Just going to skim this one, cause I’ll be delving into STD/STI testing in some depth later. But since regular testing is one of the main ways polyfolk tend to protect themselves, it deserves a mention here.
The idea behind using STD/STI testing to preventing getting infected, is that if you never have sex with anyone who has STD/STIs, you are safe. So if you show a clean STD/STI test to everyone you have sex with, and everyone you have sex with shows STD/STI tests to you, you’re both safe right? Maybe.
STD/STI tests are good ways to stop the spread of STD/STIs. And they do provide some protection again getting infected. Over all, if you are going to have multiple sex partners in a non-exclusive relationship, getting regular STD/STI tests is a damn good idea. But, it isn’t perfect. (I should make that the theme of this section – “Preventing STD/STIs: Nothing’s Perfect”) There are no hard and fast numbers on what kind of protection getting tested gives you. This is partly because everyone has different testing practices, and partly because every clinic tests for different STD/STIs. That last is another way of saying that STD/STI tests almost never test of every STD/STI. In fact, I have never heard of any clinic or lab testing for every possible STD/STI outside of the rare research study trying to learn about how extensive STD/STIs are.
Which is one of the big reasons that STD/STI testing doesn’t provide perfect protection. If the tests don’t cover every STD/STI, then you can’t know for sure if you or your partners are STD/STI free. Which means you may well be passing around STD/STIs and not know it. The good news is that the big scary ones, like HIV and Hep B do get tested for pretty much everywhere. I think we can all agree that is a very good thing. The other hole in the protection STD/STI protection gives you is dormancy. It takes time for an infection to show up on a test. You have probably heard that HIV can take anywhere from 2 weeks to 6 months to show up in a test. (Semi-good news: sexual transmission almost always shows up within a month, 3 months max. It’s actually the method of transmission that shows up the fastest.) However, the dormancy can still leave you unprotected.
Say you get together with partner X for the first time. Partner X has an STD test they got two weeks ago showing they are STD/STI free. Partner X hasn’t had sex with anyone since the test. But partner X did have sex with someone a week before getting tested. Partner X may have gotten an infection and it would not have shown up in their STD/STI test. But they can pass it on to you.
In general, STD/STI tests provide more protection when you have fewer partners, and your partners have fewer partners, and etc. If you get involved with someone new every month, and they get involved with someone new every month, the protection testing provides drops significantly. If you get involved with one or two new people a year, and they get involved with one or two new people a year, STD/STI testing gives a fair of protection. However there is a flip side, and a very important one. STD/STI testing isn’t just about protecting yourself. STD/STI testing is also about protecting others. Regular STD/STI testing is the best way to catch an infection before it gets passed on to someone else. So testing actually provides two layers of protection. It gives you some protection against infections and if you get infected, it gives you a chance to prevent the infection from being passed to anyone else.