Sexually transmitted diseases, also known as STDs, can affect anyone who is sexually active. Unfortunately, STDs are very common, and they are on the rise in the US. In fact, according to the most recent report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of reported STDs has reached an all-time high for six years in a row.
If you are sexually active, this information can feel intimidating. However, being informed about STD testing and the various types of STDs can help keep you safe and healthy. Read on for everything you need to know about STDs, and what to do.
What are STDs?
An STD is an infection that is transmitted during a sexual activity. You don’t have to have sexual intercourse to get an STD—they can be passed along during other intimate activities, such as oral sex.
What’s the difference between an STD and an STI?
You may be wondering about the difference between an STD and STI. These two acronyms actually refer to the exact same condition. The term STI is an abbreviation for “sexually-transmitted infection,” which can refer to infections such as gonorrhea or chlamydia. While STD may be the term that is more commonly used and familiar, most health organizations in the US use the terms interchangeably.
What STD tests are recommended?
It can be confusing to try to figure out which STD tests you may need. If you have had an unprotected sexual encounter, you may be curious to know which screening tests are recommended.
Who is this guide for?
This STD guide is for people who are proactive about their health and want to keep themselves and their partners safe and free from disease. You may be under the impression that STDs are rare, however the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 1 in 5 people in the US have an STI.
Testing for specific STIs - What are they, what are the risks?
When it comes to STD testing, there are various methods of lab testing available. The following table is a summary of some of the most common STIs in the United States, based on data from the the CDC, but there are others that your healthcare provider can screen for, as needed.
|STI||What is it?||How common is it?||What are the STD symptoms?||What are the risks?||Type of STD Test Available||Is it curable?|
|Chlamydia||Bacterial infection||Most frequently reported STI in the US, affecting 4 million people each year||Usually no symptoms, but some people experience discharge, itching, burning, or pelvic pain||Can be passed to baby during childbirth, can cause pelvic inflammatory disease, can impact future fertility||Urine test, penile or vaginal swab||Yes|
|Gonorrhea||Bacterial infection||There are 1.6 million new gonorrhea infections diagnosed each year||Sometimes no symptoms but some people may have irritation with urinating, or discharge||Can be passed to baby during childbirth, can cause pelvic inflammatory disease, can impact future fertility||Urine test, penile or vaginal swab||Yes|
|HIV||Viral Infection||984,000 people in the US have HIV, with 32,600 people getting a new diagnosis each year||Usually no symptoms except for an initial flu-like illness||Can be passed to baby during pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding. Can progress to life-threatening condition of AIDS||Blood test, cheek swab||No – but it can be reduced to an undetectable level with treatment|
|Syphilis||Bacterial infection||Syphilis affects 156,000 people in the US||Painless sores in the genital area, rectum, or mouth. Symptoms become more pronounced decades later after it has progressed||In its late stages, syphilis can cause permanent damage to various organs, including the nervous system, heart and skin||Blood test||Yes|
|Hepatitis||Viral infection||About 850,000 people in the US are affected by Hepatitis B, and experts estimate there may be 2.4 million or more people living with Hepatitis C||Usually no symptoms until decades later||Can be passed to a child during childbirth, can cause long-term liver damage and make a person more vulnerable to liver cancer||Blood test||Hepatitis B is not curable but it can be managed with medications, Hepatitis C is usually curable with medication|
|HPV (Human papillomavirus)||Viral infection||HPV is the most common STI in the US, affecting 42.5 million people, with 13 million new diagnoses each year||Ranges from no symptoms to genital warts||Certain strains of HPV are associated with the development of cancer, especially cancer of the cervix, vulva, vagina, penis, anus, mouth, or throat||Cervical swab||No, however there are treatments for the health problems associated with HPV|
|Herpes||Viral infection||Herpes simplex virus 3 (HSV-2) is the second-most common STI in the US, affecting 18.6 million people||Painful blisters that may go undetected||Can make a person more vulnerable to other STDs, can be spread to a baby during childbirth and cause serious complications, can rare brain inflammation||Local swab, blood test||No, however flares can be managed with medication|
Barriers to regular STD testing
Sometimes, people may feel embarrassed about getting an STD test, or they may feel like there is a stigma around STD testing and STD treatment. Maybe you have been searching on the internet for how to get an STD test, what is STD, or STD testing near me, and you keep exiting out of the search window out of fear. People may feel shame about the process, or they may be nervous about communicating potential positive results to their partners. Many people may not get regular STD testing simply because they are unaware of the importance of regular testing, and they may not think that they are vulnerable to contracting an STD.
