Polyamory and STD/STIs: Getting Tested

 

The two big questions everyone asks are where to get tested and how much will it cost. Unfortunately, there is a common idea that STD/STI testing is horribly expensive. This keeps many people from getting tested, even though there are many inexpensive options for STD/STI testing. Obviously your options depend a bit on where you live, so I’ll try to break it down a bit. However the default here is US info.

Where to get tested? And what does each cost?

The easy answer here is ‘ask your doctor’. If you have health insurance (or live in a place with universal health care – you lucky bastards) you can get ask your doctor about how and where to get tested for STD/STIs.

If going to your doctor is not an option – for reasons of cost or privacy – there are several other options.

Health Clinics

Your local health department has an interest in keeping STD/STIs under control and treated. In the US, municipal health departments offer STD/STI testing either at special once a month clinics or at special offices set up specifically for STD/STI testing (which depends on how many people they expect to need testing and what they can afford). Their tests are either free or at a nominal fee (usually around $10, though I have seen as high as $30).

Outside of the US, I know that Great Britain, Australia and Canada all offer STD/STI testing centers in addition to the ability to get tested by your doctor. I do not know about the rest of the world, but it is (at least theoretically) easy enough to call your local health department and ask or look them up online.

In the US, these clinics rarely cover all STD/STIs, but they will always cover HIV, Hep B, syphilis and these days gonorrhea. They will rarely test for herpes unless you have a sore of some sort – testing for herpes is unreliable at the best of times and is unlikely to be worthwhile unless you have an active outbreak.

Non-Profits

There are also places such as Planned Parenthood where you can get tested (some charge for STD/STI testing, some do not).

Mail Order and Medical Labs

You can also pay out-of-pocket for STD/STI testing. ‘Anonymous’ testing where you send samples by mail order, or you can go down to a local medical lab. The advantage of this is you can get tested for any STD/STI you can afford. However, they will typically charge you over $300 for what you can get for less than $30 from your health department. While it is true that health departments don’t test for all STD/STIs, if you really want to be tested for ‘all’ STD/STIs (I have never seen any lab or for pay program that actually covers all STD/STIs, hell there is no HPV test for men) you are probably best off getting tested by the local clinic for whatever they cover and only paying out-of-pocket for what they don’t cover.

So there you go – finding where to get tested, and affording to pay for it, isn’t nearly as bad as you may have thought.

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.’