At least 20 million new sexually-transmitted infections are reported each year in the United States, according to the CDC, and many other infections go unreported (and even undiagnosed). One reason why infections are so common: They’re not always easy to detect — which means many people spread infections without even knowing they’re doing it.
Fortunately, regular STD testing can help prevent the spread of infection and prevent you from developing potentially serious complications, too. Offering primary care and gynecology services, Harbor Community Health Centers offers confidential STD tests at their three locations in San Pedro, California. Here’s how to tell if you need to be tested.
STD testing recommendations
Most people think STD tests are just for people with specific “risky” sexual behaviors, like people with multiple partners or working in the sex industry. But actually, STD testing is vitally important for anyone who’s sexually active. That’s true even if you don’t have symptoms.
Why? Two reasons: Many STDs don’t cause symptoms in their early stages, which means you could unknowingly pass the infection on to another person. Plus, by the time symptoms do show up, the infection may already have progressed to a more serious stage.
That’s the basic recommendation — be tested if you’re sexually active. The CDC offers more comprehensive guidelines based on patient-specific factors.
Sexually active people
Anyone sexually active and between the ages of 13-64 should be tested for HIV at least once. Hepatitis C testing is also recommended for all adults, except in settings where the risk of infection is extremely low.
Sexually active women under age 25 should be tested annually for chlamydia and gonorrhea. If you’re a woman 25 or older, the CDC recommends annual testing for women with increased risk factors for infection, like having a new sex partner, multiple sex partners, or a sex partner with an STD.
In most cases, the CDC recommends screening for chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, HIV, and hepatitis B and C. Testing should be performed early during pregnancy and repeated if needed. This is essential not only for their health but for the health of the unborn baby.
Men who have sex with women
For men who have sex with women and are at low risk of infection, annual testing isn’t recommended for most STDs unless the person has symptoms or requests testing. Men with risk factors — like new or multiple partners or men who engage with sex workers — should be tested.
Men who have sex with men
Annual tests for chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and HIV are recommended for sexually active men who have sex with men, including gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men. More frequent testing may be recommended depending on individual risks and exposures. Men who are living with HIV should be tested once a year for hepatitis C, as well.
Anyone who engages in risky behaviors that could lead to infection, like sharing injection drug equipment or engaging in risky or unsafe sexual behaviors, including unprotected sex, should have regular testing.
Bottom line: Ask your doctor
Certainly, if you’ve engaged in unsafe, unprotected, or risky sexual or lifestyle behaviors, including substance abuse, STD testing is essential. If you’re not sure if you need to be screened, the best approach is to simply ask your doctor. Testing is discreet, confidential, and completely nonjudgmental — all we care about is helping you stay healthy.
To learn more about STD testing or schedule a test for yourself, call 310-547-0202 to schedule a visit with the Harbor Community Health Centers team today.