Testing for Sexually Transmitted Infections
(For Parents of Teenagers with Typical Development)
Note: This article's not just for you – share it with your teen.
Who Should Get Tested?
Anyone who thinks they may have a sexually transmitted infection should get tested. But they’re not the only ones who should get tested.
People often ask us if they need to be worried about sexually transmitted infections if they’ve never had sexual contact with another person. The answer is yes, yes, yes. Sexually transmitted infection means that the infection CAN be transmitted sexually – it doesn’t mean the infection can’t be transmitted some other way too. For starters, the most common sexually transmitted infections can be passed from a pregnant female to the fetus – which means you could have been born with a sexually transmitted infection. HIV/AIDS and hepatitis B can be spread by sharing drug needles with someone who has the infection. Oral herpes, otherwise known as cold sores, can be spread through kissing or genital contact, but it can also be spread in nonsexual ways. In fact, it is so easily spread that it often runs in families – when one family member gets it, it doesn’t take long for other family members to get it. The majority of people with oral herpes got it as children in completely nonsexual ways.
Which means that anyone considering sexual activity should get tested for sexually transmitted infections. You should also get tested before having sex with any new partner, and it’s a good idea to get tested even if you’re already in a sexual relationship. If you’re in a long-term relationship, you should get tested once a year. And maybe we’re stating the obvious, but it’s not just you who needs to get tested – your partner or potential partners also need to get tested.
What Happens When You Get Tested for Sexually Transmitted Infections?
The interview. It all starts with the interview. Your healthcare provider will probably begin by asking you some questions about your sexual history. These questions may make you feel uncomfortable, but there’s no need to be embarrassed or ashamed – trust us, doctors and nurses have heard and seen it all. It is very important for you to be honest with your healthcare provider – otherwise you won’t get the care you need.
In most cases, your healthcare provider will ask you
If you are experiencing any health problems (even if you don’t think they’re related to your sexual activity), tell your healthcare provider about them in detail. Let them know when the problem started, what you were doing before the problem started, and any other information that might be helpful. Again, don’t withhold information because it’s embarrassing or you think it makes you look bad. All of this information can help your healthcare provider make the correct diagnosis.
If you don’t have any health problems or symptoms of sexually transmitted infections, you still need to tell your healthcare provider if you’ve been sexually active. Sometimes, sexually transmitted infections have no symptoms at all.
Testing. After the interview, what happens next depends on which infections you may have.
There is no single test for every sexually transmitted infection – tests are specific to each infection. And some infections can be found using different kinds of tests. Your test may include a
Sometimes a diagnosis can be made based on your symptoms and/or physical exam. If that’s the case, then treatment can be prescribed right away. Other times, your healthcare provider may need to send a sample to a lab to be tested. If that’s the case, then the results may not be available for several days or weeks.
Gonorrhea takes 2-7 days after you’re infected before it shows up in a test. Most other infections take weeks before they show up. Some take up to six months. In other words, if have sex on Monday with someone who infects you, and you go to get tested on Tuesday, your test results will probably all be “negative.”
So, if you have sex with someone before you both got tested, it’s smart to get tested in a week and again in six months. In between, you should have no sex at all or you should practice safer sex. Don’t know what we mean by “safer sex”? Then read Safer Sex.
Adapted with permission from an article by Louise Lalonde. The original article, “Testing, Testing…”, can be found on www.scarleteen.com. Additional information was obtained from an article by Planned Parenthood Federation of America. The original article, “STD Testing,” can be found on www.plannedparenthood.org.