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Everything You Need to Know About Getting Tested for STIs

Author: Robin Hilton

Thinking about getting tested for STIs?

If you’ve been thinking about going for STI testing, this article is for you!  

STI testing can be requested from any primary care physician or nurse practitioner.  They will often fax a lab where you can go to give samples, but a health card is required. Planned Parenthood Regina and our Sexual Health Clinic on campus offers STI testing for folks without a health card and you can call ahead to book a phone appointment with their nurse or stop by our clinic the first Friday of every month on campus. 

Other places to get tested:

  • Family doctor
  • Walk-in clinic
  • Student Wellness Centre
  • Pop Up Sexual Health Clinic on campus 

Routine STI screening will test for chlamydia, gonorrhea, HIV, hepatitis C, and syphilis. Trichomoniasis requires a swab test. Lumps and bumps should be inspected by a doctor or nurse practitioner as soon as possible. For herpes testing, a sore needs to be swabbed within the first 72 hours.

Most people who have an STI don’t notice any symptoms but can still pass the infection on to others. Some infections take weeks or months to show up on a test after a person is exposed. Instead of waiting until you are experiencing symptoms, add STI testing to your self care routine.

STI screening is recommended:

  • Before hooking up with a new partner
  • Every 3-6 months if you have multiple partners
  • After a condom breaks
  • After having sex with someone new who doesn’t know their status
  • At least once a year (even for folks in monogamous relationships)

Testing for STIs is nothing to be ashamed of, instead it demonstrates that you’re taking care of your body, your health and the people you are having sex with. We’ll share more soon about how to normalize getting tested and talk to partners about safer sex!

Who is at risk for an STI?

Like any virus or bacterial infection, STI risk can vary. Those who are in a long term, monogamous relationship will have a lower risk of STI in the same way that someone who isolates away from others to prevent Covid will have lower risk of getting sick. Similarly to what we’ve seen with Covid prevention measures like masking & vaccination – people who take preventative measures to prevent STIs are at lower risk than those who don’t.

What we’ve also seen with Covid is that exposure to the virus – even with preventative measures in place – can’t completely prevent you from catching it. The same goes with STIs – if you’re having sex, you’re at risk for getting an STI.

We don’t want you to be afraid of having sex because sex can be very pleasurable and fun. Informed consent for sexual activity means educating yourself about the risks involved. When you know the risks you can make choices about how you can best protect yourself & your partners from these risks.

We all know that sometimes people will have Covid and not have any symptoms and that’s why we take measures to protect others around us like getting tested, wearing a mask, or getting a vaccination. We want you to see STI testing the same way – even if you feel like you’re not at risk, even if you’ve taken precautions, even if you don’t have any symptoms – if you’re sexually active, getting regular testing is the best way to ensure that you’re not risking your health or the health of others around you.

Will I need a Saskatchewan Health Care card?

If you’re an International Student and you haven’t gotten your Sask Health card yet, you can do so by visiting e-health. You’ll need to have the following documentation ready when you apply:

  • Study permit with enrolment verification
  • Proof of Saskatchewan residency like your lease agreement or a utility bill

If you need support with your application, please feel free to reach out to us or UR International.

What to expect when you arrive for STI testing.

When you arrive at your appointment you’ll be called into a private exam room to have a brief conversation with the clinician. They might ask you about your sexual history, if you are currently monogamous or not, if you’ve had any STIs in the past, and if you are using any safer sex methods.

You might feel uncomfortable when answering these questions, and you can decline to answer anything that feels invasive or uncomfortable. The purpose of these questions are to help the health care provider decide on what kinds of tests they should do for STI screening and what kind of information might be helpful to share with you. Some infections take a while to show up on a test, so they may recommend re-testing in a few weeks or months.

Different STIs require different types of tests. You may receive a swab, a urine test, or a blood test. There are some times when a physical examination or other type of test may be used.

The timing of when you receive your results will depend on where you go for testing, as well as the type of testing you are receiving. Urine and swab tests can take around a week and blood tests can take two weeks or more. If you have a negative test, you probably won’t hear from the clinic about your results. If you do feel concerned, you can always call the clinic and ask them to provide your results over the phone or look them up on eHealth. Clinicians are supposed to be non-judgmental but stigma can show up in medical settings. If you ever have a negative experience with a health care provider, you have the right to complain and see a different clinician.

If you test at our pop-up clinic (first Friday of every month – no clinic in July) or at Planned Parenthood’s office, your test results from the lab are faxed 7-10 days after testing and will also show up on your eHealth account. If there is a positive result, our nurse Angela will call to discuss treatment options and partner notification.

The STIs in routine screenings are reportable to Public Health for contact tracing (HIV, hepatitis C, syphilis, chlamydia & gonorrhea) so our nurse will ask if you have contact information for anyone who may have also been exposed. We recommend notifying partners as soon as possible so they can also get tested and treated. Fear of a negative reaction and safety concerns can be discussed when you talk to Angela and there are ways to notify people anonymously!

