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How and when can I get tested for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)?

Health care providers test for STDs in several ways.

  1. Physical examination of your genitals (penis and vagina), looking for specific signs and symptoms of an STD like sores or a rash.
  2. Test samples of fluids from the vagina, butthole, throat and/or urethra (the hole where your pee comes out)
  3. Urine sample to test for chlamydia and gonorrhea
  4. A blood test for HIV, syphilis or hepatitis or they may do a mouth swab test for HIV.

 

You should ask a clinic or doctor’s office which STDs they test for. Some clinics routinely test for only a few infections, so if there is a particular test you need, ask for it. Also, don’t assume that STD tests are part of a routine physical or pelvic exam. Some STD tests require written consent, so be sure you know if you’re being tested and for what.

 

Since many STDs have no symptoms, you can’t rely on symptoms alone. The longer an STD goes untreated, the more damage it can do to you and others. STDs need to be treated because they won’t go away on their own. For example, you may not have any symptoms that gonorrhea, but you can still pass the STD on to someone else if you’re not treated.

 

When you can get tested really depends on the STD. Some, like gonorrhea and chlamydia, can be found in the body soon after you have been infected, even if you have no symptoms. STDs, such as HPV and herpes, can sometimes be found in the blood before symptoms appear. Other STDs, like HIV, require a waiting period so that enough of the virus or antibodies are present and found on the test. Antibodies are fighter cells your body creates when you get a particular infection and your body tries to fight it. In the case of HIV, it can take up to three months for enough antibodies to be produced in the blood to cause a positive HIV test result.

 

When you go to get tested, you will need to be prepared to share personal information with a health care provider. The provider may ask you about the types of sex you had, the number of partners you had and other information regarding your sexual history. Health care providers are not there to judge you, so it’s important for you to be honest. In nearly all health care settings, this information is completely confidential, meaning the information won’t be shared with anyone. When you make your appointment, ask about that health care center’s policy on confidentiality just to be sure.

 

Got a question about STDs? Ask us by sending us a confidential email!

Do I need to use protection during oral sex?

Yes, you should use protection for any type of sex, whether it’s butt sex, blow jobs, eating out or vaginal sex. Many STDs can be passed from the mouth to genitals and vice versa.

 

STDs, including chlamydia, gonorrhea, HPV, herpes, and syphilis, can be spread by giving or receiving oral sex. There is a small risk for getting and giving HIV through oral sex, too.


Anytime pre-ejaculatory fluid, semen or vaginal fluids enter the body, whether through the mouth or another opening, there’s a risk of transmitting an STD if either partner has one.

 

HPV and herpes are not spread through fluids—they are spread through skin to skin contact. It’s tough to tell whether a person has one of these infections. Sometimes, people have infections and don’t even know it.

 

This doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy oral sex. But it does mean that you need to plan ahead, talk to your partner and use protection. One way to make oral sex safer is to get tested for STDs regularly. Pay attention to any potential symptoms of STDs, and get them checked out by a healthcare provider right away.

 

If you do give or receive oral sex, using a latex barrier (like a condom or dental dam) is your best chance of avoiding most STDs.

 

A dental dam—a thin sheet of latex—can be used for oral sex on a vagina or anus. You can make your own dental dam from a male condom. Watch a video on how to make your own dental dam here:

I have a cold sore. Does that mean I have herpes?

There are two types of herpes viruses—oral and genital. Herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1) is the most common cause of oral herpes. Herpes simplex virus 2 (HSV-2) is the most common cause of genital herpes. HSV-1 and HSV-2 can both be transmitted from mouth to mouth, mouth to genitals, genitals to mouth and genitals to genitals. Herpes is also the only sexually transmitted disease (STD) that can be transmitted through kissing. It is also transmitted through skin-to-skin contact, even if you are using a condom or dental dam.

 

Cold sores are caused by a strain (or type) of the herpes simplex virus (HSV). If you have cold sores (which are sometimes called fever blisters), you have herpes. There are medicines available to treat herpes, though there is no cure.

