Dear Queerie Bradshaw,
I sleep around, not a lot but I still do. How often should I get tested for STDs?
Playing It Safe
YAY for getting tested! I was actually just tweeting about this today with porn star Nina Hartley. I said get tested every 6 months and she said more often than that if you’re as sexually active as she is. Her response brought up a good point, which is that the only real way to know how often to get tested is how often you put yourself at risk.
When I was a counselor on the California AIDS Hotline at the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, we would advise people to get tested every 3-6 months. Now, that was four years ago and things have changed a lot since then. At the time, it took 6 months for HIV to show up in your bloodstream but now they can check you as soon as 3 months from infection. So, I would advise you to get tested three months from each time you put yourself at risk, or once a month to once every three months if you’re very sexually active.
I cannot stress this enough, HIV is not the only STI you should worry about and even if you’re using protection and/or only having oral sex, you need to still get tested. Lots of STIs, like chlamydia and HPV, can lay dormant in your body for years without showing any symptoms until it’s too late (i.e. until you have cervical cancer from HPV or internal organ damage from chlamydia). The earlier you find out if you have an infection the sooner you can get rid of it or learn to manage it so you have a healthy life. So when you go for that test, insist they do a full screening of all STIs.
Remember, it’s always better to know your status, even if you’re scared. Some STIs just take a pill to get rid of and other more long-term ones are manageable if caught early. Knowledge is power and in this case knowing can save your life or the life of your partner.
*Just a little side note: I use STIs (sexually transmitted infections) versus STDs (sexually transmitted diseases) because it encompasses all forms of viruses and infections you can get from sex and it’s the proper term used in medical circles these days.