Disclaimer: The information, articles, and tips portrayed on this blog, while based on research, do not constitute medical advice. The opinions expressed are meant to educate and inform, but not to dictate lifestyle choices or personal beliefs. These articles are meant to provoke thought on issues surrounding college health and to inform the Hopkins community of healthy information and resources.


Hump Day: Tests from 1 to Kicked in the Crotch

Safer sex can be all good and fun, but we have to remember one of the key ways to keep it on the safer side is through STI awareness and testing.  Has your partner(s) been tested?  What about you?  This discussion isn't always the most comfortable to have with your partner, but it's much less awkward than the conversation that might happen if one or both of you ends up with an STI that you didn't anticipate/prevent.

Not sure where to get tested?
Try the Student Health and Wellness Center to start.  Many of the tests are free or charge a lab fee.  If the SHWC isn't for you there are other testing centers nearby that are available for you, including two Planned Parenthood locations that test both males and females for STI/STDs.  Check out their websites for more details or go here to find a local testing center through GYTnow.org.

Want to know more about testing and what's involved?  Check out this information from Scarleteen.

What exactly does STD/STI testing entail?

STI testing includes a few simple tests that can be done in your doctor's office or at a clinic. They may be slightly uncomfortable, but they are not more than that. It's really pretty minor.

The first part is an interview. The clinician or doctor will ask you some questions regarding your exposure to STIs and about your sexual activities and sexual history. This may make you feel uncomfortable. Do not be embarrassed or ashamed believe me, doctors, nurses, and clinicians have heard and seen it all. It is very important that you be honest with your doctor, so they can do their job to get you the care you need. If you have had unsafe sex, accept it and take responsibility for it when you talk to your doctor.

If you are experiencing any health problems or symptoms of any STIs, tell your doctor about them in detail: how long have you been having the problem? How frequently? Has it gotten worse or better since it started? All this information can help them give you a proper diagnosis.

You may not be having any health problems or symptoms of any diseases when you go in for your test. That may mean that you simply don't have any infections or diseases. It can also mean that you simply don't have symptoms that are noticeable. Many STIs have no symptoms, particularly in their early stages. One of the ones that is easiest to miss -- and one of the most common infections -- is Chlamydia, which is called "the silent STI" because many people who have it never know until it's too late, and they have already begun to have serious complications due to inflammation and scarring. That's why it's important to get a full STI screening anyway, even if you don't have any symptoms.

Next, the clinician will do a visual examination of your genitals. S/he will be looking for evidence of sores or lesions. If you are a woman you will go through the same procedure as you would for a pelvic exam (you might want to read up on that in the Your First Gynecologist Visit article for more details). During the pelvic exam the doctor will take a small sample of cells and fluids called a smear or swab test. It is similar to a PAP smear test, except that in this case, when the technician or doctor looks at the cells through a microscope, she or he will be looking for signs of the various microorganisms, antibodies, or cell changes related to specific STIs.

If you're a guy, the clinician still often needs to do a swab test. This means taking a swab from the inside of your urethra, the tube that runs all the way down the middle of your penis, where urine and semen come out. The clinician gently inserts a thin cotton-tipped swab into the urethra to get a sample of cells. Most of the guys we know who have had this done say that it is slightly painful, but only for a moment or two on a scale from 1 (nothing) to 10 (being kicked in the crotch), it's about a 4. The cells gathered this way will be examined under a microscope, just like they would be for a woman.

The clinician may also take a sample of cells from your throat and/or rectum. These are swab tests, too, and are likewise done with a long cotton swab. Having one done in your throat is a lot like getting a throat culture done to test for strep throat in fact, it's the same procedure, only they look for different things in the lab. As for a rectal (butt) examination, the clinician will do a visual examination as well as sampling of cells. Again, it is not terribly uncomfortable, but it can feel kind of vulnerable or embarrassing. It is better if you try to relax, though, since you being relaxed makes it much easier for the clinician, and thus much more comfortable for you.

Depending on the testing the clinician has ordered for you, you may also be asked for a saliva sample, urine sample, blood sample, or any combination of these. Depending on the clinic or doctor you may or may not be given them all. Chances are you will be given a blood test as it is the most common way to test for HIV and syphilis.

So there you have it- an STI testing run down.  Find a location to get tested and celebrate Hump Day by taking charge of your sexual health!