April is STD Awareness Month, so it’s a good time to set the record straight.
By Anna Vishkaee Eskimani
When was the last time you talked about sex? And I don’t mean the last time you made a “that’s what she said” joke or watched Scandal with your friends. I mean the last time you had an honest, informed conversation about sex — with a friend, a parent, or a doctor. Did you talk about safer sex, sexually transmitted diseases, and getting tested?
As a Planned Parenthood staff member, I’ve actually been surprised at how many of my friends have their facts completely backward when it comes to getting tested for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Some people think getting tested is painful, time-consuming — or not even necessary. Surprise! None of those things are true. In fact, getting tested is painless, easy, and quick — and anyone who’s sexually active should get tested regularly.
April is STD Awareness Month, so it’s a good time to set the record straight. Here are the facts on STDs and STD testing:
STDs are a real threat to young people’s health. Half of the 20 million STDs each year occur in people under 25, even though we’re only 25 percent of the sexually active population. In 2012, 70 percent of all newly diagnosed chlamydia cases were among people under 25 (over a million new cases). And young people account for the largest percentage of new HIV infections in the U.S. each year.
Getting yourself tested for STDs is one of the most important things you can do to protect your health. STDs, if not treated, can lead to serious health outcomes like increased risk of cervical cancer and infertility.
Getting tested is easy, quick, and painless. Rapid HIV tests, for example, can provide results in 20 minutes from just a swab inside the mouth. For other tests, all you have to do is urinate in a cup. No needles necessary.
You can’t tell by looking at someone if they have an STD. You could even have an STD and not know it! Many STDs cause no symptoms: for example, 75 percent of women and 50 percent of men with chlamydia have no symptoms. And on average, people with HIV don’t develop symptoms for 10 years. So the only way to know your status for sure is to get tested.
The good news is that most STDs, including HIV, are treatable, and many are curable. The sooner you know your status, the sooner you can get treated. Not all medical checkups include STD testing — so unless you ask to be tested, don’t assume you have been. It can be as easy as asking your doctor, “Should I get tested for STDs?”
Getting tested is important for your sex life. Because many STDs show no symptoms, you or your partner may have an STD from a previous relationship and not know it. You can take care of yourself and your partner by talking about getting tested before you start having sex. Some conversations may seem awkward to have, but they’re important for protecting your health — and that of your partner.
Condoms are a really good thing — honestly. Condoms used consistently and correctly provide the best protection against STDs. When it comes to HIV, for example, using a condom makes sex ten thousand times safer than not using a condom. Even if you’re using another method of birth control, you may be at risk of contracting a STD — using condoms plus another method of birth control is the best way to prevent both pregnancy and STDs. You can find out more about using both condoms and another method at www.takestwoapp.org.
And contrary to the myth that condoms make sex less pleasurable, men and women rate their sexual experiences as just as pleasurable when they use condoms as when they don’t.
Keep yourself healthy by making STD testing a routine part of your health care checkups — it’s a basic part of taking control of your sex life and staying healthy. What are you waiting for? Get tested!
Now a graduate student at UCF pursuing master’s degrees in Public Administration and Nonprofit Management, Anna works full-time at Planned Parenthood of Greater Orlando as their External Affairs Manager. She continues to be involved with many advocacy groups, including United Global Outreach through her work in the community of Bithlo. She is also a board member of several organizations, including the Orange County League of Women Voters, Orange County Democratic Executive Committee, and the UCF Women’s Studies Advisory Council. A lifelong feminist, Anna is excited to find even more ways to empower others and give back to her community.