Getting an STD test can sometimes feel strange, and it’s understandable to be hesitant about getting tested. However, getting screened for STDs is one of the most important ways that you can be forward-thinking and proactive about your own health.
Common misconceptions about STD screening
There are many misconceptions about STD screening that get in the way of accessing safe and affordable treatments. Here are a few of the more common misconceptions and guidance from the CDC :
- STD testing screens for all potential STDs
- Truth: There is no single STD test that can screen for all STDs
- STDs are rare and only occur in small segments of the population
- Truth: STDs are highly common and affected all age groups and demographics
- A medical provider can tell whether you have an STD simply by doing an exam
- Truth: A medical provider can’t tell if you have an STD simply by looking
- PAP smears test for STDs
- Truth: PAP smears test for cell changes, not STDs. Sometimes they are paired with an HPV test, however.
- It’s embarrassing or difficult to discuss STD testing with a medical provider
- Truth: Medical providers are very accustomed to having comfortable conversations surrounding your sexual health
- Only people who are sexually promiscuous need STD screening
- Truth: People who are in monogamous relationships, or who are not sexually promiscuous, can still be vulnerable to STIs
- STD screening is painful
- Truth: STD screening is pain-free
- A negative STD means that you absolutely do not have an infection
- Truth: It can take time for an STD test to turn positive, especially in the case of HIV. You can have a negative HIV test and still have HIV—this is why it is important to get retested at a specific interval if you are concerned.
- Having an STD screening test once protects you from STDs in the future
- Truth: An STD test only examines your current state of health, it cannot protect you from getting STDs in the future
- Having a positive STD screening test means you will have the STD forever
- Truth: Many STDs are curable, and can be fully treated.
- Only people in female-male or male-male sexual relationships need STD screening
- Truth: People in bisexual and homosexual relationships, including lesbians, are vulnerable to STDs.
If you have ever harbored one of these misconceptions about STD screening, you are not alone. However, these misconceptions can get in your way when it comes to seeking proper care.
Positive test results
If you have a positive STD test result, you can rest assured that there are many forms of effective treatment available, regardless of the nature of your infection. Your medical provider will confidentially discuss with you your treatment options. It is also generally recommended to discuss your positive test results with your sexual partners so that they can also receive treatment. This not only keeps them safe, too, but it often prevents you from getting reinfected after you have received an effective STD treatment.
Effects of STDs on pregnancy
If you have had a positive test result, it may also be important to determine whether or not you are pregnant. According to the CDC, some STDs can have a negative impact on a pregnancy and will need to be treated in a specific way. Some medications used to treat STDs can also impact pregnancy. It will also be important to share this information with your medical providers in the future, as some STDs can impact your goals of getting pregnant in the future.
At-home STI testing
An at-home STI test can provide you with the information that you need about a specific STI. Always check with your provider if you have questions about testing options. However, not all at-home STI tests are FDA-approved, and they may not cover all of the potential factors that a medical provider considers when you get an in-person STD test.
Take charge of your sexual health
You know what it takes to stay healthy and to be proactive about seeking medical care. Screening for STDs is just one component of maintaining a healthy lifestyle and keeping yourself safe, particularly if you regularly have unprotected intercourse.
How to practice safer sex
One of the best ways that you can practice safer sex is by using a barrier for protection with each sexual encounter. The CDC recommends a barrier such as a male condom, female condom, dental dam, or film, as methods that can give you peace of mind that you are doing everything you can to protect your health.
