Getting tested for STIs is part of what goes along with having sex with other people. Yes, it’s an extra appointment to add into your life, but it’s important to keep you and your partner(s) healthy. Since many STIs have no symptoms, getting tested is the only way to make sure you don’t have one of the over 30 infections that can be spread through sex. But how often should you get tested for STIs?
Well, like so much when it comes to sex, it depends.
First, a note that we’re using the term “STI” (sexually transmissible infection) instead of “STD” (sexually transmitted disease) — which is a bit outdated these days as a term — but they are basically interchangeable. So if you’re looking for how often to get tested for STDs, you’re in the right place.
When deciding how often to get tested for STIs, consider factors like how many sexual partners you have, how often you have new partners, how often you have sex, which type of sex you have (vaginal, oral, anal). and what type of protection you use and how often you use it. Factors like these help determine your level of risk for getting an STI.
The table below gives some general guidelines for different activities.
Basically, the higher your risk, the more often you should get tested for STIs.
Kenny Screven, who performs HIV and STI tests at a LGBTQ+ center in Pennsylvania, says “I would recommend twice a year. So, every six months depending on how sexually active you are. If you’re not sexually active often, maybe once a year will be just fine for you.”
Dr. Amesh Adalja, MD, goes by the CDC recommendations: “Sexually active [folks with vulvas] should be tested yearly for gonorrhea and chlamydia until age 25. Above that age yearly testing [is recommended] for those with new sexual partners or a partner with an STI.”
Lots of folks choose only to go when they have a new partner. The idea is that you can both get tested (even go together) when you start sleeping together and if you’re monogamous then you wouldn’t have to go often for testing because you know you’re not passing anything between you. Ultimately this strategy depends on whether or not one or both of you has other sexual partners. That said, it is recommended to continue getting tested just in case your partner isn’t being monogamous, even if that’s your agreement.
Now this is all just for your regular screening. If you have unprotected sex with someone who has an STI or if you develop a symptom like a burning sensation when you pee, don’t wait for your annual appointment!
If you are concerned you may have been exposed to HIV, you can get a treatment called Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) which will dramatically reduce your chances of getting infected with HIV if you take it within 72 hours. Since it’s time-sensitive you should get to a clinic as soon as possible after exposure.
However, you may need to wait long enough after exposure for the new infection to show up on a test. So, say you had sex last night with someone you don’t know without a condom and you want to get to tested. Do not go right away to get tested the next day because if you did get an STI last night, it won’t show up on a test yet. Here’s how long you have to wait after the moment the STI entered your body to get an accurate test:
To be as accurate as possible, repeat any early testing you do three months later.
If you have symptoms of an STI, you do not need to wait to go to a clinic.
In many cases a clinic can treat you for an assumed positive before your test results even come back to give you relief. Some will even treat you for a known exposure (meaning someone you had sex with without a barrier tested positive for an STI) even if you don’t have any symptoms.
Most STIs are easily treatable, but they can lead to serious health issues if left undiagnosed and untreated, so however often you go, make sure to keep up with it. Bottom line? Anyone who is sexually active should go at least once every year.