to see their physician once symptoms present themselves. Fortunately, there is now a vaccine available for both men and women, and doctors recommend that children under the age of twelve receive two shots of the vaccine as well.
In short, while this is only the tip of the iceberg as far as learning about Sexually Transmitted Diseases, the day-to-day practices of prevention and how to have safe sex are simple…
Wear a condom, and stay open and communicative with your partner. Doing so demonstrates not only responsibility, but also a mutual respect that will only lead to greater connection, satisfaction, and intimacy.