Even though April was STD Awareness Month, technically speaking, every month should be STD Awareness Month. After all, according to the American Sexual Health Association (ASHA), more than half of people will have an STD/STI during their lifetime. In addition, certain STDs are making a comeback — since 2015, gonorrhea’s gone up 18.5 percent, syphilis has gone up 17.6 percent, and chlamydia’s gone up 4.7 percent, states the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC). So, being in-the-know about your sexual health is now more important than ever — not only for your own health, but also your partner’s.
Dr. Marra Francis, Executive Medical Director, EverlyWell, agrees with the importance of getting tested regularly. “If you are sexually active, for your own safety and sexual health, as well as your partner’s, the CDC recommends getting tested at minimum once a year,” she says. “The CDC estimates that, every year, there are 19.7 million new STD/STI infections, and by age 25, 1 in 2 sexually active adults will contract some form of STI/STD.” I don’t know about you, but I think those numbers are high — and getting tested sooner rather than later is key, in addition to safe sex, of course.
As far as testing is concerned, you have many options, including: going to see your regular medical practitioner, finding a free or inexpensive clinic, or doing an STD test without having to leave your house, such as EveryWell’s at-home STD test for females. For the latter, for instance, should your test results come up as abnormal, a board-certified physician in your state will contact you to discuss your case and next steps. If you’re shy about leaving your house to get tested, now you have no excuse.
Without further ado, here are key things to know about STDs, because we can all use a refresher now and then. Plus, the sooner you get diagnosed — and can either breathe a sigh of relief or treatment — the better.
The Difference Between An STI And An STD
First of all, it’s important to know the difference between STI and STD terminology — Sexually Transmitted Infections versus Sexually Transmitted Diseases. You may hear some people say “STIs” while others say “STDs.” According to the University of Maryland’s University Health Center, using “STI” is “more encompassing because some infections are curable and may not cause any symptoms.” However, when an infection does alter the body’s regular functioning, STIs are then referred to as STDs.
Many STDs Have No Symptoms
According to the CDC, as well as Dr. Francis, many STIs are asymptomatic. “Many times, there are no symptoms, though the infection may still be passed to your partner,” says Dr. Francis. “Play it safe, play it smart, and always get tested regularly to prevent infection.” However, there are common symptoms that may indicate an STI, she says, including but not limited to:
Warts, sores, blisters or bumps on or near the penis, vagina, mouth, or anus
Burning sensation when urinating
Experiencing pain when urinating
Pain while having sex
Redness or swelling of the genitals
Vaginal bleeding when not on a monthly period
Discharge coming from the vagina or penis
Rashes on the genital area
Vaginal & penile itching
Fever, chills, profuse sweating during the night
Itching on or around the vagina or penis
Pain in the pelvic region
Here’s When You Should Be Tested For An STD
Although the CDC recommends getting tested every 3-12 months, depending on risk category, most medical professionals suggest that you get tested annually — at minimum. “Testing should be done more if — and when — you engage in unprotected sex with a new partner, or if you have engaged in risky sexual behavior,” says Dr. Francis. “The frequency of necessary testing really varies based on how active you are and if you’re currently outside of a monogamous relationship. Preventing the spread of STIs/STDs is everybody’s responsibility, and knowing your status is a great way to do your part while also keeping yourself healthy.” Especially since many STDs don’t show symptoms, getting tested regularly becomes the primary way to ensure you are STD-free and don’t pose a health risk to your sexual partners.
Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Be Afraid To Get Tested
These days, getting tested for STDs seems less stigmatizing than in the past. Plus, many STDs can lead to longer-term health problems down the line. Hence, the sooner you are tested, the better. “For women especially, STD/STI’s are nothing to ignore,” says Dr. Francis. “Approximately 15 percent of women who have infertility can directly link their fertility problems back to an STD/STI.” For instance, chlamydia and gonorrhea often don’t cause symptoms in women, which is why routine testing is necessary, she adds.
In addition, Dr. Francis says that, for women with either one of those infections, approximately 1 out of every 6 of them will develop pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) — in other words, the infections have spread up the vagina and cervix into the uterus and fallopian tubes. Women who have had PID have a 10-20 percent chance of being infertile afterwards. “These numbers become staggering when you realize that it is estimated that 1 out of every 20 sexually active women between ages 14-24 HAS chlamydia,” says Dr. Francis.
As you can see, STDs are still a serious issue, but one that can be lessened through safe sex and regular STD testing. Although getting tested for STDs may seem like a big deal, the thought is probably much worse than the tests themselves. No matter where you decide to get tested, knowledge truly is power, and the test result will not only affect your life, but your partner’s, too. So, when in doubt, go get checked out — because there’s no such thing as being overly cautious as far as your health is concerned.