Sexually active during COVID-19? You may want to get screened for STIs.
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are increasing in both heterosexual and LGBTQ populations, no thanks to increased sexual activity with relaxed COVID-19 restrictions and population myths that STIs will always have symptoms, according to new studies.
“All STIs can potentially be asymptomatic, and regular screenings were not a priority during a pandemic,” says Dr. Thomas Klarquist, an internal medicine physician with Advocate Medical Group on Clark Street, Chicago. “Plus, access to STI clinics were halved across the country, throat and rectal swab tests needed an in-person visit, and those health workers who test and track STI outbreaks were routed to help with COVID-19 testing instead.”
How can you get back on track for STI screening and what options are available for prevention, care and treatment? Dr. Klarquist shares the following tips:
- Get tested for STIs soon. Whether you’re single, have had the same partner or are often sexually active, schedule a visit to get tested. Knowing your baseline coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, before your social and sexual life ramps up again will give you, current and future partners peace of mind.
- Establish a good relationship with a primary or gynecology provider. Make sure you feel comfortable confiding in your provider and don’t feel judged for your frequency, partners and types of sexual activity. If you identify as LGBTQ, find an LGBTQ-affirming or self-identified LGBTQ provider who understands some of the differences in sexual health care for this community and you personally. Telling them or answering questions about your sexual orientation and gender identity can assist with making the most out of your visit and future visits. For example, most lesbians do not have the same use for an OB/GYN, but still need their sexual health checked out from an early age even if babies and birth control are non-issues.
- Be honest about your sexual health with your provider. Describe what types of sexual activity you’re involved in, so you can be tested appropriately. A negative urine test doesn’t indicate a negative throat swab test or a negative rectal swab test for the same STI.
- Talk with your provider about the frequency of being tested if you’re between 18 and 65 years old. If your provider doesn’t bring up getting tested for STIs, ask about it. Currently, black women account for 57% of new HIV cases and it is on the rise for women over 50 because after menopause many women forgo birth control because they don’t need protection against pregnancy. But protection is still needed from STIs, especially HIV.
- If you’re under 45, consider getting Gardasil for HPV. Currently, young women are checked annually for pap smears for risk of cervical cancer and Human papillomavirus (HPV) and informed about Gardasil, a vaccine which can prevent against genital warts and cancer in men and women caused by HPV. However, gay and heterosexual men are usually not aware this is something they should receive for protection too. Already had HPV? You still should get the shot series to protect you in the future. Gardasil is covered by most insurances.
- All STIs are treatable and manageable, but they need to be caught early. Those who don’t have HIV can use PrEP, a medicine used to prevent getting HIV, if taken correctly and regularly. If untreated, HIV still can kill. If you wait to seek testing and treatment, STIs can cause problems with pregnancy and childbirth in women. Know the top STIs so you can advocate for your health and inform others.
- Be proactive about prevention. Practice safe sex by using PrEP (HIV medication), condoms and being open with your partner about current STI screening tests and results to protect yourself and each other.
About the Author
Jennifer Benson, health enews contributor, is coordinator of public affairs for Advocate Aurora Health. She has 10+ years of community development and communication experience for non-profits and has a BA in Architecture from Judson University in Elgin, IL. Outside of work, you can find her planning the next adventure near water or rocks, re-organizing spaces, working on her Master’s in Public Health, caring for her senior citizen cat, keeping to healthy moving and eating disciplines and growing green things wherever she can find room.