Why should I get tested for STDs?
What would you say to someone who asked you why they should get tested for STDs? Well for starters, there are STDs that can kill you! We all know the HIV/AIDS story–we have all read the heartbreaking stories of a child born with AIDS, struggling to live life on a daily basis with a weakened, compromised immune system. The restrictions put in place on individuals with severe STD infections can render even the most full of lives meaningless within months. There is never a good excuse not to be tested for STDs.
So why do so many individuals refuse testing? The number one reason is the stigma attached to being tested for STDs. Modern American society has placed a negative stereotype on being tested for sexually transmitted diseases. The typical reaction is to consider the person being tested as dirty or unsafe or worse yet, for a woman, they are viewed as tramps, whores, and sluts. For men, society places the stigma of irresponsibility, carelessness, and insensitivity if they chose to be tested for STDs. As a direct and consequence, nearly 1 out of every 3 people diagnosed with an STD were not tested early enough to warrant a simple course of treatment. The reason these individuals did not get tested earlier? Fear.
Fear is what drives humanity, at least in part. Fear motivates us and deters us. It has been this way for millions of years. Humanity has long feared its own mortality; learning that you have a debilitating sexual disease is not likely to abate this fear. The majority of individuals view STD testing as invasive, uncomfortable and a destruction of their most intimate privacy. There exists a gap between what public health officials are preaching in terms of the overall population benefiting from early STD screening and what the public thinks and what they feel regarding STD testing.
So how can individuals overcome their fear and seek quality, potentially life saving (or at least life changing) testing? One rationale can be to encourage patients to not make an emotionally charged, knee jerk reaction when it comes to seeking STD testing. Some individuals, after they get tested, refuse to look at the results. The old ‘ignorance is bliss’ saying rears its ugly head again. Researchers believe if individuals were to slow down and remove their emotions from the decision-making process, there is an ever-growing probability that the individual will make the more mature, rational decision and seek STD testing and treatment.
So, if we move on past the discussion of fear and human frailty as reasons for not wanting STD testing, we can discuss the overall reason why an individual should seek testing if they need it–their relationships. Relationships are built on a combination of mutual respect and trust. There is no greater area of intimate trust in a relationship than when both partners are intimate with each other. Intimacy is one of the greatest benefits of being in a committed, monogamous relationship. Ensuring that your partner does not have anything which could potentially kill you is the highest degree of trust you can demonstrate. If a partner refuses to get tested at the outset of a relationship, this does more damage than anything else could. A lack of a desire to get tested demonstrates a lack of trust. This only adds to the stigma associated with being tested for sexually transmitted diseases.
Why would an individual be offended if their partner asked them to be tested? Again, we answer this question by pointing to the stigma attached to such testing. An individual may feel their partner is insinuating that they are unsafe, unclean, or being dishonest about their sexual past. As a result, this can create tension in a relationship–one partner feels insulted and the other believes their health is at risk. The level of comfort each partner has with the other is another driving force behind either getting tested or not. Broaching the subject of STD testing can be awkward for both individuals. This awkwardness can push the issue further under the rug.
There are a myriad of ‘soft’ reasons why an individual must be tested for STDs. However, there are mountains of data that substantiate the idea of being tested regularly. According to Harvard Medical School, there are approximately 65 million active STD cases in the United States alone. Furthermore, according to HMS, roughly 50% of Americans will be diagnosed with an STD in one form or another. Some will require only a course of antibiotics, some will endure the diseases for the rest of their natural lives. Engaging in regular testing can reduce the probability of someone being infected or at least controlling their ability to infect other individuals. Furthermore, HMS reported that in 2012 there were more women with active STD infections that men, 110 million more women than men had at least one form of a sexually transmitted disease and had refused testing. What is more significant is that the majority of these women had multiple sexual partners-therefore increasing the likelihood of spreading the bacteria or virus.
The statistics are sobering. Incorporating regular STD testing into one’s personal life can allow for great strides to be made in terms of education, awareness, and also improved treatment methods. Enhancing the awareness of the general public, specifically those in the high risk groups can go a long way towards removing the stigma attached to STD testing. If STD testing is seen as part of a regular health care regimen, the probability of more individuals seeking treatment will rise-along with the actual testing numbers.