Frequently asked questions
How do I know if I am at risk to contract HIV?
If you have unprotected sexual intercourse, you are at risk of getting HIV. According to the CDC, your risk increases if you have unprotected sex with multiple partners, you have sex under the influence of illicit drugs, you have sex with a person who is known to have HIV or to have multiple sexual partners, you have sex with someone who injects drugs, or you are a sexually active gay man. Your risk is lower if you are in a monogamous relationship in which both parties have tested negative for HIV, however the best way to protect yourself is to use a barrier during intercourse, such as a condom.
What is HIV and should I be tested?
HIV is a virus known as human immunodeficiency virus. It is transmitted through sexual intercourse as well as through the blood. When a person is infected with HIV, they can initially have flu-like symptoms, or no symptoms at all, according to the CDC. However, if the infection is not identified and managed with antiviral medication, the amount of virus in the body can increase, making a person vulnerable to illnesses that wouldn’t normally affect a healthy immune system. If you have regular unprotected sexual intercourse, you should be tested for HIV at least once a year. The CDC suggests that every person between the ages of 13 and 64 get tested at least once in their lifetime for HIV.
What is National HIV Testing Day?
National HIV Testing Day occurs on June 27th of each year. It is a government-sponsored event that spreads awareness about the importance of HIV testing, and encourages people to get an HIV evaluation, either through an in-person test or a mail-in kit.
What puts me at risk for HIV, Viral Hepatitis, and STDs?
Anyone who has unprotected sexual intercourse outside of a faithful monogamous relationship in which both parties are known to be infection-free is at risk of HIV, viral hepatitis and STDs. According to the CDC,the risk increases if you have multiple sexual partners, a history of STDs in the past, or if you regularly use alcohol or illicit drugs during sexual encounters. HIV and viral hepatitis can also be contracted through needle sharing or other activities that expose you to another person’s blood.
How do I protect myself and my partner(s) from HIV, Viral Hepatitis, and STDs?
According to the CDC, the best way to protect yourself from any form of sexually transmitted infection is by using a protective barrier. This means male condoms, female condoms, dental dams, or films. Birth control methods, such as the pill or an IUD, only protect you from pregnancy—they do not prevent STDs.
How do you get an STD test?
There are a number of ways of getting an STD test. You may be asked to provide a urine sample, or you may need to have a swab sample taken of the body region in question. Some STDs can only be detected by blood, so you may need to have a blood test. Regardless of the method, STD tests are often quick, convenient and pain-free.
How long does an STD test take?
The time period that you have to wait for an STD result varies depending on the test. Some rapid tests provide a result within an hour. However, some tests may take a few days to return a result. After getting an STD test, the CDC recommends to avoid sexual intercourse until you know your results. This way you can help keep your partners safe until you know your STD status.
How much is an STD test?
The price of an STD test varies according to the type of test. Some tests, like a blood test, may be more expensive, as they typically require a trained professional to obtain blood through puncturing a vein. Other rapid tests like swabs or dips that evaluate a urine sample, may be less expensive.
Where to get an STD test?
There are a number of places to get an STD test. One of the most efficient, convenient, and affordable ways is by visiting a local convenient care location, or by scheduling a virtual visit. At Solv, we offer telemedicine services and have urgent care locations nationwide. Our experts provide high quality care that can give you peace of mind that you are taking the best possible care of your health.
How much does an STD test cost?
STD testing costs can vary depending on the type of evaluation you are receiving. They can range from under $100 to a couple hundred dollars. Testing for more than one STD is generally more expensive. If you have health insurance, your insurance provider may cover the cost of an STD test.
Solv has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
- Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance 2019 (July 29, 2021)
- HIV Risk and Prevention (December 7, 2020)
- HIV Testing (June 9, 2020)
- Sexually transmitted disease testing misconceptions threaten the validity of self-reported testing history (March 30, 2013)
- STIs At a Glance (January 25, 2021)
- Viral Hepatitis in the United States: Data and Trends (June 7, 2016)