This is one of the few posts so far to need significant updates. I removed a lot of stuff that reinforced stigma against STIs. Facts are the same, presentation is different. Updated March 29, 2018.
Just going to skim this one, cause I’ll be delving into STI testing in some depth later. But since regular testing is one of the main ways polyam folk tend to protect themselves, it deserves a mention here.
The idea behind using STI testing to preventing getting infected, is that if you never have sex with anyone who has STIs you don’t want to risk getting, you are safe. So if you show a STI test to everyone you have sex with, and everyone you have sex with shows STI tests to you, and you don’t have (unprotected) sex with someone who has an STI test you don’t want to get, you’re both safe right? Maybe.
STI tests are good ways to stop the spread of 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 STI tests is a damn good idea. But, it isn’t perfect. (I should make that the theme of this section – “Preventing 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 STIs. That last is another way of saying that STI tests almost never test for every STI. In fact, I have never heard of any clinic or lab testing for every possible STI outside of the rare research study trying to learn about how prevalent STIs are.
Which is one of the big reasons that STI testing doesn’t provide perfect protection against getting ANY STI. If the tests don’t cover every STI, then you can’t know for sure if you or your partners are STI free. Which means you may well be passing around STIs and not know it.
This is one reason why it’s important to learn about STIs yourself and decide which ones you really want to protect yourself against.
The good news is STIs most people want to protect against, like HIV and Hep B do get tested for pretty much everywhere The other hole in the protection 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 STI test they got two weeks ago showing they are STI negative. 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 STI test. But they can pass it on to you.
In general, 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, STI testing gives a fair of protection. However there is a flip side, and a very important one. STI testing isn’t just about protecting yourself. STI testing is also about protecting others. Regular STI testing is the best way to find out about 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.
What to learn more? See exclusive excerpts from my upcoming book Safer Sex for the Non-Monogamous by joining Jess’ Pack.
This post is part of the Safer Sex Blog Series.