It seems like we’re living in the midst of a second sexual revolution—whether it’s racy texts or dick pics, fodder for sexual fantasy is omnipresent. Sure, some people just talk the talk when it comes to one-night stands, but as more people discuss their hot, steamy encounters, does it normalizes the act of casual sex? And, if it does, are we being safe enough? Since medical experts advise that both partners get tested before sleeping together—and presumably people aren’t doing that when a Tinder match is proverbially knocking down the door—it seems like the answer to the former question is a resounding No.
Arguably the biggest STD moment on TV in the last decade came when Girls’ Hannah (Lena Dunham) freaked out when she found out she had HPV. It sent ripples of panic among girls everywhere who thought that they had to worry about the human papillomavirus (generally doctors are only concerned when you get an abnormal Pap result; then they might test for it). It can be difficult to mine the information about how you can stay safe—if everyone is just hooking up without getting tested, it can make it even more difficult to bring up with your partner. But you should, says Dr. Erika Feuerstein, a physician at Toronto’s Bay Centre for Birth Control and Special Treatment Clinic. Here’s what you need to know before hitting the sheets.
You should get tested for STDs at least yearly
Going to the doctor can be a really anxiety-inducing experience, but it’s important to protect yourself and your sexual partner, says Feuerstein. “I think people should screen at least every year,” she says. “If you’re in a steady relationship, you’re monogamous, you’ve been with the same partner for years, you’re less likely to have an STD. But people cheat.” (What ever happened to happy endings?) Feuerstein recommends a basic screening, checking for chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis and HIV, as well as doing your regular Pap tests.
You can’t test for herpes unless you have an outbreak
The majority of doctors won’t recommend doing a blood test for the Herpes simplex virus because it won’t differentiate between Type 1 (which causes cold sores on the mouth and around the face) and Type 2 (most often found in your genital area), so it can be counterproductive. “If you have a history of cold sores, your test is going to come out positive.” So if someone is having an outbreak, they can get a swab test to determine if they have Type 1 or 2, but you can’t do a screening as part of your routine STD check. And to make things confusing, there’s a possibility that the two types can swap places. “You’re more likely to find Type 1 in the oral region and 2 in the genital region, but you can find them anywhere because people are having oral sex,” says Feuerstein. This means that if you’re prone to cold sores, and performed oral sex on your partner, there’s a chance your partner may contract Type 1 in the genital region.
You could have herpes or HPV and not know it
Some people are silent carriers of these viruses, meaning they don’t know they have them because he/she might be asymptomatic—thus the virus can still be spread. While most strains of HPV (there are dozens) can clear on their own with the help of your own immune system, herpes is different, as the virus lies dormant in your body once you’ve contracted it. “A lot of people will get outbreaks soon after they’ve been exposed, but some people don’t get an outbreak until their [immune system is suppressed] or they’re stressed.” If you do have herpes, you’re not alone—a Canadian study found that one in seven Canadians has it (believe it or not, the study said that almost 90 per cent of people with the virus didn’t know they had it). You’re also not doomed, so don’t freak out! “Say your partner has herpes and you’re worried about transmitting it, the partner who has it can take a low dose of an antiviral every day to they’re less likely to transmit it,” says Feuerstein. She also notes that it’s a good barometer to see if someone is worth your time: Some people will jet when you confide in them about having had an outbreak, but someone who cares for you won’t. As far as HPV goes, most people come in contact with one of the strains at some point in their lives. Since certain strains of HPV could be responsible for cancers and genital warts, HPV vaccines are being offered in schools before kids are sexually active, when they haven’t yet been exposed. While most of the vaccines are given to boys and girls, women and men between nine and 26, one vaccine was approved for use in women up to 45.
You can’t get STDs from toilet seats
But you could get crabs from sharing a towel with someone, says Feuerstein. You’re probably itchy just thinking about it—use your own towels, kids, and watch where you set it down in the gym locker room. You could also spread STDs through sex toys, she says, so be greedy and keep them to yourself.
Trichomoniasis is not a type of spider
This STD isn’t oft-discussed, but it is often characterized by burning, itching or odour. If you have any of those symptoms, Feuerstein suggests you see your doctor to test for it, a yeast infection or bacterial vaginosis, all of which are treatable and extremely common.
So, after reading this you’ve likely decided to be celibate for life. But don’t worry. All you have to do is see your doctor to get tested and wear a condom—easier done than said. Then, if you wish, go ahead and get it on. (Cue Barry White.)
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