The very thought of contracting an STD (or STI) can make you feel vulnerable and scared, and being contacted by a partner who has tested positive for an STI transforms the fear into a reality. For many young adults—and even older adults—there is still a mental stigma attached to STIs, leaving those who test positive to wrestle with feelings of shame or guilt.
In an article for the New York Times, Dr. Jen Gunter, an OB-GYN, wrote honestly about this societal stigma, which, as she notes, is in direct opposition to the overwhelming prevalence of sexual positivity. While embracing sexuality and sex is accepted and encouraged, contracting an STD is still “one of the last taboos.” Gunter shared that, in her experience, a positive STI test shares the same emotional reaction as a cancer diagnosis…as both bring women to tears.
Testing positive for an STI may seem like a life-changing diagnosis, an invisible scarlet letter. In the case of HIV, herpes and HPV, the disease is not going away. Perhaps this emotional understanding, this permanence of infection, is what makes receiving a positive test result such a devastating blow.
Yet, while this stigma permeates, there is no real reason for it. STIs are incredibly common. While this might not make a diagnosis something to be embraced, there should be at least some comfort in the knowledge that many of these infections aren’t rare. And that the individual is certainly not alone. Anyone who is sexually active is at-risk for contracting a sexually transmitted disease or infection. How prevalent are STDs? The American Sexual Health Association reports that half of all young adults will have contracted an STD by the age of 25.
What are the Most Common STIs?
If half of all young adults will test positive before they even hit the age of 30, it’s also important to understand that some STIs are more prevalent than others. There are many different infections that can be transmitted through sexual contact, including:
- Human Papillomavirus (or HPV)
- Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)
- Hepatitis C
The most common sexually transmitted infection is, overwhelmingly, HPV. The human papillomavirus is so common that researchers have estimated that about 80 percent of sexually active individuals will be infected during their lifetime.
HPV is commonly associated with the appearance of genital warts, but this infection also can be nearly invisible, exhibiting few symptoms. This means that many individuals may unknowingly be infected. This STI cannot be cured, and, if left undetected and undiagnosed, could lead to the development of certain types of cancers. However, the introduction of the HPV vaccine has allowed for many young people to develop immunity to this common infection.
Like HPV, HIV cannot be cured. This virus was once perceived as lethal, because when the virus is left untreated it may develop into AIDS. Many medical advances have been made over the years to treat HIV, and antiviral drugs (known as “antiretroviral treatment”) can be administered to keep HIV in check.
These drugs are not a cure, but they do keep the virus from progressing. Many individuals who are HIV positive live long lives with these treatments. The Centers for Disease Control reported that, in 2018, there were more than one million Americans living with HIV, and more than half “were virally suppressed.”
About 13 percent of individuals between the ages of 14 and 49 are infected with herpes. The infection is commonly associated with the appearance of sores near and around the genitals. However, the first onset of infection also can include other symptoms. Herpes cannot be cured, but there are antiviral drugs to manage outbreaks.
STIs that Can Be Cured
Hep C is most commonly linked to Baby Boomers, according to statistics cited by the American Sexual Health Association; out of the three million who are infected with Hepatitis C, about 75 percent are Boomers.
Some of the common symptoms include bruising and bleeding more easily, low energy, lack of appetite, jaundice and dark urine. Hepatitis C treatments include antiviral drugs to clear out the infection; once the virus is undetectable, patients are considered cured.
Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, Trichomoniasis & Syphilis
Those who are diagnosed with Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, Trichomoniasis or Syphilis may experience a variety of symptoms. However, some of these diseases also can share some overlap in symptoms, which is why it is really important to get tested for multiple infections.
Chlamydia symptoms typically include pain during urination and discharge. Some women may mistake it for a UTI or maybe even a yeast infection. Gonorrhea also causes painful urination and discharge, but women also may notice odd bleeding (different than their period). Symptoms in men also include a discharge, burning during urination and enlarged (or swollen) testicles.
Trichmoniasis is a little bit more unique in its hallmark symptoms—women may notice discharge with a foul fishy odor. The CDC notes that symptoms can include itching (in both men and women) and burning during urination (so very similar to Chlamydia and gonorrhea).
