Over-the-Counter STD Testing Could Mean No More Awkward Phone Calls From Your Gynecologist
A recent study published in Social Science & Medicine reveals that a disturbing amount of young women think that they are immune to pregnancy, even though unprotected sex over the course of a year has an 85% chance of resulting in a baby. This “magical thinking” is typical of Millennials and young people in general — we think certain things just won't happen to us. While that is a beautiful trait for young people to have, encouraging us to take risks and stretch beyond our comfort zones, it can also have severe consequences (see: babies). This mindset is also particularly insidious when it comes to STDs; people in my generation don’t think that they can or will get them, and therefore they don't get tested.
Lucky for us horny Millennials, a company call Boston Microfluidics is developing an over the counter STD test that is meant to be taken like a pregnancy test — it can be done in the privacy of your own home, and the results take only five minutes. The product, called KnowNow, will retail for around 35 dollars and is the size of a travel toothbrush. Unlike pregnancy tests, however, KnowNow uses blood to calculate results and requires the user to prick their finger. At-home STD tests are not a new phenomenon, however the ones that are on the market now require users to take their own sample, send it to a remote lab, and wait days or weeks for results.
Even though KnowNow will likely not be available until 2015, there are already concerns about the social consequences of the product. Bill Frezza at Forbes believes that the product will “turbocharge” casual sex. His take on Millennials using the test:
These kids are totally unencumbered by the social mores we Baby Boomers grew up with. They appear to have no shame, no sense of privacy, no modesty, and no concern about their reputations. They treat sex like another form of recreation, like videogames only messier. They want to have commitment-free fun, and they want it now.
To which I say, calm down Bill! This test probably won’t change the numbers of Millennials having “commitment-free fun” because we are doing it already — with or without the information we need to protect our health. It’s the same logic of having sexual education at schools — kids are going to be having sex, so wouldn’t you rather they do it while equipped with knowledge about their own sexual health? The real hurdle for this project will be making the test a socially acceptable pre-sex practice.
According to Boston Microfluidics’ website “the CDC estimates 50 million Americans are infected with the HSV-2 virus but 80% of them remain undiagnosed.” With STDs this rampant, the more tools we have to protect ourselves from them the better. As of now, Boston Microfluidics’ device will only be testing herpes, though the company hopes to expand into testing HIV, Hepatitis C, Gonorrhea and Syphilis.
These types of innovations will make talking with a partner about their sexual health much easier and more effective. Even if we think that we are magically immune, this test will be so accessible there will no longer be an excuse for not getting tested.