By Ashby Strauch
Most people put off getting tested for sexually transmitted diseases out of fear, embarrassment, or social stigma. But avoiding this test may be dangerous, as 13 to 24-year-olds constitute more than a quarter of new HIV cases in the U.S. in 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
And what may be scarier is that more than half don’t even know they are infected.
Understanding your risk is important — the first step before getting tested. After taking this quiz, your results will determine whether your risk of having an STI is low, intermediate or high.
The quiz uses a point-scoring system to assess your risk. Although all questions are suppose to be predictors of STI status, some questions result in more points due to the amount of evidence that links that behavior with STI status.
For example, not using condoms and having multiple sexual partners gives you more points than if you are older than 25 because there is more research that supports the fact that not using condoms or having multiple sexual partners is linked to a greater chance of having an STI, as opposed to a person’s age.
After taking this quiz from Johns Hopkins University Medicine, your results will determine whether your risk of having an STI is low, intermediate or high.
The study found that this quiz accurately predicted STI status for women, but it didn’t do so for men. More research is needed to fine-tune the questions and scoring of the quiz to make it more accurate.
Women and men are scored differently because women have STIs at a higher rate than men. Seven percent of men have STIs, while 14 percent of women have STIs, says the researchers at John Hopkins that conducted this study.
Getting tested is crucial because most people who have an STI won’t exhibit any symptoms, said Jeanne Rowe, a sex education teacher through More Health in Tampa, Florida. If an STI goes untreated, it can have dire consequences, even though it could have been cured by a simple round of antibiotics.
Chlamydia, gonorrhea and bacterial vaginosis can lead to infertility in men and women if left untreated. Fifteen percent of all infertility cases in women are caused by an untreated STI, says Jenelle Marie Davis, the executive director and founder of the STD Project.
All STIs increases a person’s chance of obtaining HIV, says Dr. Diane Straub, a division chief at the University of South Florida College of Medicine Pediatrics. STIs cause the genitals to become inflamed, which allows HIV to enter the bloodstream easier.
There are about 19 million STI cases diagnosed in the United States every year, so this quiz helps people decide if they need to get tested.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that sexually active individuals get tested at least once a year for STIs, but it is important to remember just because you test negative, doesn’t mean you will remain negative throughout the year, says Davis.
Davis advises to always use external or internal condoms and lube to lower your risk of obtaining an STI.
“Lube is an additional protection and barrier because it reduces risk of transmission via less friction,” Davis says. “There are less tiny cuts and tears that will happen if you are using plenty of lube, so there are less opportunities for infection to get into your system.”
The amount of lube that comes with condoms is not sufficient because it is almost immediately absorbed by the skin, so Davis advises to use additional lube.
“Like anything else you get what you pay for. The quality of the condom is important. And even then, if it’s kept in a wallet or a glove compartment the heat can weaken it,” said Rowe. “The condom can break or have a microscopic hole in it, and we know viruses and bacteria are microscopic; therefore, they can enter in or exit out of said hole.”
More than half of all people in the United States will have an STI or STD once in their life.
If you discover that you have an STI, it is not the end of the world. Davis, for example, has had genital herpes for 15 years, and it has not hindered her sexual relationships, friendships or life in any way.
Davis says after learning you are positive for an STI, it is important to do research, so you can fully understand your circumstance, communicate with your partner or partners about getting tested, and advocate for yourself.
When you have the conversation with your partner or partners, Davis advises to have the conversation in-person when your partner is in a private, comfortable environment and not busy, so they have the chance to ask any questions that they may have.
While you are having the conversation with your partner, it is important to be as factual as possible and try not to be overly emotional. After you have the conversation with your partner, it is important to give them space to think about it and do their own research.
“Many people get diagnosed with an infection and feel like they are the monsters that society is trying to avoid, when really when you have one infection, you have a higher risk for additional infections,” said Davis. “So it is just as much of a concern about maintaining your sexual health and making sure that your partners care about your sexual health, too. Not just that they have to be worried about theirs now because you have an infection. It goes both ways.”
Knowing where to get tested can be tricky and knowing your status can be trickier.
If you have health insurance, getting tested is typically covered with insurance. For people who don’t have health insurance, the Department of Health offers a sliding scale for people who are getting tested, Straub says.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention can help you locate a place to get tested.
Although many young people want to definitively know if they are clean, this is not always possible. For instance, if a person gets tested for herpes but isn’t exhibiting an symptoms, the results can come back positive just because they have a common cold sore, which has the same antibodies as herpes, says Straub.
All in all, it is important to remember to engage in safer sex through the use of condoms and lube while also remembering to get tested regularly if you are sexually active.
Click here to assess and understand your STI risk.