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Dear Dr. Vanessa: Should You Get Tested If You’re In a Relationship?

Thu, Mar 15, 2012

Advice, What's Up Doc?

photo via flickr

Every few weeks, Dr. Vanessa Cullins, a board-certified obstetrician/gynecologist and vice president for medical affairs at Planned Parenthood® Federation of America, will be answering your questions on EMandLO.com. To ask her your own question, click here.

Dear Dr. Vanessa,

Should you still get tested regularly if you are in a relationship?

– Snuggling But Not Smug

Dear SBNS,

That’s a good question. It all depends on how old you are, what kind of relationship you are in, how long you have been in it, and what you and your partner’s sexual transmitted infection (STI) status is.

Couples do not need regular screening for STIs if they have been together for years, have had no other sexual partners during that time, and know for sure that neither partner is infected with HIV or another long-term infection such as herpes. That said, women should continue to have routine Pap tests to screen for abnormal cervical cells that might lead to cancer, whether they are in a monogamous or casual sexual relationship, or are not currently sexually active.

If you are uncomfortable with the idea of a regular STI screening, it might help to know that all people at one time or another fall into a category of people who should undergo routine screening. Routine screening for STIs is recommended for women and men aged 25 or younger; people who have more than one sex partner or who are involved with someone who has had more than one partner; people in new relationships; and people who have serial relationships that last a year or less.

There are good reasons for regular testing for most sexually active people. Most sexually transmitted infections have no signs or symptoms, so people don’t know they have them, and they can infect other people without knowing it. Some infections can stay in the body for years without symptoms. HIV, for example, doesn’t have symptoms for about ten years, on average. Other infections that can stay hidden in the body for years include herpes and syphilis.

Tests for STIs have changed over the years. Many require a urine sample, saliva, or just a finger prick for a blood sample. Most tests are painless.

So if you are sexually active, get tested at least once a year unless you are in a long-term, mutually monogamous relationship, and you know both you and your partner are infection-free. Regular screening is a very good way to protect yourself and your partner from infections that can cause long-term health problems.

Meanwhile, here are best wishes for your good sexual health,
Vanessa
Planned Parenthood

dr_vanessa_cullins

Vanessa Cullins, MD, MPH, MBA, is a board-certified obstetrician/gynecologist and vice president for medical affairs at Planned Parenthood® Federation of America. She generously shares her medical wisdom with EM & LO readers every few weeks.

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4 Responses to “Dear Dr. Vanessa: Should You Get Tested If You’re In a Relationship?”

  1. Elyau Says:

    strong advice. However, both me and a partner got tested regularly but it turns out many doctors don’t even test for HSV 1 ( the cold sore strain of herpes)…so even though he was told he was “clean” he unknowingly had HSV 1 and gave me genital herpes via oral sex (I know because it turns out I’m symptotic). Several gynecologists I’ve talked with say this is becoming increasingly common in hetero relationships where the guy passes it to the girl. But on the flip side, it’s not a major health concern from a doctor’s point of view so it’s not often discussed.

    Even though it has far less outbreaks than HSV2, your “stereotypical” form of genital herpes, I’m stuck now telling all future partners I have herpes (and trust me – the social stigma isn’t fun). Just make sure you don’t gloss over STI test results – really make sure you’ve had ALL the tests done that could permanently impact your partner. It’s easy to just see a “clean” note/summary at the top and not truly look at what tests were even taken.

  2. KT Says:

    Very well said, Elyau. This exact same thing happened to me ten years ago.

    They’re so common I believe most people don’t equate them with herpes (which is what they technically are). Folks, don’t kiss or go down on someone if you have a coldsore.

  3. Raegan Says:

    Me and my ex boyfriend were together for nineteen months. We were sexually active for seven out of those nineteen months. The girl he was with before me, they were sexually active as well. His ex, before me, had ended up having Clamydia and they had sex before she got the antibiotics. My ex never ever used a condom when we were together and he didnt use one when he and the girl before me had sex-including when she had Clamydia. Apparently she didnt tell him that she had an STI. And he didnt tell me until we were together for 17 months, and it wasnt even him who told me. it was his mom. He then told me that he got tested and he didnt have anything but he got tested like 5-6 times and got shots to “prevent” him from getting Clamydia.

    Is it possible to get shots to “prevent” you from getting an STI?? And should I get tested, since we never used a condom, and he never used a condom with the girl before me?

  4. KT Says:

    Absolutely. Go and get tested. Chlamydia can be symptomless and, in the long-term, damaging to a woman. Just go. You’ll either a) have it and get prescribed antibiotics, or b) be absolutely fine. Either outcome will give you peace of mind.


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