2020 brought a whole new meaning to the question “Have you been tested?”
Over the past year or so, testing for COVID-19 has become commonplace in the U.S. Thanks to the efforts of government organizations, healthcare companies, and medical experts, the importance of testing and early intervention, when it comes to COVID-19, has become very clear.
But as the world opens up and people begin to socialize again, a reminder about the importance of testing for some other infectious diseases may be necessary — in part because stigma about STIs makes information about them somewhat harder to come by (and sometimes more difficult to discuss).
Amber Artis has been a matchmaker and dating coach for more than two decades, and she says she’s never witnessed a time when so many singles are making finding the right relationship a priority.
“COVID-19 has changed the way many people feel about dating,” she says. “In post-COVID dating, hookup culture is not going to be as prevalent, as more singles realize how important it is to have the right person in their life. Safety has come to the forefront. Many singles want to know whether or not their date is vaccinated, so they are certainly not going to engage in any risky behavior such as unprotected sex. At this point, many people see unprotected hugs and kisses as risky behavior!"
The pandemic brought lessons about communicating our comfort levels, boundaries, and physical needs. We let each other know when we would or would not be wearing a mask, we notified each other when we came in contact with the virus, and when we did get sick, we stayed home.
And these lessons can all be applied to sexual health.
When talking to a partner or potential partner, be clear about your expectations and any concerns: You might want to know:
• What birth control is being used?
• What protection against STIs is being used?
• When was the last time your partner was tested?
• What are your partner’s COVID-19 vaccination status and current social distancing practices?
If these questions make you uncomfortable, it may be easier to begin the conversation by giving your own information first — for instance, “Just so you know, I was last tested for STIs a couple of months ago, and I haven’t slept with anyone since. Also, I’m on birth control, but it’s still important to me that I use a condom every time. Do you have any preferences that I should know about?”
Before vaccines made gathering with loved ones somewhat safer, many of us became accustomed to getting tested for COVID-19 (and quarantining) before a social visit. The same principles can apply to STI testing.
According to the National Coalition for Sexual Health, recommended STI testing frequency varies based on your relationship status and your sexual activity. If you're coming out of quarantine “single and ready to mingle,” it would be ideal to have an initial, all-encompassing screening that looks for common STIs like chlamydia, gonorrhea, HSV-2, syphilis, hepatitis, and HIV.
The CDC says that both gender and age factor into which tests you should be prioritizing, and how often you should seek testing. Talking with your primary care provider can help determine the STI testing schedule that will best suit you and your needs.
Getting tested for STIs before having sex with a new partner is always a good idea — though this may not be feasible for some people. If you are having sex with new partners frequently, it’s a good idea to talk frankly with your primary care provider about an STI screening schedule and safer sex precautions that will help keep you and your partners healthy.
Your healthcare team is there to help you be the healthiest you can be, and that includes your sexual health. Medical professionals are healthcare experts, but they are also humans who understand that sex is an important aspect of life. Building a trusting relationship with a primary care provider will make it easier to discuss potentially sensitive subjects such as sex. If you feel uncomfortable bringing up certain topics with your doctor, it may be helpful to write your concerns down before your visit (so you have something to refer to) and to express your nervousness in an honest way — for instance, saying something like “This is hard for me to talk about.”
A frank discussion about your sexual health will help your provider be a better partner for you in your health. Do you have questions about your sexual health or need to establish a relationship with a new primary care provider? Visit Carbon Health today.