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
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 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.