STD/STI Testing: Introduction

For the past month or so, I’ve covered the various ways poly-folk can reduce their risk of getting infected with STD/STIs. One of those ways which deserves a much closer look is regular STD/STI testing.

Getting tested is fairly standard in the poly community. It’s part of the advice in practically every forum, website and book on polyamory: use protection and get tested. However, STD/STI testing isn’t much talked about. Everyone agrees that getting tested is good, but:

  • What does testing involve?
  • What does it cost?
  • Where can you be tested?
  • What STD/STIs are tested for?
  • How often should you get tested?
  • How often should you ask your partners to get tested?

are questions that rarely come up. So for the next few weeks, I’ll be delving into the nitty gritty of STD/STI testing. Starting with:

What is STD/STI Testing?

The ‘duh’ answer is that STD/STI testing is exactly what it sounds like: medical testing to determine whether or not a person has STD/STIs. And the way we say it makes it sound like there is one straightforward test that you go in and get and when it comes back you know if you have an STD/STI or not.

If only.

‘STD/STI testing’ is really something of a misnomer. There is actually a different test for every STD/STI – well every STD/STI that can be tested for. Some of them have no test in the usual sense. Doctors test for pubic lice with a physical exam, and either they see something or they don’t.

So when you go for an STD/STI test, you are actually going in for a series of tests that may include blood tests, urine tests, cell samples and physical exams. may because it is actually extremely rare for every STD/STI to be tested for. Hep B and HIV are, of course, the big ones. I have never heard of an STD/STI test anytime in the past ten years that didn’t test for Hep B and HIV. Herpes is almost never tested for (and when they do, the tests aren’t very reliable). The only way to know for sure what is being tested for is to ask when you are tested.

Results from an STD/STI test usually take around 2 weeks. A month isn’t unheard of, a week is a pleasant surprise. So don’t go in to get tested expecting to have a print out to show your partners the next day. And speaking of print outs, many STD/STI testing centers don’t give you one. They just call you with your results. By law in the US (and I believe many other countries), you are entitled to a copy of you medical records, so even if they don’t routinely give out printed results it is possible to them, but you may need to jump through some hoops for it.

On a more philosophical level, ‘what’ STD/STI testing is, is the bet way to stop the spread of sexual transmitted infections. Please note, not ‘keep from being infected’ but ‘stop the spread’. When we get tested, we really aren’t doing it for us – if the test comes back positive, we’re already infected. We are doing it for our partners, and their partners, so that if we are infected, we can get treated and take precautions so that our partners (and their partners) don’t get infected. Asking your partners to get tested is for you. Getting tested is for them.

Which leads right into my last thought on ‘what is STD/STI testing’: A damned good way to say ‘I love you.’

2 responses to “STD/STI Testing: Introduction

  1. Thank you so much for this:

    “We are doing it for our partners, and their partners, so that if we are infected, we can get treated and take precautions so that our partners (and their partners) don’t get infected.”

    I have a dating site profile where I indicate I’m happy to be tested and will want test results from partners if things head in that direction. Outside of this, I’m tested annually. A lot of people *assume* this means I have zero tolerance for STI/STD and that I’m STI/STD free. But as you note above, that is *not* the reason many people test. Additionally, I love the term “safer sex” over “safe sex” because it is far more accurate.

    In your article, a big “BRAVO!” for saying that HSV2 is often not tested for, unless you ask for it. I *do* ask for it, because I’m in one relationship that is discordant, in that he is HSV2+ and I have not been for two testing cycles. When he was first tested after 3 months of being together using protection, he called me very distraught and thinking I would break things off–even though he’s been a tremendous partner. Additionally, I had leveled with him to say that I contracted HPV in my mid 20s, and he was 100% supportive of me.

    I find that people who are informed and careful are much better partners and much better “risks” than people who believe that STIs/STDs can be completely avoided and they will never have to worry about them in life. Ironically a good number of those folks may be some of the 80% to 90% of the folks who are in the HSV2 category of “people infected who aren’t aware they have it.”

    The misconceptions around HSV2 infection are staggering. When I researched it in depth after learning a partner had it, I was dumbfounded at the reality vs. the hype and fear.

    I additionally am friends with someone in a discordant relationship with an HIV+ partner. I think people just assume that “nobody” would be in such a situation, but it happens. And they are both active in raising funding for HIV vaccine research.

    I have blogged for many years, but only recently started up a small blog on sex and relationships, so not much there yet. But one of the issues I want to take on is addressing misconceptions around HSV2 that I discovered in my research. This is the main reason I was drawn to your article when I saw it on my Twitter feed. My partner still struggles with the diagnosis even a year later. My first thought about blogging our story was how it might help others who feel similarly distraught when they first learn. But his first thought was how many people would comment to tell me I’m nuts to date a person who puts me at risk, and irresponsible to write that such relationships are OK. That shows how differently we–and people generally–can view these issues, either with empathy and compassion and love, or with fear.

    People need more information like this, and I love that you wrote this and applaud your message on being reasonable, cautious, and also realistic.


    • You’re welcome.

      I’m sorry you partner is struggling so much with what really is a minor diagnosis. The way people with HSV are treated is horrible, and far more damaging than the infection itself.

      Empathy, compassion, and love are definitely key!

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