Why Get Tested for STDs?

If you’ve ever had sex, you’re likely concerned about the risk of getting a sexually transmitted disease, or STD.

What are STDs? How common are they? How do you know if you or your partner have one? Why get tested for STDs? At Mosaic PHC, you can schedule a confidential appointment for a free STD test and information to help you make healthy choices about sex.

What are Sexually Transmitted Diseases?

A sexually transmitted disease is a bacterial or viral infection that can be transmitted through bodily fluids — such as semen, vaginal discharge, or blood – or skin-to-skin contact during sexual encounters.

The pathogens — bacteria and viruses — that cause STDs can be spread during vaginal, oral, or anal sex and thrive in the warm, moist environments in or near the genitals, anus, mouth, and throat.

When discussing these types of conditions, some will use the term sexually transmitted infection (STI) to refer to the actual pathogens transmitted through sexual contact, while STD sometimes pertains to the appearance of symptoms resulting from the transmission.

What Are the Most Common STDs?

According to the Centers for Disease Control, chlamydia was the most commonly reported STD in 2014, with more than 1.4 million cases. More than 350,000 cases of gonorrhea were reported, along with almost 20,000 cases of syphilis. For other STDs — such as human papillomavirus, herpes simplex virus, and trichomoniasis — the CDC uses much less detailed data collection methods and much less frequent reporting.

STD

Estimated U.S. Prevalence

Year of Most Recent Data

Chlamydiaa

1,441,789 cases reported

2014

Gonorrheaa

350,062 cases reported

2014

Syphilis – Primary & Secondarya

19,999 cases reported

2014

Human papillomavirusb

5.1% of Women ages 14-19

2007-2010

Herpes simplex virusb

15.5% of persons ages 15-49

2007-2010

Trichomoniasisb

3.1% among initial physician visits

2001-2004

Sources: (a) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2015). Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance 2014. Accessed from http://www.cdc.gov/std/stats14/surv-2014-print.pdf. (b) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2014). Other Sexually Transmitted Diseases. Accessed from http://www.cdc.gov/std/stats13/other.htm.

Young people and women are especially hard hit. For example, among young women ages 15 to 19, the rate of chlamydia (2,941 cases per 100,000 persons) is about four times higher than among men of the same age (718.3 cases per 100,000 persons). Also, about half of all new STD cases reported to the CDC each year are among individuals ages 15 to 24.

This is because young people face tremendous pressure from peers, partners, and popular culture to engage in risky sexual activity before they are ready. Furthermore, young people are often misled to believe the myth that “consistent and correct” condom use will always prevent STDs, when in reality there is no significant risk reduction from using them.

Gender

Age

Chlamydia Cases Per 100,000

Gonorrhea Cases Per 100,000

Women

15-19

2,941.0

430.5

Women

20-24

3,651.1

533.7

Men

15-19

718.3

221.1

Men

20-24

1,368.3

485.6

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2015). Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance 2014. Accessed from http://www.cdc.gov/std/stats14/surv-2014-print.pdf.

How Do You Know if You’re Infected?

Another dangerous myth is that most people think they would know if they or their partner were infected.

The truth is that most STDs are asymptomatic in their earliest stages, meaning most infected people do not know they have an STD, no matter how healthy they look or feel.

If STD symptoms do appear, they are often so mild they are easily ignored or mistaken for other less serious conditions. Left undiagnosed and untreated, STDs can cause significant long-term damage. In women, STDs can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which can cause severe abdominal pain, infertility, miscarriage, and premature delivery.

Commonly reported symptoms of STDs include the following:

  • Genital sores
  • Vaginal discharge
  • Itching in your genital area
  • Burning during urination
  • Abdominal pain
  • Urine with unusual odor or color

Most of the time, however, the only way to know if you’re infected is to get tested.

Who Should Get Tested for STDs?

If you’ve ever had sex, you need to get tested, even if you’ve used condoms correctly every time. Condoms provide no significant protection from STDs.

More specifically, the CDC recommends annual STD screenings for the following segments in particular:

  • All sexually active women under the age of 25, since that is the demographic hardest hit.
  • All women over 25 who have multiple or new sex partners.
  • All pregnant women should also get tested and treated as early as possible, to reduce long-term risk to the mother and baby.

Furthermore, if you’re planning to have sex in the near future, make sure you and your prospective partner both test negative first. Even if you’re abstaining from sex until marriage, if either you or your fiance have ever had sex before, make sure both of you are tested before the first time you have sex.

How Can You Get Tested for STDs?

Some people think they are automatically tested for STDs during routine pap smears or other medical visits. That is another myth that leads to thousands of undiagnosed – and untreated – STDs each year. Some doctors do automatically test for STDs during routine checkups, but most do not.

Most STD tests involve blood or urine samples, along with a swab of commonly affected areas, such as the genitals, anus, mouth, or throat.

STD

Common Testing Method(s)

Chlamydia

Genital swab

Urine sample

Gonorrhea

Genital swab

Urine sample

HIV

Blood test

Mouth swab

Genital herpes (no symptoms)

Blood test

Genital herpes (with symptoms)

Swab of infected area

Blood test

Syphilis

Blood test

Sore sample

Trichomoniasis

Swab of infected area

Physical exam

Discharge sample

HPV (genital warts)

Visual inspection

HPV (cervical cancer)

Pap test

HPV DNA test

Biopsy

Source: American Sexual Health Association. (2016). Get Tested. Accessed from http://www.ashasexualhealth.org/stdsstis/get-tested/.

If you test positive, notify all sex partners so they can get tested and treated if necessary. This will protect their health and yours, and reduce further spread of the infection.

Need more information? You can contact us at Mosaic PHC at any time for free STD testing and accurate sexual health information in a confidential, nonjudgmental setting.