How Often Should You Get Tested for STDs?
Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) remain one of the most common health challenges in the United States. According to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Americans are diagnosed with about 20 million new sexually transmitted infections each year, half of which occur among those aged 15 to 24.
STDs comprise any disease or infection transmitted through sexual contact. These diseases are caused by bacteria, viruses, and fungi and often pass from one person to another through bodily fluids such as blood, semen, pre-seminal fluids, and vaginal fluids.They can also be spread by skin-to-skin contact.
Increased condom and other barrier protection use have allowed for increased protection if they are consistently and properly used, but practicing unsafe sex still puts you at a high risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases. Abstinence is the only way to fully prevent STDs.
The best way of ensuring that STDs do not damage your health in the short- and long-term is to get tested, but not many people know how often they should get tested. Let’s take a closer look at how often you need to get tested for STDs.
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Can You Still Get an STD With a Condom?
Although condoms are extremely effective at preventing most sexually transmitted diseases, it’s still possible to contract an STD while using a condom.
Condoms act as a barrier for STDs that are spread through bodily fluids, protecting both the person wearing the condom and their sexual partner. However, some sexually transmitted diseases can be spread or contracted via skin-to-skin contact even when a condom is used.
This happens when your skin makes contact with an infected area on your partner’s body that is not covered by a condom, such as the scrotum or labia. Some STDs that you can still contract with condom use include:
Human papillomavirus (HPV)
Pubic lice and crabs
That said, you should use a condom properly or other barrier every single time you have oral, vaginal, and anal sex. They are the best first defense against sexually transmitted diseases.
How Often Should You Get Tested for STDs?
Generally, sexually active individuals should be tested for STDs once a year. Consider getting tested before entering into a new sexual relationship. “It’s extra important to get tested if you’ve had unprotected sexual contact, or if you find out your partner has an STD,” according to Planned Parenthood. “A doctor or nurse can tell you whether or not you should be tested for STDs.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offer simple, easy-to-follow recommendations for regular STD testing:
Everyone should be tested at least once for HIV between the ages of 13 and 64.
Sexually active women younger than 25 should be tested for gonorrhea and chlamydia annually.
Women who are older than 25 and have high risk factors, multiple sex partners, or a sex partner with an STD should be screened for chlamydia and gonorrhea every year.
All sexually active gay and bisexual men should be screened at least once a year for chlamydia, syphilis, and gonorrhea.
Gay and bisexual men who have anonymous or multiple partners should be screened more frequently, about once every 3 to 6 months.
To protect both mother and child, all pregnant women should be screened for HIV, syphilis, and hepatitis B. All at-risk pregnant women should be tested for chlamydia and gonorrhea in the early stages of pregnancy with repeat screening as necessary.
Sexually active gay and bisexual men should be tested for HIV every 3 to 6 months.
Anyone who shares injection drug needles or engages in unsafe sex should be tested for HIV at least once a year.
How Long Should I Wait To Get Tested for STDs?
You should get tested for STDs when you need it. If you are sexually active—even if you always wear protection and only have one partner—you should be screened at some point in your life.
Even if you feel fine, you should get STD testing if:
You are having unprotected sex. If you have had unprotected sex of any kind (oral, anal, vaginal) with a new partner, you should absolutely get tested. Alternately, if you and your partner are in a mutually monogamous relationship and want to stop using condoms, you should both get tested beforehand to ensure that you are safe and free of infection.
You have multiple partners. If you are in an open relationship or otherwise not in a mutually monogamous relationship, you should consider getting screened regularly, about every 6 months or so depending on your own situation. If your partner has HIV, hepatitis B or C, or any other long-term infection, you should get screened more frequently.
You have had past sexually transmitted infections. Those who have had STDs or STIs (sexually transmitted infections) in the past are often more likely to get an STD again. If you are sexually active, get tested about 3 months after you were treated for your initial STD.
Your partner has an STD. If your partner has an STD or has recently had an STD, you need to get tested to make sure that you do not have that same virus or bacteria in your system. Partners can pass the same infection back and forth.
Signs You Should Seek STD Testing
Sometimes, you may not experience any STD symptoms until the infection has progressed to a more severe stage. As a result, you can’t always trust the way you look or feel as an accurate gauge.
You should also get tested if you notice any signs or symptoms of a potential sexually transmitted disease or infection. Signs and symptoms of STDs in men and women differ from infection to infection. However, if you are wondering how to tell if you have an STD, some common symptoms you can look for include:
Bumps, sores, blisters, and warts around the genitals, mouth, or anus
Swollen, red genitals
Jaundice (a yellowing of the skin)
A sudden inexplicable skin rash
Discharge from the genitals
A change in vaginal odor
Itching around the genitals
Pain during sex
Vaginal bleeding outside of normal periods
Flu-like symptoms (fever, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, general aches)
Burning, painful sensation when you pee (urinate)
Many of these symptoms can be caused by urinary tract infections, yeast infections, and other things that are not STDs. Likewise, many times STDs do not have noticeable symptoms. Getting tested is the only way to know for sure.
How Soon After Unprotected Sex Can I Test for STDs?
In general, you should seek STD testing within a few weeks of having unprotected sex. Because some STDs have longer incubation periods than others, it may take a few days, weeks, or months before an STD screening provides reliable results.
Incubation periods differ depending on the STD, meaning you may have to get tested more than once to confirm the results. Some common STDs and their incubation periods:
Gonorrhea – 2 to 6 days
Chlamydia – 1 to 5 days
Syphilis – 3 to 6 weeks
Herpes – 4 to 6 weeks
How Much Is an STD Test?
The cost of your STD test will depend on your insurance coverage, the specific STD tests required, and where you get tested. Testing costs will also vary depending on whether you are tested at a lab or a clinic.
Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, many insurance plans cover STD testing. As a result, most patients with insurance can get STD screening for free or at a reduced price. STD testing may also be free with Medicaid and other government programs.
For patients without insurance, some clinics, such as Planned Parenthood, offer free or low-cost STD tests with sliding-scale fees. The average price for an STD panel without insurance ranges from $108 to $600.
Get STD Treatment Online
PlushCare provides in-depth testing and experienced care for all patients. Our knowledgeable team of doctors can provide diagnosis, treatment, and prescriptions for a wide range of sexually transmitted diseases.
If you think you have an STD or are wondering how to tell if you have an STD, book an appointment with one of our doctors today.
Read More About Sexually Transmitted Diseases
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National Health Service. What should I do if I think I've got an STI? Accessed on August 30, 2020 at https://www.nhs.uk/common-health-questions/sexual-health/what-should-i-do-if-i-think-i-have-got-an-sti/
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Just Diagnosed? Next Steps After Testing Positive for Gonorrhea or Chlamydia. Accessed on August 30, 2020 at https://www.cdc.gov/std/prevention/NextSteps-GonorrheaOrChlamydia.htm
Planned Parenthood. Get Tested. Accessed on August 30, 2020 at https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/stds-hiv-safer-sex/get-tested