Syphilis, however, is characterized by a sore, a rash and later symptoms could be mistaken for the flu (sore throat, fever, fatigue, achiness). Over time, if syphilis is left untreated, the infection could move into the tertiary stage (a decade or more after infection). The CDC notes, though, that at any stage, syphilis can infect the brain and the eye.
Chlamydia, gonorrhea, trichmoniasis and syphilis all can be cured. The treatment is typically an antibiotic.
Why Should I Get Tested for an STI?
The sooner you learn your status, the sooner you can receive treatment. Many STIs are curable, but diseases like syphilis may advance and cause other issues. Testing early provides you with peace of mind and a better understanding of your health.
While everyone who is sexually active should be tested for STIs, there are certain factors that could increase your risk of infection. Unprotected sex is quite possibly the biggest risk factor for infection; if you had unprotected sex…get tested! Certain infections also can be transmitted via shared needles; these diseases include HIV and Hepatitis C.
I’m Scared to Get Tested! Does the Test Hurt?
Getting tested for an STI is easy and pain-free, but it is perfectly normal to be nervous or scared. Your emotions are your own, and everyone has a different reaction. However, please don’t ever let fear keep you from learning your infection status and managing your health. You have one body; understanding your status allows you to seek out the appropriate treatment.
One of the biggest fears relates to pain. Does an STI test hurt? Many tests only require a mucous swab, and this is a painless process. Some STIs can only be detected via a blood sample, and you may have to prick your finger for the test. There is still little to no pain.
How Can I Get Tested?
When you’re ready to take a test, you have options. Some individuals make an appointment with their doctor; however, you may have a copay or lab bills associated with these tests. Be sure to check with your insurance so you can best estimate your cost.
You also can test at home using a kit from myLAB Box. Our kits include everything you need to take the test in the comfort of your home. Once you have your sample, mail it back to us in the enclosed discreet packaging.
How Much Does an STI Test Cost?
The price of STI tests can vary; if you plan to get tested at a doctor’s office, you may want to research what your insurance will cover so you can better understand your cost. If you’re uninsured, the cost of testing will be your financial responsibility.
However, at-home tests may be a budget-friendly option. myLAB Box’s Uber Box screens for eight different sexually transmitted infections and costs less than $300. The Safe Box screens for the highest risk factors—HIV, Chlamydia, Gonorrhea and Trichomoniasis—and is priced at $189. The most comprehensive kit—Total Box—tests for 14 different STIs and costs $369. More basic tests like single screens for HIV or Genital Herpes are less than $100.
While a comprehensive STI test kit is recommended, your lifestyle and budget may impact which test you choose and how much you can afford to spend on testing.
How Soon Can I Receive My Results?
When you use a myLAB Box kit, you can expect to have your results in a matter of days. If you test positive, one of our medical professionals can explain your results and call in any necessary prescriptions. They are also available to answer any of your questions or concerns and help you find other resources for additional care.
What Do I Do If I Test Positive?
A positive test result for an STI can just mean that you need a brief course of antibiotics to cure the infection. However, in the case of infections like HPV, Herpes and HIV, lifelong management may be necessary to keep the infections in check.
If you test positive for a virus that is not curable, please reach out to one of our medical professionals for resources if you need help coping. Remember, STIs are incredibly common; you’re not alone. Please don’t ever let the stigma of a positive diagnosis keep you from seeking care or help.
Again, you may feel a mix of emotions. This is normal. It’s also completely normal to feel a sense of shock and not know what to say or what to ask when the diagnosis is confirmed. You can take some time and then reach out to us later. Sometimes you need to sit with the results and process the diagnosis.
If I Test Positive, Should I Notify Past Partners?
Receiving a phone call from a past sexual partner to be informed of their positive STI status can be an overwhelming—and perhaps terrifying—experience. However, not receiving that phone call could mean that you possibly live with a disease without knowing you’ve been at risk; the delay in diagnosis—and treatment–could lead to other health issues. So while that phone call could cause your stomach to drop with dread, it is perhaps one of the kindest and most responsible acts a past partner could provide to you.
