In addition to using condoms or other protective barrier methods during oral, vaginal, and anal sex, practicing monogamy and avoiding risky sexual behaviors, regular testing is an equally important part of practicing safe sex and reducing the risk of contracting or spreading sexually transmitted infections (STIs/STDs).
For sexually active people, STDs can compromise their general health or lead to an incurable, lifelong affliction. Getting tested for STDs is the only way for a sexually active person to be sure of their STD status and stop the spread of STDs among their sexual partners and beyond. The possibility of having co-infections (more than one STD at at time) makes it especially important to get tested for all of the most common STDs on a regular basis.
STDs often have symptoms that mirror other diseases, making it difficult to diagnose if an STD isn’t being looked for specifically. Many STDs are accompanied by flu-like symptoms, such as sore throat, fever, muscle aches, and swollen glands. These confusing symptoms make it easy to mistake a sexually transmitted infection for a cold or flu. Some STDs are completely asymptomatic, meaning they show no symptoms at all. Asymptomatic STDs are particularly dangerous because they allow diseases to progress and increase the likelihood it will be spread unknowingly; the person transmitting the disease and the person contracting it can be completely unaware that they are sick at all.
Most STDs can be treated easily with minimal side effects if detected in a timely manner, but others, such as syphilis, can cause severe complications or even death if left untreated. In the case of incurable viral STDs like HIV, hepatitis, or herpes, the infections can be managed with medication, but become more traumatic and life-threatening if left untreated for too long.
STD testing is not a routine part of well-woman checkups or Pap smears and often must be requested specifically. As such, women who may be pregnant or are trying to become pregnant are vulnerable to serious risks to both the mother and the unborn child if an STD goes undetected. It is important not to lie to your doctor about your sexual activity, they won’t recommend testing if you say you are inactive.
Almost all STDs cause an increased risk of miscarriage or premature delivery in pregnant women, but with advances in modern medication, the spread of many STDs (even HIV) from mother to child can be prevented if doctors are aware of the infection.