STI Testing for Couples: FAQs Answered

"Let's get tested" may not be the hottest pickup line, but it sure is the smartest–and the safest.

In the United States alone, nearly one in five people who are infected with HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) don't know it, according to the National Institutes of Health. And how do most women contract the virus? Through sex with men.

If you and your partner have yet to get tested, it's time. Still, talking about sexually transmitted infections can be more awkward than waking up next to your worst first date. (For future reference, here's how to navigate the seven most awkward relationship moments.) To help, we've turned to Fred Wyand, director of communications for the American Social Health Association to answer some of the most common questions about STI testing. What's the best way to bring up STI testing with my partner? Suggesting your man get tested can easily come off as accusatory. Saying you both should get tested comes off as caring. "Make sure it's a two-way street, and it's clear this is not about them," Wyand says. You can even suggest going together.

What if he says he doesn't need to get tested? Ask why. There are so many reasons a person might not want to get tested, Wyand says. He might think it's really not necessary. (Many STIs have no symptoms.) He might fear the testing process. (You can test for some STIs by peeing in a cup, and for HIV with an at-home mouth swab HIV test!). He probably fears the results. (Not knowing is worse.) Talk to him honestly.

We both tested negative. (Yay!) Can we have sex without a condom now? "Testing is [a] really good [way to screen for STIs], but it's not perfect," Wyand says. "Sometimes it takes a few weeks or months after infection for something to be detected, depending on the infection and the test used," says Wyand, who names herpes and HIV as two examples of infections that may take time to surface. Moreover, there's no clinical test for men to be screened for HPV (human papilloma virus), the most common STI. Even with a so-called clear bill of health, it's important to always use a condom during sex.

How often should we be tested? It's not practical to get tested for every STI out there on a bi-monthly basis for the rest of your life, Wyand says. The recommended frequency of testing depends on your risk factors, such as having unprotected sex, using intravenous drugs, or having sex with a person who is at risk. Talk to your doctor about how often you should be tested.

We got a positive result for an STI. Can we still have sex? Yes. But first, you need to take steps to be safe about it. Both of you need to visit your healthcare providers, let them know about the diagnosis, and get yourselves evaluated and treated. Remember, with many STIs there's a risk of reinfection: "If someone is treated and cured for chlamydia but their partner isn't, for example, they run the risk of getting it again," Wyand says. If one of you tests positive for HIV, it's important to immediately seek treatment. You and your partner should talk to a doctor about safe sex acts, and the risk of infection with anything that could expose you to each others' bodily fluids. While intercourse with an HIV-positive partner can be made safer with the use of antiretroviral drugs and condoms, it always carries some risk.

Half of sexually active people end up with a sexually transmitted disease by age 25. Check out the smartest, safest ways to go on with your sex life amidst this new norm, in the July/August 2012 issue of Women's Health magazine.

photo: Jupiterimages/Brand X Pictures/Thinkstock
More from WH:
HPV Information: Everything You Need to Know
The Health Risks of Oral Sex
18 Self Checks Every Woman Should Do


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