Getting tested for sexually transmitted infections should be done annually, even if you don’t have any symptoms or haven’t had ‘proper’ sex. Any sexual contact, including sexual assault, can result in infections being passed on.

Anyone having any kind of sex with any kind of human is at risk of infections, so it’s just better to be safe than sorry, and get tested regularly. Encourage your sexual partners to be tested too – women get tested more regularly than men, since it is often part of our Pap tests, but guys are famous for never getting tested, no matter how many people they sleep with. Don’t let your sexual partners get away without being tested at least every year, but if banging for sport is part of your life, more often is better, more like every three months.

You don’t know who your partner has had sex with, or is having sex with right now. It might have just been you for a while, but everyone has a history, and they probably haven’t told you about it. It’s not your business, but what is your business is making sure you don’t have to have too many awkward chats with former or current sex partners regarding your newly-acquired or discovered STD.

There are certain risk factors that mean you are more likely to catch an STI, but really, anyone can catch them if they are diddling around with another person’s body. 

Elements that make it more likely you will catch an STI are:

  • You are under 25 and sexually active – this tends to mean we are less judicious with our sexual partners, and less likely to use condoms
  • You are just starting out on your sexual journey – you may not understand how to use condoms properly, and are more likely to believe the lies people tell us, including the classic “I don’t have anything!”
  • Women who have sex with more than one person – this is a no brainer – the more people you come into contact with, the more chances of catching an STI
  • Partners who have had more than one sexual partner – same applies – remember everyone that your lover has had sex with, you are now more or less having with, bacteria-wise
  • Women who have had an STI before are at greater risk of catching another one, perhaps due to the poor sexual hygiene habits that got her into the first STI, but also because STIs can disrupt the bacterial balance either by themselves or after antibiotics, and some STIs cause you to become more susceptible to more
  • Women who do not use condoms properly, each and every time
  • Women who are not in a mutually monogamous relationship
  • Pregnant women are more likely to catch STIs
  • Women who have vaginal discharge – which probably means a disrupted vaginal microflora balance, which leaves you less protected by your good bacteria

How the test goes

If you are having vaginal swabs taken, you go to the doctor, undress your bottom half, and lie back on the hygienically protected bed. The doctor may insert a lubed speculum to hold the walls of your vagina apart (gently!) which might feel cold and a little uncomfortable, but general swabs can be done without a speculum. The speculum allows the doctor to check your vagina and cervix for any signs of infection, which is a good thing. The doctor can warm the speculum by running it under warm water before inserting it.

A swab will be used to collect cervical fluids, which is then packaged up and sent to a lab for testing. A urine test may also be done for gonorrhoea and chlamydia. Every country has its own standard testing, but the more you can get done at once, the better. It’s always better to not be wondering what you do or don’t have. Testing – and treatment – is generally pretty reliable, but it can fail from time to time.

How each infection is tested

  • Chlamydia – genital swab or urine sample
  • Gonorrhoea – genital swab or urine sample, but eyes, nose and throat may need testing too – advise your doctor
  • HIV – blood test or mouth swab
  • Genital herpes without symptoms – blood test
  • Genital herpes with symptoms – swab of sores, blood test later if necessary
  • Syphilis – blood test or sore test
  • Trichomoniasis – swab of vagina, physical exam, discharge test
  • HPV and genital warts – visual diagnosis of warts
  • HPV and cervical cancer – Pap test, followed by further testing for positive tests
  • Pubic lice – visual diagnosis

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