We all learn in school that once we become sexually active we should go to the doctor and get tested for sexually transmitted infections, right? However, there are many things that we aren’t taught in school that play a very vital role in our sexual health, and our test results.
- Get a “baseline test” done. What does this mean? For individuals who have not yet been sexually active, it is smart to get a test for sexually transmitted infections to have as a Baseline: your starting point, where you begin and how your body is normally. It may seem silly, but at the end of the day, we can only be responsible for our own bodies. If you know you’ve been tested and you’ve only slept with one person, if you test positive, at least you know where you got it from.
- Get tested every 3 months. If you’re sexually active with more than one person at a time, or even one person (we’re human, we’re not always faithful or honest,) which in college, especially, tends to be many people, it is important that you not only start your sexual activity with a baseline test, but you also make it your responsibility to get tested every three months to make sure you’re maintaining your best sexual health. (Untreated sexually transmitted infections can lead to more complicated health risks, especially infertility for women.)
- Sexually active means any sexual contact. Sexually active includes all sexually involved activities, including but not limited to: foreplay of any kind (fingering, hand jobs, blow jobs, etc.) any activity that includes your penis, vagina, anus, or bodily fluids (especially pre-ejaculatory fluid) as that can be a carrier of infection. Making out while naked is something we often don’t consider as sexually active, but often times bodily fluids are transferred, especially if it’s hot and heavy, therefore this should not be disregarded as sexual contact. While it’s not common, HIV can be contracted through oral sex. Herpes on the other hand, can also be contracted through kissing and oral sex if there is an open sore, or if you or your partner is within 2-3 days of an outbreak as the herpes virus is already active before it shows. If you’re sexually active, you ought to be tested for your safety and the safety of your partners.
- Ask for a full screening. Not all doctors will do a full STI screening unless you ASK for one. Just because you go for your annual check up or gynecological visit, does not mean that you’ve been fully screened. A pap-smear at the GYNO also does not mean you’ve been screened for ALL STI’s. A pap-smear may check for HPV, and abnormal cervical cells, but it does not mean you’ve been checked for all sexually transmitted infections. Make sure when you go to your doctor, you tell them you want a full screening, which will include a culture and blood work to test for all sexually transmitted infections. A blood test is not sufficient for all infections, make sure you have both a culture AND a blood test.
- There is a 2 week incubation period. This is so important, and it something we’re unfortunately not very educated about. Many people will have unprotected sex, and go and get tested the day afterward, or even a few days afterward, and come up clean; yet this is not 100% accurate. Many STI’s have a two week incubation period before they show up positive on a test. If you’ve had unprotected sex, make sure to call your primary doctor (or go to a clinic/health care provider) to discuss whether or not you need a prophylactic treatment of antibiotics (used if you believe you’ve been exposed to any sexually transmitted infections), and/or if you’re a woman, in case they think you should take an emergency contraceptive pill. If you’ve been sexually assaulted or were forced to be sexually active with someone, go to an emergency room to make sure that you receive proper medical treatment. The sooner you go, the more help you can receive.
- HIV and Herpes can take up to 6 months to show up. HIV testing is recommended by professionals to occur at 3 months, 6 months and 12 months following unprotected sex. HIV can be tested within 3 months, but can take up to 6 months to appear positive on a test, and you should be tested at 6 months and again at 12 months to make sure about your results. Although going for an HIV test could possibly be one of the scariest exams to go for, it’s better knowing than not. Herpes can also take up to 6 months for you to have your first outbreak, either orally or genitally. It is difficult to 100% confirm unless you’re suspicious of an outbreak, and have the sore swabbed, cultured and tested to confirm. If you’re with a new partner, and you’re going to be practicing unprotected sex, make sure you are tested together at 3 months, 6 months and 12 months to make sure the results remain the same. Also, make sure to USE CONDOMS during these waiting periods.
- A clean bill of health isn’t 100%. Someone once came to me with a story that she was seeing someone who was in a polyamorous relationship with numerous different women. This person explained that her boyfriend showed her the clean bill of health from the other women he had been sleeping with, and she believed that she was then safe to have unprotected sex with him. Is this true? NO. As I said above, there is a 2 week incubation period for most bacterial STI’s and up to 6 months to a year for viral infections such as herpes and HIV. It’s so imperative that if you’re sexually active with someone, that you know how long it has been since they were LAST SEXUALLY ACTIVE and when they were tested=you can never be sure. In the world we live in, unfortunately a clean bill of health (meaning, a paper that says someone is negative) isn’t always 100%. To be safe, ALWAYS USE CONDOMS! It may feel better without one, but the aftermath can not only be physically uncomfortable but emotionally traumatizing too.
Please read: Although proficient in the information above, considering I am not a medical professional, if you have any questions/concerns or doubts about any of the information above, please feel free to contact your medical provider to confirm the information or answer any of your questions/concerns.
If you’re engaging in sexual activity, always use condoms to ensure your best protection. If you’re concerned about your sexual health after recent sexual activity, contact your medical provider at your earliest convenience.