STD/STIs: How often should I get tested?

So far we’ve looked at, why STD/STI tests are important, where you can get them and how much they cost, and what testing involves. The one important question about STD/STI testing we haven’t looked at yet is how often we should get tested. So that’s what were going to do today.

No matter what your relationship status, it’s probably a good idea to get tested at least once a year. Partly because there are some STD/STIs that you can get from kissing a family member or friend or sharing a glass of water. Partly because getting in the habit of being tested is an important part of protecting yourself and your partners.

For any parents who may be reading this, I highly recommend that you make it a routine to take your teenage children to get tested once a year whether or not you are aware of them being sexually active. It is very likely that your children will become sexually active without you being aware of it. It is likely that they will not discuss their sexual practices with you. Making it a yearly routine to get STD testing and telling them: “I am not asking, and you do not need to tell me, but I am going to make sure that if you are active you are safe;” can be an important step in helping your children establish healthy and safer sex practices.

Okay, so that covers the bare minimum, at the very least get tested once a year, just in case. Let’s look past the bare minimum. A fairly standard medical recommendation is that you should get tested about three months after getting involved with a new sexual partner. This recommendation assumes that you and your new partner are exclusive. So if you both get tested once, and you both test negative, then as far as conventional wisdom is concerned there is no reason to get tested again until and unless you get a new sexual partner.

Closed Poly Relationships
This advice can work well for closed poly relationships or poly-fidelitous relationships. If you are not getting new sexual partners, and your partners are not getting new sexual partners, then in theory there is no way for STD/STIs to enter your polycule. If you bring a new partner into your polycule, you can all go out and get tested after three months, and if everyone’s clear just go with the minimal once a year testing.

Okay, I hear you, I hear you, open, closed or sauerkraut, what happened to getting tested before getting involved with a new partner and exchanging test results? Why am I saying get tested after a new partner is involved rather than having a check before hand?

You are right, the standard advice and a lot of poly communities is to exchange STD/STI tests before getting sexually involved. And it’s advice that I repeated earlier in this series when I was going over the basics of safer sex. Yes, it is a good idea to exchange STD/STI testing results with a new partner before becoming sexually active with them. It just may not be enough.

Even if your new partner got their test results back the day you became sexually involved, they could have been infected with an STD/STI that did not show up in the test. HIV is notorious for the fact that tests will not return an accurate result for at least a month after you’ve been infected. There are several other STD/STIs that can take several weeks to show up in testing. So even if you are in a closed relationship, and even if you exchange test results before getting sexually involved, getting tested again after you get sexually involved with a new partner is a good idea.

Open Relationships
If you are in an open relationship, or are in a situation where you and/or your partners are getting involved with new sexual partners on a frequent basis, it is a good idea to get tested regularly once month or once every three months. Even if neither you nor your partners are entering new sexual relationships, if your metamours frequently have new sexual partners or really if anyone in your poly network frequently gets involved in new sexual relationships, you are best off getting tested at least every three months.

Again, it is still a good idea to exchange STD/STI tests before becoming sexually active with the new partner. Also again, exchanging STD/STI tests does not protect you hundred percent from the possibility that to your new partner may have STD/STIs that just didn’t show up in the test. It also (and I hope obviously) does not protect you from the possibility in an open relationship that your partner may get an STD/STI in the future from one of his or her new partners. Which is why regular testing is still important.

Condoms, Fluid Bonding and STD/STI Testing
I want to take a minute to address the idea that if you use condoms you don’t need to worry about getting test. This idea is prevalent enough that a few years ago when I took part in a research study on polyamory, I told the interviewer that my triad had an agreement to get regular STD/STI testing and she automatically assumed we were fluid bonded. The assumption, of course, being that if we were using condoms there would be no reason for us to be tested regularly.

If you’ve been following along in this series on STD/STIs, you may remember the post on barrier methods and the list of specific STD/STIs that condoms do provide some protection from. It’s important to remember though, that condoms do not protect against all STD/STIs and do not provide 100% protection against any STD/STI’s.any STD/STI’s.

Using a barrier method to protect yourself against STD/STIs is a very good idea. Barrier methods are not failproof. They are also not foolproof. If you use barrier methods, it is still a very good idea to get tested regularly.

And that wraps up our section on STD/STI testing. Next week, I’ll start going over the various STD/STI’s: how they infect you, but their symptoms are, long-term medical effects, available treatments and ways to protect yourself against each one.