The only way to know if you have an STI (sexually transmitted infection) or HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is to get tested. Tests may require a sample of blood, urine, oral and/or genital fluid. It is important not to assume that you get tested for STIs and/or HIV at your annual check-ups. If you are interested in getting tested, make sure to ask for the test when talking to your healthcare provider.
Frequency of testing
The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommends that sexually active people (including oral, anal, and vaginal sex) should get tested at least once a year. You may decide to get tested more often, or less often. Being candid with your healthcare provider will allow you to understand what frequency of testing is right for you.
The window period
A window period is the period of time between being exposed to an infection and being able to detect the infection through a screening test. All STIs including HIV have window periods ranging from several days to several months. If you have unprotected sex (oral, anal or vaginal sex without a barrier method), you may want to test for STIs/HIV at the onset of symptoms or after three weeks, and again after three months, just to be sure. If you have unprotected sex again during the window period, the timeline for testing starts over.
Many people do not get tested for STIs/HIV until they see symptoms. Unfortunately, many people do not show signs of symptoms of an infection. If you are sexually active, it is important to get tested regularly, regardless of whether symptoms are present. You can make an appointment for testing at Student Health Services, your local health department, your primary care physician, or health clinics including Planned Parenthood. These clinics provide confidential counseling on prevention and risk reduction as well as a screening, diagnosis and treatment for sexually transmitted infections for a nominal fee. Most tests take 1-2 weeks to get results back.
Living with an STI
Many STIs can be cured, and all STIs can be treated. If you have an STI, it is important to adhere to your prescribed medication so that you can be as healthy as possible. Having an STI or HIV does not mean that you can never have sex again. Communicating with your partner, taking your medication correctly, and understanding your body can help you continue to live a healthy, sexual life.