If you are sexually active, then you need be aware of and take precautions against sexually transmitted diseases. Currently, one in five people in the United States has an STD. If you haven’t thought much about protecting yourself against STDs, now’s the time to make decisions that will help you guard against contracting or spreading a disease, as well as decisions that allow you to find out quickly if you do get an STD so you can get it treated, if possible.
You can keep yourself free of STDs if you make careful choices that guard against infection. First, if your partner has had sex with other people, make sure that they get tested before you engage in sex acts with them. Second, use condoms even if the test comes back negative, just in case the disease hasn’t yet had time to appear (some STDs will test as negative while they are dormant, but can still be spread to others). Condoms aren’t 100% effective at preventing STDs, but they do reduce risk of infection greatly. Also, many people don’t realize that you can still get some STDs through oral sex, so be sure to take precautions even if you’re not having actual intercourse
Watch for Symptoms
If you find yourself having symptoms of an STD, you should speak to a doctor and get tested immediately. Symptoms for Gonorrhea and Chlamydia include bumps or blisters around the genitals, secretion or discharge, a burning sensation when urinating, and dark and smelly urine. In the second stage of Syphilis, spots appear on the body. If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s important to get tested and treated as quickly as possible.
Get Tested Regularly
If you don’t have any symptoms, it’s still important to get tested on a regular basis or any time you feel you’ve participated in risky behaviors. Many people have STDs without having symptoms, or they have symptoms that aren’t obvious or severe. If you get tested at least once a year when you are sexually active, you will be able to treat and prevent the spread of a disease quickly if you get one. Waiting for symptoms could cause irreparable harm, and tests are fairly cheap and simple, so there’s no reason to not get tested.
STD testing usually involves a blood test and a urine test if you want to check for a broad range of diseases, as the blood and urine tests check for different ones. You can go to your doctor and ask to be tested, or you can go to a testing clinic; testing clinics are common across the country, and give you an inexpensive way to get tested if you don’t have a doctor with whom you feel comfortable talking about STDs.
Today, STDs are a very real issue, and it’s important to do everything in your power to prevent yourself from catching one. While abstinence is the only completely effective guard against disease, sexually active people can make good choices to reduce risk. Talk to your partner about their sexual history and have them get tested if they haven’t done so, get tested yourself, and use protection, and you’ll be much more likely to stay STD-free.
Sue L. McBride is a freelance writer for health blogs. In San Francisco, testing for STDs is convenient and confidential.