Alleviating The Fear Of Getting Tested for STDs
Getting tested for STDs is one very important part of having a healthy sex life, and it sure beats the alternative - and the consequences that come with it.
In a national survey of US physicians done by the Guttmacher Institute, less than one-third said they routinely screened patients for STDs.
So we can’t help but wonder, why are people overlooking the one key sexual health step that is oh-so important - getting tested for STDs?
If you're having sex, you should get tested for STDs since they can be present without showing signs or symptoms. That means the only way to really know if you have one is to get tested before and after each new partner, or at the very least once a year as part of your comprehensive safer-sex routine. But the reasons why some people may not get tested could range anywhere from fear or anxiety of the process/diagnosis to lack of access to affordable healthcare.
Here’s a few things you can add to your toolbox that may make getting tested easier, less scary and give you that much-needed peace of mind.
Where Can I Get Tested?
Whether you choose to go to your regular doctor’s office or a local testing clinic, the good news is that you’re sitting there with some other (sexually) responsible people just like you. So maybe they know you’re getting tested for STDs. So what? Just remind yourself that you’re all doing the right thing by being there.
To find a clinic near you that offers affordable - and even sometimes free - STD testing, visit the National HIV and STD Testing Resource website. Here, you can simply search local clinics by your zip code, then it breaks down what types of services are provided at each clinic.
Breaking Down The Testing Procedure
At a clinic or a doctor’s office the procedure is always very similar. The staff will usually start by asking you questions about your risk factors, such as what sexual activities you’ve recently engaged in, whether you've had new partners, and what types of contraceptives you've used. This is where you want to be as forthcoming as possible. Sure, it can be awkward, but remember that these are professionals who have sexual health conversations regularly. There are very few things you can say that will shock them. Plus, their professional etiquette bars them from imposing judgment. They're there to help you stay healthy - and keep your partners healthy as well.
Types Of Tests:
A physical exam typically consists of the doctor examining you for any signs of an infection, such as a rash, discharge, sores or bumps. This usually takes place if you are presently experiencing symptoms. For women, the exam can be similar to a pelvic exam, but it’s important to know that traditional pelvic exams or pap smears do not typically test for STDs. So, even if you’ve had a recent pelvic exam, you should still get tested for STDs separately.
You may be asked to pee in a cup (a urine sample) and this one's easy ... well, for the guys anyway. For the ladies, well, it requires a bit more skill.
Your provider will sometimes use a swab to collect samples from around your genitals that will be looked at under a microscope. Guys, this is not to be confused with a swab inserted into the penis. That method of testing is no longer necessary (whew!).
A blood sample can be done either with a typical needle or by pricking the skin (often the tip of the finger) to draw drops of blood. Some of the finger pokes administered via rapid tests for HIV are even less daunting; the needle is usually smaller, and they don’t require as much blood for testing.
Sometimes a diagnosis can be made based on symptoms or a physical exam. In those cases, treatment can often be prescribed right away, should you need it. Other times, your tests may have to be sent away to a lab. In those cases, waiting for results can be stressful. Rather than sitting at home wringing your hands, take action. Don’t assume you tested negative if you don’t hear back; in cases where samples are sent out to labs, you have to check back for both positive and negative results, so be sure to follow up!
Being healthy is sexy, and while the testing experience can be trying, it'll get easier with time. It'll also leave you feeling empowered and in control of your sexual health. Now, from here on out, always protect yourself by wearing a condom!
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