 

To read more about herpes, click here.

How do I use a condom?

In order for a condom to work correctly, it must be put on following the right steps. It also must be used consistently—meaning, each and every time a person has vaginal, oral or anal sex—and correctly. “Correctly” means following the steps below, each and every time, even during foreplay. When a condom breaks, it’s usually because one of these steps wasn’t followed. Luckily, condoms come with instructions, so you can read them there instead of checking online!

 

  1. Check the expiration date. This should be clearly printed on the box and on the condom wrapper. If the condoms have expired, even by only a few days, do not use them. The material that they are made of and the lubricants they might have on them can break down over time, which means they’re more likely to break if they’re past expiration.
  2. When you store a condom to use it later, keep it in a cool, dry place, so as not to damage it. You shouldn’t keep condoms in your pocket, wallet or in a car for a long period of time. Instead, keep them in your bookbag, locker, bedside table or purse. 

  3. When you are in a situation where you are about to have anal or vaginal sex, push the condom to the side and rip open the package carefully (don’t use your fingernails—and don’t use your teeth!), and remove the condom from the wrapper.

  4. Condoms are rolled up when they come out of the package. Therefore, you need to figure out which is the inside and which is the outside of the condom. How do you tell? Hold the condom so it looks like a hat, with the thick, rolled-up part on the outside. As you look at it, you’ll be able to see how you would roll it easily over an erect penis.

  5. Pinch the tip of the condom to squeeze the air out of the condom. This will allow semen to collect in the tip at the top. The condom could break if the tip is not squeezed and air bubbles are let in, so keep pinching it the whole time.

  6. Keep pinching the tip as you place the condom on the head of the erect penis.

  7. Keep pinching the tip with one hand as you roll the condom all the way down to the base of the penis with the other hand.

  8. After ejaculation (which doesn’t always happen), grasp the condom at the base of the penis and remove the penis (with the condom still on it) from your partner’s body.

  9. Turn away from your partner’s vagina or anus and carefully remove the condom from the penis. You can tie a knot at the end once it’s off so no semen dumps out.

  10. Wrap the condom in a tissue and throw it away. Do not flush it down the toilet.

NEVER reuse a condom. If you put a condom on backwards, make sure to get a new one and start from the beginning.

 

Interested in learning about the female condom? Watch a video on it here:

I think I might have an STD. How do I find out for sure, and how do I tell my partner?

If you had vaginal, oral or anal sex and didn’t use a new condom or dental dam each time, you could have been exposed to an STD. There’s one way of knowing for sure whether you have an STD: get tested. Check out this page to find a clinic near you. And find out how to talk to your partner.

 

If you do end up testing positive for an STD, know that you are not alone. It can be helpful to get more information about it so you can know the facts before you talk to anyone else about it. Your doctor, other health care provider or the person that tested you can often be a good person to talk to about any questions you have. Sometimes people need time to get used to the news themselves before they feel comfortable talking about it with another person. You can also email us directly on our confidential email:

 

Some people get really nervous thinking about talking to a partner about an STD diagnosis. They might be afraid that their partner will be upset, dump them, say mean things to them or even go around telling other people. Even if you’re nervous, it’s really important to talk with your partner or partners about your diagnosis. If you have an STD, there is a chance that they have it, too. It’s important for your partner to get tested, too. If only one person in a partnership is treated, you can get re-infected right away if you have sex again.

 

Regardless of the kind of STD you have, practicing safer sex can help minimize the risk of transmitting it to a partner or getting re-infected. Talking with a partner about an STD diagnosis is something that is usually best done in a non-sexual situation. In other words, don’t wait to mention it when you are in the heat of the moment again. You can let your partner know that you got tested and what the results are. It might help to have some information about the STD to share with your partner, including basic information about the STD, how to test for it and how to treat it. Having all of this information will make this conversation a lot easier.

