For many sexually active people, getting tested for a sexually transmitted infection (STI) carries the weight of serious social stigma, making the experience unpleasant, embarrassing, or even frightening. The truth is, this stigma is unnecessary, not based on fact, and only serves as an obstacle to patients seeking out the tests they need in order to be treated as quickly as possible.
At , we want to spread the word that there’s nothing shameful in getting tested -- in fact, it’s extremely common, and getting tested is a responsible, healthy thing to do! If you’re feeling nervous about STI testing, here are four ways you can smash the stigma and find some comfort:
1. Know You’re Far From Alone
It’s understandable that you may experience feelings of embarrassment or alienation surrounding your test, or even the idea of having an STI. A quick reality check may help -- STIs are extremely common, particularly among those who are young and sexually active. Here are some stats to put that fact in perspective:
- One in two sexually active people will contract an STI by the age of 25.
- In the US, around 1 in 8 people between ages 14-49 have genital herpes.
- Researchers estimate that at least 80% of sexually active people will have a human papillomavirus (HPV) infection at some point in life.
- At least 1 in 50 people in the US between the ages of 15-24 are diagnosed with chlamydia each year.
- Likewise, 1 in 200 are diagnosed with gonorrhea.
2. Prioritize Peace of Mind
No matter what your fears are before getting tested, it is always better to know your status instead of worrying and guessing on an endless loop. While this can be important to your mental health, the peace of mind you receive from your STI test is just the beginning: early testing is also important for the sexual partners in your life, as many STIs (such as herpes and HIV) can be passed before symptoms even present themselves. The sooner you know your status, the sooner you can inform your partners, allowing them to get tested as soon as possible and bringing you a step closer to being untransmittable. It’s also important to remember that most STIs are progressive -- if you do test positive, getting tested will ensure that you can begin treatment early. This allows for more successful outcomes and a lower risk of long-term illness, such as cervical cancer, penile cancer, or AIDS.
3. Bring a Friend to Your Test
So, you’ve finally made your STI test appointment, but you’re still feeling anxious as the day approaches. The first thing to remember is that no one is judging you, least of all your doctor. STI testing is a routine medical service provided by those who have only your health and safety in mind, not a nosy neighbor who is interested in useless things like shame and blame. The second thing to remember is that at most clinics -- including Central Outreach Wellness Center -- you’re welcome to bring someone with you to your appointment to help you feel more secure. If you’re in close communication with your partner or the last person you had sex with before you experienced symptoms, it’s also a good idea to let that person know you’re getting tested so you can provide one another with mutual support.
4. Try Not to Catastrophize
For some patients, especially those who struggle with anxiety in other aspects of their lives, the thought of testing positive for an STI can seem so catastrophic that they’d rather not have answers. If this is you, here are two things you need to remember:
- Ignorance is not bliss, and it is always better to know.
- Having an STI isn’t the end of the world!
That’s right. If you test positive for an STI, the world will not come crashing down. Most common STIs -- including chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis -- can be 100% treated using a round of antibiotics. If you test positive for a chronic viral infection such as genital herpes or HIV, your condition is still manageable, and with treatment, you’ll be able to return to your life and have sex worry-free.
When the worst-case scenario is that you’ve taken the first step toward treatment, getting tested doesn’t seem so bad after all. If you think you may have had a high-risk encounter, you’re experiencing suspected symptoms of an STI, or it’s just been a while since your last test, now is the time to get it done -- no fear, no shame, just your health!
If you’re concerned about your risks for HIV and you’re not currently on PrEP, get started with . Our easy, accessible online PrEP delivery service includes an initial at-home STI test that can grant you peace of mind and help us determine if you’re ready to start PrEP. If you’re looking for other forms of STI testing at a compassionate, culturally competent clinic in Western Pennsylvania, has you covered.
Get started with , where we make staying safe easy and accessible for everyone!