As a doctor, I believe that everyone deserves a sex life that is safe and healthy, as well as pleasurable. And the truth is that being responsible about sex, looking out for your health and that of your partner doesn’t mean sex can’t still be fun and, well, sexy.
If you’re young and healthy, you may not think you’re at risk for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), but in reality, half of all sexually active young people in the U.S. will get an STD by the time they’re 25 — and most won’t know it, since many STDs cause no symptoms. For example, up to 95 percent of women and 90 percent of men with chlamydia have no symptoms. On average, people with HIV don’t develop symptoms for 10 years. So the only way to know your status for sure is to get tested.
That’s right, in addition to using condoms correctly and consistently, one of the most important things that all sexually active young people can do to protect their health is to get tested regularly for STDs. Getting tested is fast, painless, and part of basic preventive health care, like going to the dentist. You only have one body — you want to keep it as healthy as possible for as long as possible.
Getting tested and knowing your status shows you care about yourself and your partner. One survey found that 81 percent of youth reported thinking that people who get tested are taking care of their sexual health; 58 percent said they’re responsible partners; and 56 percent said they should do it regularly as part of their routine health care. Start by talking about getting tested before you start having sex with someone new. It doesn’t have to be hard or uncomfortable: You can say something like, “I'm a little nervous about bringing this up... but I want us to be healthy and I think it's important. What do you think about getting tested for STDs together?” You may be surprised at how your partner reacts.
And while all sexually active young people should get regular STD testing, it’s especially important for men who have sex with men and people of color, communities who are disproportionately affected by STDs like HIV. Gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men, particularly young African-American men, have the highest rates of HIV infection nationwide. African-Americans and Latinos account for dramatically disproportionate rates of HIV infections: for African-American women, the rate of new HIV infections is 20 times higher than that for white women, and for Latinas, the rate is more than four times higher than that of white women.
The good news is that most STDs, including HIV, are treatable, and many are curable. The sooner you know your status, the sooner you can get treated. Regardless of your sexual orientation or ethnicity, STD awareness and testing is a basic part of staying healthy and taking care of your body.
Safety and pleasure can be bedfellows, pun intended. Your sex life should be fulfilling and fun — not stressful. Knowing your status and using a condom takes a lot of the anxiety out of sex, since you and your partner won't be worrying about unknowingly contracting an STD. It’s a good way to feel more relaxed about sex, and that can make sex a lot better. It’s true: Condoms can actually enhance your sex life. And people who use condoms rate their sexual experiences as just as pleasurable as people who don’t.
Planned Parenthood is here to help you stay safe and healthy. We offer affordable STD testing, treatment and sex education and information to help you take charge of your sexual health. For more information about STDs and to find a health center near you, visit plannedparenthood.org.
STD testing should be a routine part of your health care checkups. It’s one of the easiest and most important things you can do to protect your health, and it can even improve your sex life. Who can say no to that?
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(Photo: LWA/Dann Tardif/Blend Images/Corbis)