When you’re in a relationship and test positive, you should inform your partner of your status…they need to know so that they can get tested (and get treated if they test positive, too). MTV’s It’s Your Sex Life provides talking points on how to talk to your partner about your status. The site also notes that if you’ve had other sex partners since the last time you were tested, you should notify them, too. Letting current and ex partners know of your disease status allows everyone to make the best decisions for their health.
How Did I Contract an STI?
When you’re diagnosed with an STI, you might wonder how you contracted it or from whom you contracted it. If you’re in a monogamous relationship, a positive diagnosis could cause you to doubt your partner. However, unless you’ve been tested regularly, there may be no clear way to know where you contracted the STD…or from whom. Your partner could have been infected by a previous sexual partner. Or you could have been infected by a previous partner but might not have known the diagnosis until now.
Testing positive should lead to having an open conversation with your partner about your disease status. Ask your partner if they have been tested, and, if they have not been tested, encourage them to get tested. If you’ve tested positive for an STI, your partner could have been exposed, too.
How Often Should I Test?
The result of your tests could be positive or negative, but the topic of testing doesn’t end with a single test…or even with a 14-panel comprehensive test. Many STIs are curable, but you can still get infected again. And some viruses—like HPV, Herpes and HIV—are forever.
No matter what result you receive, STI testing should be ongoing as long as you’re sexually active—or not in a monogamous relationship. Even still, fidelity isn’t a given. Some men and women have been taken by surprise when they have discovered they test positive while in a long-term relationship.
- Sexually active women age 25 and younger should be screened for gonorrhea and Chlamydia every year. A good recommendation would be to request a test during a yearly physical…or buy an at-home test to coincide with the physical.
- Sexually active gay and bisexual men should be screened yearly for syphilis, chlamydia, and gonorrhea.
- Pregnant women should be tested for multiple STIs in early pregnancy; many obstetricians routinely order these tests as part of well care for pregnant women.
- If you’ve had unprotected sex or have shared needles (or other “drug equipment”), the CDC recommends a yearly HIV test.
Your own lifestyle or personal health views also affect how often you test, too. If you frequently change sex partners or have unsafe sex, you may opt for more frequent STI screenings. Some individuals also may decide to get tested early in a new relationship.
Every STD has unique symptoms. The best advice is that if you notice something different about your body—new pain, discharge, a rash or sore, etc.—discuss your concerns with your doctor and inquire about getting tested for STIs.
However, not everyone has access to medical care. Some are uninsured, others may live in a rural area without a nearby doctor’s office or healthcare facility. You can take control of your health at home, though. myLAB Box offers multiple test options to ensure that you stay informed about your health and infection status while also testing privately at home and on your own time. Choose the box and kit that’s right for your needs.
Anyone who is sexually active is at risk for contracting an STI. Getting tested isn’t shameful, it’s smart!
Testing With a Partner: Open Communication about STI and Health Status
One way to remove the uncomfortable feelings about testing and keep partner communication wide open is to take STI tests together. myLAB Box offers the Love Box, which is a comprehensive STI test kit designed and packaged for couples. The Love Box includes tests for HIV (I & II), Hepatitis C, Herpes Simplex Type II, Syphilis, Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, and Trichomoniasis. Couples will receive the results in a matter of days, and, at that time, they can discuss the results together.
Some couples also decide to pursue comprehensive STI screening before they pursue a deeper relationship to ensure that they fully understand each other’s health status. The Love Box screens for the most common STIs and is one the most comprehensive STI testing kits available.
Safe is Sexy!
You only get one body, and it’s up to you to keep it healthy; testing for STIs allows you to take an active role in your health. Early diagnosis is key to managing infections or curing them completely. If you don’t know your disease status, you can’t receive the proper care and medication to treat the infections. Some STIs like HIV require routine management with antiviral drugs to keep the viral load low…and stop progression. Other infections like Chlamydia, syphilis and trichomoniasis are curable with antibiotics.
STIs are incredibly common; about half of young adults will receive an STI diagnosis by the time they hit the age of 25. Don’t let the perceived stigma of STIs keep you from getting tested. Testing positive doesn’t mean you are going to be shunned, it doesn’t mean you’re emblazoned with a scarlet letter and it does not in any way say anything about your character. Get empowered, get tested and find out your status today.