What do I do if I test positive for an STI?

If you get a positive result, you might think, “My sex life is over. No one will want to date me now.” Many people with STIs are still able to have healthy sex lives but negative reactions from potential partners can be a concern.

This is why we want to tackle STI stigma and give tips for talking about it. While some people may react negatively, that says more about them and an overall lack of education about STIs. The reality is, most people who are sexually active will have an STI at some point and many people don’t know they have one. All STIs are treatable, and people who live with incurable STIs (HIV & herpes) can take medications that significantly decrease the chances of passing it to a partner.

Stigma “describes both societal judgment associated with a particular illness, behaviour, or identity as well as an individual’s experience with a stigmatized illness” (Hood, Friedman 2011)

Folks may experience stigma as a negative reaction from people in their lives, as a fear of being judged, or as an internalized feeling of shame.

STI stigma is rooted in sociocultural norms and the association of STIs with sexuality and taboo behaviours like premarital sex, casual sex, promiscuity, and infidelity. Sexual Health Education has also contributed to stigmatization by focusing more on individual responsiblity which absolves communities and political leders from the responsibility of having to address the larger structural determinants of STI risk & acquisition. Additionally, the media has contributed through both making light of STIs and focusing on blaming folks for having poor judgment leading to an STI.

Women are more at risk for experiencing STI related stigma and are often judged more harshly. They are also more likely to feel self-blame and protective of their partners. Men who get STIs are more likely to place the blame on women.

Learning that you have any kind of virus or a bacterial infection is hard, but getting a positive STI diagnosis doesn’t make you a bad person. STIs are treatable and you can absolutely have a healthy & happy sex life after receiving a diagnosis and treatment.

You might be worried about what people think about you, or how your partner or future partners will react. You might also feel alone when you get a diagnosis, but you aren’t alone. Approximately 1 in 2 people will experience an STI in their lifetime. STIs are more common than you think. Getting a positive test doesn’t say anything about you, your character, your self-worth, or your personality.

There are mental health supports available to you if you want to talk to someone after receiving a positive diagnosis. If you’re a student at U of R, you can reach out to U of R Counselling Services or to MyWellness for support.

The treatment you receive after a positive test result will depend on which STI you have. Bacterial STIs can be treated with antibiotics and abstaining from sexual activities for a short period of time then re-testing to make sure the infection cleared up.

Incurable STIs (like HIV & herpes) are highly stigmatized even though they are treatable with medication that manage symptoms and significantly decrease the chances of passing the infection to a partner. A person living with HIV will require daily pills (that are covered by Sask Health) and routine follow-up tests to make sure the virus is being suppressed. Once the blood tests are no longer able to detect HIV in a person’s blood, they are not able to transmit the virus to others (Undetectable = Untransmittable).

Once you’ve received a diagnosis, you can talk to your health care provider about a few things:

  • Do you need to abstain from sex while being treated ?
  • When should you start seeing improvements in the symptoms if you have any?
  • If you don’t see improvements, what should you do?

You can also ask your healthcare provider if there are any long term effects or risks that you should look out for and if you’ll need any other healthcare or visits to the doctor in the future for follow up care.

The reality is that we’re human and we get sick from time to time – STIs included. Our bodies are vulnerable to these pathogens and getting an STI doesn’t mean that you’re a bad person, that you’re dirty or that you won’t ever have a healthy & satisfying sex life again. While it’s not easy, we hope that continuing to share information to de-stigmatize STIs will make it easier.

How to tell your partner(s) you have an STI.

Disclosing STI status is part of practicing informed consent and it’s something you want to do before becoming sexual with someone, not in the middle of making out. If you feel nervous about sharing in person, you could share this information over a text message.

You could say, “Before hooking up, can we talk about our sexual health? When were you last tested? I get screened every 3 months and recently found out that I have HSV2. I’m taking daily medication for it and let partners know if I feel an outbreak coming on. Let me know if you have any questions about that.”

After you share, people may need time to figure out what they are comfortable with and you might find that you need to share information to help educate your partner(s). It might feel important to have people in your life that you can talk about discomfort and negative reactions with but you don’t have to assume that everyone will respond negatively.

You can & should feel good about being honest & trustworthy, while also expecting the same from your partners. This will go a long way to normalize these conversations and further destigmatize what it means to have a positive STI diagnosis.

URSU Sexual Health, ta-tawâw Student Centre, Planned Parenthood & UR Pride host a Sexual Health Pop-Up Clinic every month on campus. You can find us on the first Friday of every month at CW 117. Testing is first come first serve, and you do not need to have a health care card to access the clinic.

Here are the dates for our next pop-up clinics:

April 1, 2022 1-3pm

May 6, 2022 1-3pm

June 3, 2022 1-3pm

We’ll see you there!

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