Happy New Year! We are 10 days into 2018 and many of us are already working toward our resolutions, intentions, and manifestations for the year. Accordingly, health and fitness tend to be at the top of everyone’s list. Whether we actually eat healthier, exercise more, or lose that extra 20 pounds is yet to be determined; but, there is one goal that we can successfully check off our lists easily and early. The Sexual Health Tune-Up.
Similar to cars, our bodies require preventative maintenance to continue working at optimal levels. This maintenance is often performed by our doctors during yearly physical examinations. However, in the mix of heart and lung exams, blood pressure checks, glucose and cholesterol screens, and other uncomfortable pokes and prods, sexually transmitted infection (STI) screenings can be overlooked. Lots of people assume they are automatically tested for STIs during their annual exams considering the copious amounts of blood and urine that is a collected. The truth is that some doctors conduct sexual risk assessments and perform STI screens on their patients each year, while others do not test for STIs unless requested to do so.
Understandably, many people are uncomfortable discussing sex and any accompanying issues with their doctor or healthcare provider. But, if you are sexually active and/or experiencing any nagging symptoms (ie. itching, burning, pain, discharge, sores, bumps) it’s important that you seek medical advice regarding STI prevention and treatment. A good healthcare provider should be respectful of your privacy, non-judgemental, and attentive. If not, find a new one.
General Sexual Health Tune-Up
There are a few STI tests that should be routine for sexually active people; however, they are not necessarily performed during annual physicals. Make sure to specifically ask for them. Most only require a mouth or genital swab or urine sample. Others may require a throat or anal swab or a blood draw. The method of collection is determined by your healthcare provider. The tests are as follows:
- Chlamydia (Urine test or genital swab)
- Those participating in anal or oral sex should also consider asking for an anal or throat swab since these areas can be infected despite a negative genital or urine test.
- Gonorrhea (Urine test or genital swab)
- Similar to chlamydia, ask you healthcare provider about anal and throat swabs as these areas can be infected despite negative genital and urine tests.
- HIV (Mouth swab or blood draw)
- A positive mouth swab test will be be confirmed with a blood draw.
In regards to HIV testing, it is recommended that everyone 13 to 64 years of age be tested at least once. More frequent testing is advised for those with multiple or anonymous sex partners and who engage unprotected sex. Some states require separate written or oral consent before an HIV test can be performed. To be sure, specifically ask your provider for an HIV test.
Some of you may be wondering about other STIs such as herpes, HPV, and trichomoniasis. While these are certainly unpleasant bugs to have, they are typically not a part of routine STI screens unless you are showing symptoms or have reason to believe you were exposed to them by an infected partner. Aside from this, HPV–the kind that causes cervical cancer–is usually screened during Pap tests.
Specifics for Those with Vaginas
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests annual chlamydia and gonorrhea screening for sexually active females 25 years old and younger and older females with new or multiple sex partners or a partner with a recent STI diagnosis. It is also good practice to get tested for HIV annually.
Routine or periodic Pap tests to screen for HPV and cervical cancer are typically standard during physicals. Your doctor will suggest the best testing schedule for your specific needs. Also, you annual exam is the perfect time to discuss any birth control or family planning needs you may have.
Specifics for Those with Penises
In general, there are no specific chlamydia and gonorrhea testing recommendations for males. However, if you are sexually active consider yearly screening for both chlamydia and gonorrhea and HIV.
The CDC specifically recommends that gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men (MSM) be tested annually for chlamydia, gonorrhea, HIV, and syphilis. Those with multiple or anonymous sex partners or a sex partner who has a STI should consider more frequent testing (e.g. every 3 to 6 months). Your doctor may recommend other tests (e.g. Hepatitis B), as needed.
For more info about STI testing or STIs in general, talk to you healthcare provider and visit CDC.gov.