This year alone, there will be 20 million new cases of STDs in the U.S. While STDs can affect people of all ages, backgrounds and walks of life, nearly half of these new cases will occur in people ages 15–24 years old. And among them, young black women and men are disproportionately impacted. In fact, some of the most common infections, like chlamydia and gonorrhea, are at an unprecedented high, especially among young black women and men.
But here’s the thing: Chlamydia is a public health problem across the country, regardless of your race or where you live. And I’ve encountered many young people of all races who don’t think they are at risk. This trend of underestimating risk, coupled with the fact that most people won’t experience any symptoms, means STDs are continuing to spread across all our communities.
Why does that really matter to you? Some STDs can have undesirable consequences. Take chlamydia, for instance. Untreated chlamydia can put a woman at risk for pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), a condition that can lead to tubal pregnancy, chronic pain and even infertility.
We’ve made great strides in the way we talk about sex and sexuality since I started working in sexual health more than 20 years ago. But still, I’ve noticed that conversations about STDs and getting tested have remained in the shadows. That’s why the American Sexual Health Association (ASHA), an organization I care deeply about, launched YES Means TEST, an initiative to educate and empower young people like you to get tested for STDs—because anyone saying “YES” to sexual activity, should also mean saying “YES” to getting tested.
So why wouldn’t you get tested? Let’s review and break down some of those common excuses.
- It's too much of a hassle to get tested. I don’t have time or the money.”
- Did you know most tests are just a quick swab or urine in a cup? And most insurance covers STD testing. Plus, there are lots of free clinics. You can find one at YESmeansTEST.org.
- “I’ve been tested before….”
- When were you tested? At a minimum, the CDC recommends that sexually active women under age 25 get tested for chlamydia and gonorrhea every year.
- “I’m afraid of what I might find out…”
- Getting an STD is human. Testing positive is just the first step toward treating it. And with common STDs, like chlamydia or gonorrhea, antibiotics can usually do the job.
- “But I’m a virgin. I haven’t had sex yet.”
- That’s totally fair—good for you for reading articles like this and preparing in advance. It’s also important to know that if you are hooking up in any way—whether it’s vaginal, oral or anal sex, or even just genital skin-to-skin contact—you can pick up an STD. So once you do decide to have sex, know that getting tested is a part of staying healthy.
- “I’m in a committed relationship.”
- Did you know people with some of the most common STDs go for years never showing any symptoms? So even if your partner is faithful, it doesn’t hurt to get tested.
- “I would know if something seemed weird down there.”
- Did you know that most people who have an STD show no symptoms at all? STD testing is the only way to know for sure whether or not you have one.
- “I’m afraid my doctor will judge me.”
- As healthcare providers, our job is to take care of your health, and we can’t do that if we don’t know you and what you’re going through. Plus, I guarantee that it’s unlikely you’re experiencing something we haven’t heard before! Be confident and speak up. And if you do feel judged by your doctor, it may be a sign that it’s not a good fit—and that’s ok! You can find a new doctor who will work for you.
It’s up to you if you want to have sex and who you want to have it with. And just as it’s important to support everyone’s right to make a conscious, consensual choice to have sex, it’s just as important to empower yourself and your friends to take charge of sexual health and choose to get tested.
For more information about the initiative, and how to locate nearby clinics to receive confidential and free or low-cost testing for STDs, visit: www.YESmeansTEST.org.