According to HC’s Ultimate College Girl Survey Results from 2012, 68% of collegiettes have never been tested for sexually transmitted infections, more commonly known as sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Considering the fact that the same survey revealed that 57% of collegiettes are sexually active – and that the majority of that percentage lost their virginity before they were college-age, we could all benefit from a quick breakdown of why, when, and how you can get tested for STDs. Getting tested may not be the most fun aspect of being sexually active, but there’s no denying that it’s important to be informed, so let’s get down to business so you can be in the know.
Why should I get tested?
Because when it comes to your health, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. By age 25, about 1 in 2 sexually active people will test positive for some type of STD. And because vaginal sex isn’t the only way these diseases can be transmitted—oral sex, anal sex, and even just touching an infected area can jeopardize your health—it makes sense that getting an STD has become such a common occurrence.
What’s even scarier is the fact that the carrier signs are subtle, making them that much easier to ignore or not even notice. Although there are sometimes clear indicators, like irregular vaginal discharge or bumps, many STDs—including HIV—don’t have symptoms. The consequences, however, are not so subtle: the outcome of an untreated STD can be anything from cervical cancer to infertility. The best way to be sure that you are in the clear is to get tested.
But my partner and I are using protection! Isn’t that enough?
Even though using a condom is called “safe sex,” condoms are not 100% effective in protecting you from the spread of STDs, especially if the condom is not used properly, slips off, or breaks. While condoms do help to reduce the chances of getting an STD by serving as a germ barrier, they only ensure an 85% reduction risk for diseases like HIV. That means that there needs to be an open and honest conversation between you and your partner before you have sex. Sounds pretty awkward, especially if it’s just a casual hook-up, but again—it’s better to be safe than sorry.
While protection and open conversation are excellent precautions, they are by no means an 100% guarantee that you are STD-free. The only way to be sure is to get tested, which brings us to…
Where and how do I get tested for STDs?
Getting tested is as simple as calling in to make an appointment at your doctor’s office or simply getting a walk-in appointment at a free clinic like Planned Parenthood or your university’s health services. Many campus health centers offer free STD testing on a regular basis, so check out their website or make a trip over there to find out the deal.
If you’re visiting a clinic for the first time, it’s a good idea to research the ones in your area beforehand—check the reviews, decide if you want your doctor to be male or female, check his or her credentials. It’s your body, so you want to make sure you receive the best treatment that’s most comfortable for you.
When and how often should I get tested for STDs?
It’s a good idea to get tested soon after you become sexually active, whether that means after you’ve lost your V-card or after your first time with a new partner. Dr. Traci Brooks, Director of Adolescent Medicine Services at Cambridge Health Alliance, recommends getting tested during your annual checkup, although she has had a few patients come in as often as every three months.
“At that point I usually sit down and have an honest conversation about how they feel about their relationship, because clearly for some reason he or she is not feeling like they can trust their partner,” she says.
While protecting yourself emotionally is a bit less tangible to do—after all, in our world of college hook-ups, it can difficult to be able to trust every partner you’re with—being absolutely sure about the state of your health will at least protect you physically. So if you’re feeling uncertain, get tested as often as necessary within each year.