How can you avoid getting a sexually transmitted disease (STD)?

The only 100-percent effective way to avoid getting an STD is to never have sexual touching below the waist, such as rubbing bodies without clothes, vaginal-penile sex, oral sex and anal sex. Your next best bet is to practice safer sex, such as using either a male or female condom and/or dental dam every time and getting tested regularly for STDs and asking your partners to do the same.

 

STDs cannot spontaneously occur. There is risk only when one person already has an STD in their body. Since most STDs don’t have symptoms, you can’t always rely on what you see to tell you whether or not an infection is present since most STD infections do not have any symptoms, so it is better to be safe.

 

While different STDs are spread in different ways, most are spread either through skin-to-skin genital contact or by coming in contact with semen, vaginal fluid or blood. This means that touching above the waist with clothes on is safe. But most other kinds of close sexual contact with an infected partner carries some risk—sometimes extremely low, sometimes very high—of getting an STD.

 

So, if you decide to be sexual with a partner, here are some things you can do to reduce your chances of getting an STD.
Practice safer sex with each partner each time.

 

Get tested regularly, and always get tested BEFORE you have sex with a new partner. Your partner should also be tested. Getting tested regularly means every 3-6 months.

 

Know your partner well before having sex. Ask your partner if he or she has ever had an STD and if it was treated. Ask when your partner last got tested and if they are willing to get tested again. Ask if he or she practiced safer sex with past partners and if that included oral sex. Know that people sometimes don’t know they have an infection or may not consider certain behaviors risky, when in fact they are.

 

Learn about STDs and how they are transmitted so that you can make informed decisions about how to protect your sexual health. For example, kissing and massages are low risk. Unprotected vaginal or anal sex is higher risk.

 

Choose your sexual partners carefully. Take relationships slowly so you have the chance to get to know what your partner is about, what his or her sexual history is like and how your partner treats you in general. This will help you develop a relationship that is healthy and includes open, honest communication about these important issues.

 

Even if you’ve both been tested and nothing has shown up, you should still practice safer sex every single time you have sex to guarantee that you both remain safe and protected.

How do I ask a partner to use a condom?

Sometimes people don’t want their partner to think they were “planning” on having sex since it seems more romantic for sex to “just happen.” But wanting to prevent the transmission of STDs is smart.

 

Being concerned about what others think keeps many teens from talking openly about sex and protection. Talking openly and honestly with a partner about condoms and planning ahead of time how to protect each other from sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and/or pregnancy is important.

 

Ideally, you should talk about using protection, such as a condom, before you even start engaging in sexual behaviors. When you talk openly and honestly about your expectations, both you and your partner understand that if you do have sex, then you will be prepared to use protection.

 

When you talk about using a condom, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have committed to having sex. It just means that protecting your sexual health is important to you. Even if you have decided to have sex but then realize that sex doesn’t feel OK, you always have the right to say “no,” even at the last second. Partners need to respect the right of anyone at any time to change his or her mind.

 

If you find that it is difficult for you to talk openly and honestly with your partner about using a condom, you might want to think about whether it’s the right time for you to have sex. Using protection is part of having sex and is nothing to be ashamed of.

How to use condoms

There are a lot of reasons why condoms are important. They take one second to put on and not only prevent unwanted infections, they can also prevent unplanned pregnancies. And let’s face it, sex is more fun when you’re not worried about getting pregnant or getting an STD.


Abstinence is the only way to avoid becoming infected with an STD or getting pregnant. However, if you decide you’re ready to have sex, condoms are highly effective at preventing STDs and it is important to use protection every time. That means using a condom – and using it right.


Condoms prevent transmission of:

 

HIV
Gonorrhea
Chlamydia
Trichomoniasis
Herpes*
Syphilis*
Chancroid*
* when the sore or blister is covered

Using a condom can also reduce the risk of cancer from HPV (genital warts) and protect you from getting an STD you may have had before.