Looking after your sexual health is really important, and anyone sexually active should be getting tested regularly (at least yearly, or whenever you have a new partner) for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and infections (STIs). It’s also important to be sure any partners get regularly tested, too.
STDs carry a lot of unnecessary stigma, which can be a massive barrier to testing and prevention. And if you're in a relationship, broaching the topic with your partner can feel too awkward to handle. You might think you don't need to get tested if you're in a long-term relationship, but all partners involved should get tested.
Keep reading to learn when and how often you should get an STI test and how to talk to your partner about STI testing.
Note: In this article, we use the terms STD and STI interchangeably — both terms mean the same thing. STD stands for "sexually transmitted disease," and STI stands for "sexually transmitted infection." While some healthcare professionals prefer to use STI because it carries less stigma, others might be more familiar with the term STD. Regardless of the word used, both refer to infections transmitted through sexual contact.
How often should you get tested for STDs?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends getting tested every three to 12 months, depending on whether you’re in an exclusive relationship or have a casual sex partner. But you should get tested at least once a year, regardless. The guidance is to get a yearly test for:
Should I get tested after every partner?
Ideally, yes. Having multiple partners is considered one of the risk factors for STIs, so the general rule of thumb is for all sexually active people to get tested after every new sexual partner, especially if you've had unprotected sex (without condoms or dental dams) — whether you’re single and ready to mingle or if you’re in a non-monogamous relationship. Failing that, getting tested every 3-6 months is good practice.
How to know if you have an STD without getting tested
Testing is the only way to know for sure if you have an STI because, most of the time, STIs have no symptoms. It's also common for STI symptoms to be so mild that they don't cause any discomfort, so if you’ve had any kind of sexual contact — like vaginal sex, anal sex, or oral sex — with a new partner, you should consider getting tested.
If you do notice symptoms after having unprotected sex, don’t hesitate to contact your doctor or healthcare provider and ask them about testing. Different STIs have different symptoms, so it’s pretty much impossible to know not only whether you have an STI based on symptoms alone but also what STI is causing them in the first place. Signs of STIs often include:
- Abnormal vaginal discharge
- A burning sensation when you pee or the need to pee more frequently
- Itching, pain, or irritation in your vagina, vulva, or anus
- Sores or bumps on and around your genitals, thighs, or butt cheeks
- Bleeding between periods or after sex
- Pelvic pain
- Flu-like symptoms, like a high temperature, body aches, and swollen glands.
It's important to keep in mind that these symptoms aren't always a signs of sexually transmitted infections. Other conditions like yeast infections, UTIs, or BV can also cause similar symptoms, so getting tested is the only way to be sure of what's going on.
If you think you have an STI, getting tested as soon as possible is crucial. Some STIs can lead to long-term complications such as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), infertility, and a higher risk of cervical cancer if left untreated. Getting tested ASAP is also essential to avoid passing the infection to others.
Should you get STD tested in a monogamous relationship?
Yes! The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that if you're in a long-term relationship, you should get tested for STIs at least once a year.
Although it can limit your risk, being in an exclusive relationship doesn't exclude you from contracting an STI — and don't worry, it doesn't necessarily mean that your partner cheated on you.
You or your partner may have had a previously undiagnosed and untreated STI before starting the relationship. Some STIs can lay dormant and only start showing symptoms months — or years — later.
How do I talk with my partner about STD testing?
Talking about STI testing can seem unsexy, unnecessary, and, at times, even accusatory. But it's a way to look after each other's health, relationship, and sex life.
It’s a thorny topic of conversation, but it’s not worth risking your health to avoid some awkwardness. Remind your partner that getting tested isn't a sign of mistrust but rather a sign that you're looking after your well-being. You can have an STI for years without knowing it, and getting tested is the only way to know for sure if you've contracted one.
Talking about sexual health with your partner can feel a little awkward at first, but in the long run, it can actually help strengthen your bond. Studies show that people who feel comfortable discussing their STI status with their partner tend to have a more positive outlook on their sexual self-esteem, which can have a significant impact on relationship satisfaction. So, why not consider it an opportunity to be open and honest with your partner and practice effective communication?
Have the talk in private and when you're not being intimate. Just let your partner know you're protecting your health proactively. If you're not sure how to bring it up, here are some conversation openers you can try:
- I realized that we’ve been going out for a while, but we’ve never spoken about STIs; maybe we should talk about it.
- Since we’ve been having unprotected sex, maybe we should get tested. I'm sure neither of us has an STI, but it's better to be safe than sorry.
- I'm due for my annual STI screening. Do you want to come with me so we can both get tested?
- I read that most STIs are asymptomatic, which is wild! Let's get tested, just in case.
Check out the CDC’s website for more tips on discussing STIs with your partner. Looking out for each other's sexual well-being is a shared responsibility and a crucial part of any healthy relationship. If your partner shuts down the conversation or doesn't want to get tested, consider whether this relationship is right for you. No one enjoys getting screened for STIs, but a good partner will be happy to safeguard your health and safety.
My boyfriend gave me an STD. What should I do?
If your boyfriend gave you an STI, the first step is not to panic — remember that most STIs are easily treatable with antibiotics or, at the very least, manageable. It can be a bummer, but the fact of the matter is that STIs are pretty much inevitable if you're sexually active, and they're incredibly common.
Try not to jump to conclusions, either. If your boyfriend gave you an STI, it doesn't automatically mean he cheated on you. It could mean that you or your partner didn't get tested before the relationship, and symptoms are now starting to appear.
STIs can take a while to show up on a test, and most people don't have any symptoms. Many common STIs have latency periods — syphilis and genital herpes, for example, can go unnoticed for several years — and it's difficult to tell when and how someone got it.
With that being said, if your boyfriend lied to you about his STI status, dismissed your concerns, or did cheat on you, that's a different story! It's up to you to decide whether him giving you an STI is a dealbreaker under these circumstances.
Where can I get tested for STDs?
You can get tested for STIs at your doctor’s office or local community health clinic. You can also order an at-home STI test, like the Evvy test.
Each Evvy Vaginal Health Test kits include a swab (which looks like a long Q-tip), a collection tube, a biosafety bag, a pre-paid return box, and a set of detailed instructions. The test is just like an in-clinic one and screens for the most common STIs, including chlamydia, gonorrhea, trichomoniasis, and Mycoplasma genitalium. Once you send your test back to the lab, you should receive your results within 1-3 days.
Should you get STDs tested between each partner?
Ideally, yes. If you’re sexually active and have sex with new or multiple sex partners, you should do STD tests after every new sexual encounter, especially if you have unprotected sex.
Can you get an STD even if each partner tested negative?
It's rare, but it’s possible to contract an STI from someone who had a negative STI test result. For example, if they were only tested for certain STIs, they may still be positive for an STI that they weren’t tested for. Equally, they may be positive for an STI in a location that didn’t get tested, such as in the mouth and throat.
Can one partner test positive for STD and the other negative?
Yes, one partner can test positive for an STI, and the other to test negative. For example, it could be that one partner had an undiagnosed or untreated STI from a past sexual encounter. Everyone’s body (and immune system) is different, so just because one partner tests negative doesn’t mean the other doesn’t need to get tested.