shutterstock_1439660228.jpeg (shutterstock_1439660228.webp)For many individuals who are sexually active, the act of getting tested for a sexually transmitted infection (STI) carries an unnecessary burden of social stigma. This stigma can make the experience unpleasant, embarrassing, or even frightening. However, it is important to recognize that this stigma is unfounded, lacks factual basis, and ultimately hinders patients from seeking the necessary tests for prompt treatment.

At PrEP2Me, we aim to spread the message that there is no shame in getting tested. In fact, it is an extremely common practice and a responsible step towards maintaining good health. If you're feeling anxious about STI testing, we have four suggestions to help you overcome the stigma and find comfort:

1. Remember That You’re Not 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. 

Suppose you’re in close communication with your partner or the last person you had sex with before you experienced symptoms. In that case, 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: 

  1. Ignorance is not bliss, and it is always better to know.
  2. 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! 

When Should You Screen?

Regular screening for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) is essential for maintaining sexual health. Here are some scenarios where you should consider a more comprehensive STI screening:

  • Sex without Condoms 
  • Multiple Sex Partners
  • Sexual Partner with Multiple Partners
  • Previous STI Diagnosis
  • Injecting Drugs
  • No Previous Full STD Screening

Remember, regular STI screening is an important part of maintaining your sexual health, regardless of your sexual orientation or gender identity. Consult with a healthcare provider to determine the most appropriate screening schedule based on your individual circumstances.

Test Yourself for STD

If you’re concerned about your risks for HIV and you’re not currently on PrEP, get started with PrEP2Me. 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. Central Outreach Wellness Center has you covered if you’re looking for other forms of STI testing at a compassionate, culturally competent clinic in Western Pennsylvania.

Start with PrEP2Me now for a safer tomorrow. Your health, your control, our support.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why do people avoid STI testing?

There are several reasons why people may avoid getting tested for STIs, including fear, shame, stigma, and lack of access to affordable healthcare. Some individuals may also feel anxious about the potential results or worry about being judged by their healthcare provider. But it's important to remember that STI testing is a routine medical service, and getting tested can lead to early detection and treatment, ultimately protecting your health and the health of your sexual partners.

How do I know if my partner gave me an STD?

The only way to know for sure if your partner has an STD is for them to get tested. It's important to have open and honest communication with your partner about sexual health and getting tested regularly. If you or your partner are experiencing any symptoms of an STI, it's important to get tested as soon as possible.  Remember that many STIs can be asymptomatic, so even if your partner has no symptoms, they may still have an infection that can be passed to you during sexual activity. Always use protection and practice safe sex to reduce the risk of contracting an STI.  It's also important to do std testing together as a couple regularly, especially if you are in an open or non-monogamous relationship.

What is the difference between STDs and STIs? 

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are often used interchangeably, but there is a distinction. STDs refer to infections that have progressed and are causing symptoms, while STIs refer to infections in their early stages when there may be no noticeable symptoms. Both can be spread through sexual activity and should be treated to prevent further health complications.  It's important to get tested for both STDs and STIs regularly to maintain your sexual health.

Can I get an STD from oral or anal sex?

Yes, it is possible to contract an STD through oral or anal sex. While the chances may be lower than vaginal intercourse, it is still important to practice safe sex and use protection during all forms of sexual activity to reduce the risk of transmitting or contracting an STD.  Getting tested for all types of sexual activity is recommended for maintaining your overall health and well-being.