When was the last time you were screened for STIs? If the answer that just popped into your head is “pre-COVID,” it might be time to make an appointment. Recent data shows reported cases of sexually transmitted infections jumped significantly after the pandemic hit, so if you’re sexually active, it’s a good time to check up on your health.
After COVID emerged, many people stopped going to routine medical appointments and even delayed emergency care, according to a media statement from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released April 11.
The statement stressed that pandemic disruptions to health care have specifically had a major effect on the rates of STIs in the US and shared new statistics on how big of a problem this is: From 2020 to 2021, gonorrhea cases rose more than 4%, chlamydia rates rose nearly 4%, and syphilis cases surged nearly 32%.
The new data highlight the importance of getting screened if you have any doubt about whether you’ve been exposed to an STI. Even if you feel like you’re probably in the clear, testing helps you know for sure, especially since the wide-ranging symptoms of STIs often don’t show up overnight: Warning signs of syphilis, for example, can start a full 90 days after having sex with someone who has the infection, according to the CDC.
Given that we’ve all had a lot going on during the past few years (to say the least), it’s understandable if STI screenings fell off your list of priorities somewhere along the way. But better late than never! Below, you can find out whether you should get tested anytime soon.
Here’s when—and how often—you should get tested for STIs.
Before we dive into the specifics of who does and doesn’t need to get screened, here’s a gentle reminder: STI tests are critical indicators of your well-being, and there’s absolutely nothing shameful about them.
Still, we recognize that it might feel uncomfortable to make an appointment, especially if you’ve never been tested before. “There still exists a big taboo with this subject matter,” New York–based gynecologist Alyssa Dweck, MD, FACOG, tells SELF. If you’re a little nervous about what to expect, it may help to think of STI tests like dental cleanings, per Planned Parenthood: They’re simply checkups that can help you stay on top of your health—nothing more. Getting an accurate diagnosis early on will help you figure out a treatment plan as soon as possible (and help you notify anyone else you may have accidentally exposed ASAP).
If you’re wondering how often you might need screenings—and for what—we’ve got you covered. The following people should get tested for STIs, according to the CDC:
- Everyone aged 13 to 64 should be tested for HIV at least once. Men who have sex with men may want to consider getting checked annually, at the least, since they have a higher risk of HIV infection. Men who have sex with men who live with HIV should also be screened for hepatitis C annually.
- Anyone who shares injection drug equipment, like needles, should be tested for HIV annually.
- Women younger than 25 who are sexually active should be screened for gonorrhea and chlamydia annually.
- Women 25 and older who have sex with more than one partner each year—or have sex with a partner who has an STI—should also be tested annually.
- All pregnant people should be tested for syphilis, HIV, and hepatitis B. If there’s a chance a pregnant person could have chlamydia or gonorrhea, they should be screened for those as well.
- All men who have sex with men should be tested for syphilis, chlamydia, and gonorrhea annually. Those in this category who have multiple anonymous partners should be tested every three to six months instead.
- People who have oral and/or anal sex should ask their health care providers about whether they need throat or rectal tests for STIs.
If you aren’t sure if you qualify for any of the above, it doesn’t hurt to touch base with a doctor, like a primary care physician or ob-gyn, to see if you should be screened. Above all, you should be open and honest with your provider about any sexual activity you’ve had—remember, your doctor is there to guide you and lead with empathy.
If you see a provider regularly, but don’t feel comfortable starting a conversation about STIs with them, consider finding a clinic that can provide confidential, free, or low-cost screenings, the CDC recommends. If you’re not sure where to start, you can use this Planned Parenthood tool to find a clinic near you simply by plugging in your zip code.
We know, we know: Scheduling an STI test isn’t necessarily thrilling stuff, but screenings are a really important piece of your overall health—and knowing what’s going on with your body can help you look out for your current or future partners too.