Our dating lives have shifted due to the ongoing pandemic, but that doesn't mean our sexual health routines should have to. Whether you're married, in a relationship, polyamorous, or somewhere in between, an STI screening should always remain a priority.
The spread of the coronavirus has been a stressor on all of us since the beginning of the year. But it isn't the only health risk we should be concerned about encountering. The rate of STIs is increasing, specifically among teens and young women. Gonorrhea and chlamydia, two of the most common STIs, had increase rates of 19% and 63% from 2014 to 2018, according to a Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) surveillance report, and, as of right now, no data is linking to their decrease in the last two years.
With recent state reopenings, people are rekindling their relationships with unprotected sex. This poses a grand threat, considering how most sexual-health services have become less accessible due to the nationwide need for essential workers. "I don't think people have stopped having sex necessarily, although the number of partners may have gone down," David Harvey, executive director of the National Coalition of STD Directors told Business Insider. "But we're really worried about the larger issues of people not getting tested, people not getting treated, and what that means for inadvertent spread of infections in the future."
According to the National Coalition for Sexual Health, people who are having unprotected sex with multiple partners should get tested every six months or in between partners; those in committed relationships should try to do it at least once a year. But in the current state of the world, how exactly is that possible?
Some of the most affordable clinics in the nation, such as the AIDS Healthcare Foundation's wellness centers, have limited their services in response to COVID-19. As of right now, they are only offering free-of-charge treatment to those who already have been diagnosed—further creating an unreachable environment for those looking to take care of their sexual health.
According to a 2013 study done by the Journal of Adolescent Health, the majority of people who avoid screenings, specifically teens and millennials, do so out of fear of inaccessibility, confidentiality, cost, and stigma-driven embarrassment.
Fortunately, online companies like Everlywell and myLAB Box offer a variety of discreet STI test kits for their buyers to complete from the comfort of their homes. Prices range from $49 to $200, depending on how many STIs the kit tests for. Title X clinics, such as Planned Parenthood, OB-GYNs, and primary care physicians, should still offer screenings that work around COVID-19 protocols. Prices and types of STI tests vary depending on geographical location and medical insurance (if applicable), so it's important to get in contact with a designated nurse practitioner and an insurance provider to answer any questions about cost or privacy.
STI screenings are essential because there are plenty of asymptomatic sexual infections and viruses, like herpes and HPV, that can be spread to others or show up later down the line. Before booking an appointment, make sure to ask for a screening that tests for the most common STIs.
In some cases, doctors don't have access to specific tests due to a lack of expertise or laboratory equipment. Sometimes they don't even perform tests for specific STIs because they're so common—still, that doesn't make them any less dangerous.
Untreated and undiagnosed STIs can cause serious health issues such as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), infertility, cancer, mother-to-child transmission, and even birth defects—which is why it’s important to keep track of your sexual activity and the sexual health of your partners.
If you haven't gotten tested in over six months or after having unprotected sex, book an appointment or order an at-home test kit right now. Sex has a plethora of health benefits, and when executed safely, it can be lots of worry-free fun. While condoms and dental dams can help decrease the spread of STIs, the risk remains. Besides, nobody's perfect; there's nothing wrong with having unprotected sex as long as you and your partner(s) know that a potential pregnancy isn't the only hazard that comes with it.
Illustration by Yoo Young Chun