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.
‘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.’