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STD Testing: Which Tests Do You Need and When?

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As Benjamin Franklin once said, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." Taking steps to ensure your health through preventive screenings is one of the most important things you can do for yourself, and screening for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) is particularly important if you're sexually active with multiple partners.

STD testing can help you catch dangerous diseases early, both for treatment and to prevent their spread. But how do you know when you need to be tested and for which diseases you should be screened? Here are some basic guidelines, and be sure and talk with your health care provider about your personal situation.

General guidelines

When you get tested depends largely on how old you are, which STDs you're screening for and how active you are sexually. It's important to remember that sexual activity includes anal and oral sex as well as vaginal sex.

If you're younger than age 25, you should start getting tested for STDs yearly as soon as you start having sex. After age 25, you should get tested whenever you're about to start sexual activity with a new partner, are engaging in sex with multiple partners or are involved in high-risk sexual behaviors like unprotected sex.

Additionally, you should get tested as soon as possible if you ever experience STD symptoms. This might include a burning sensation when you pee, excessive or unusual vaginal discharge, itching, genital sores, vaginal bleeding or pain during sex, or pain in the lower abdomen.

Pap tests and HPV screening

Pelvic exams should be performed by a health care provider annually once you turn 21 or whenever your health care provider recommends it. A Pap test to screen for cervical cancer should be included as part of this every three to five years if you're between the ages of 21 and 65. Once you turn 30, or if you ever receive inconclusive Pap test results, you should get tested for human papillomavirus, or HPV, every five years.

HIV, syphilis and hepatitis

When it comes to HIV, syphilis and hepatitis, you should be tested at least once between the ages of 13 and 64. You should also be tested for these if you ever test positive for another STD, like gonorrhea or chlamydia, because those put you at greater risk. It's also smart to get tested for HIV, syphilis and hepatitis if you've had more than one sexual partner since your last test or have used intravenous drugs.

Chlamydia and gonorrhea

You should be tested for these STDs annually if you're younger than 25 and are sexually active. After age 25, consider getting tested if you're at high risk of contracting an STD, like if you have multiple sexual partners or begin seeing someone new.