Either you or your partner is experiencing some odd body changes (bumps, colored discharge, bleeding during sex…) or you had unprotected sex with someone you just weren’t too sure about their status and you are starting to feel a little paranoid. First thing to do is breathe, relax and know that getting tested is your sure way to identify your health status. Breathe again and know that if anything did happen most sexually transmitted infections are curable with antibiotics. After you identify where the closest or farthest health center is from your house or work lets figure out when you had unprotected sex. Why is this important? Tests for different sexually transmitted infections have different window periods of accuracy. Lets take a look at the timeline of efficacy:
- Chlamydia – Accurate tests 14 days after unprotected sex.
- Gonorrhea – Accurate tests 7 days after unprotected sex.
- Both Chlamydia and Gonorrhea are notorious for showing no symptoms leading them to go under the radar for most people. If there are to be symptoms, look out for burning urination, bleeding after or during sex or bleeding in between periods, greenish discharge.
- HIV – 3 months after unprotected sex the test will be 97% accurate. 6 months after unprotected sex the test will be 100% accurate. Why so long? Most tests are looking for antibodies to HIV and it can take 3 – 6 months for antibodies to start showing up on tests.
- Herpes – If you believe that you might be experiencing a herpes outbreak it is important to be screened as soon as possible before the sores scab over to ensure an accurate viral culture. A culture is when a health provider takes a sample of skin that is infected that will be tested on and looked under a microscope. Sores can be described as being painful, burning sensations. Most people have been exposed to herpes even though you may never have symptoms. Your exposure can be detected through a blood test but this test will never let you know when that exposure may have happened.
- Syphilis – Accurate tests after 10 – 30 days (this is the time frame when generally the first stage of syphilis can happen which are similar to sores but called chancres and can go unnoticed because chancres are generally painless).
At the Health Center
Most tests are done through urine, mouth swab or a quick finger prick for a blood sample.
However, if you are experiencing symptoms it is important to not be shy and speak up since it will help you have more appropriate resources at your disposal. You will likely be screened appropriately based on what you might be experiencing but know that you have patient rights so it is always your right to have a nonjudgmental, culturally appropriate experience at health centers so always advocate for yourself. For women, vaginal smears are looking for both common vaginal infections that aren’t always sexually related and sexually related infections like Trichomoniasis (“Trich”). If you are experiencing symptoms it is important to ask for an exam because then you can be screened for all infections including Trichomoniasis (“Trich”) which isn’t included in general STI testing because a vaginal swab needs to be taken.
Some vaginal symptoms to look out for: itching, burning or irritation in the vagina, yellowish, greenish or gray discharge, thicker than normal discharge, bleeding during/after sex. For males be open about where and for how long you have been experiencing symptoms so that the health care provider can take a look and possibly a culture if needed. The body is a complex machine that we don’t always think about until something strays from the usual. Most sexually transmitted infections do not show symptoms and go undetected for some time so talking to partners and getting tested or deciding to always use barrier methods is crucial. Assessing what risk factors you are open to and not comfortable with is important for maintaining good health while also being able to express this to partners. If you have an intimate partner who you might not be comfortable having that conversation with at all then maybe that can be taken into consideration as to if that person may be worth your time.
Have additional questions? Ask Get Smart Get Sexy.