Should You Get Tested For STIs In A Long-Term Relationship?

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Emma McGowan, certified sex educator and writer, reveals why you should get tested, even if you're in a long-term relationship in this week's Sex IDK column.

Q: Should I get tested even if I'm in a long-term relationship?

The standard advice used to be that people in long-term relationships didn’t need STI testing. Because monogamy = no risk of infection, right? If you’re not sleeping with anyone else and your partner isn’t sleeping with anyone else, then where would the infections come from? And there are still health care providers who discourage people in relationships from getting tested or refuse to the run tests at all. But that’s a mistake, because people in long-term relationships should get tested, at least occasionally.

But getting tested when you’ve been with someone for a long time can be… Tricky. Your partner might think you’re cheating. Your partner might think that you think they’re cheating. And what if one of you is? So while I’m generally all for open and honest communication in relationships, I don’t blame someone who wants to get tested during their physical, without talking to their partner about it. I’ve experienced firsthand how STI stigma can make generally rational people totally irrational and think that we all should get the occasional pass, especially when there might not be anything to worry about.

Also, question-asker, you say you’re “in a long-term relationship” and while I assumed from the context of the question that you meant a monogamous one, not all long-term relationships are monogamous. People in monogamish or open or polyamorous long-term relationships who are having sex with multiple partners should absolutely continue to get tested, just as they would if they were single. And, of course, those who are cheating should continue to get tested as well.

So, yes, get tested. Unless you have a reason to believe you or your partner has been exposed to an STI, you probably only need to do it every few years. But before you freak out, remember: Most STIs are curable and all are treatable. And it’s always better to know than to not know.

Here are four reasons why it’s a good idea to get tested, even if you’re in a long-term relationship.

1You Might Have A Previously Undiagnosed Infection

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Many people become infected with an STI without any symptoms. Chlamydia and gonorrhea, for example, can live inside someone’s body without them ever knowing. And, left untreated, they can cause long-term health problems, including infertility.

So if you weren’t getting tested regularly — or your partner wasn’t getting tested regularly — before you got together, you may have a previously undiagnosed sexually transmitted infection. It’s absolutely worth getting tested, just in case.

2You & Your Partner Haven’t Been Tested Since Getting Together

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The best practice is to get tested before having sex with a new partner. But, realistically, very few people do that. Second best? Both get tested before you stop using protection. (Again — not super common.) So if you and your partner didn’t get tested before you started having unprotected sex, now’s the time!

This might be one of the easier ways to bring this issue up with a partner. While some people might still suspect cheating, it’s totally reasonable to be like, “Hey, I just realized we never got tested before we stopped using condoms! Let’s do that.”

3You Cheated

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People who don’t plan on cheating are less likely to use protection than people who are serial cheaters or who are in long-term, ethically non-monogamous relationships. And even if you use protection for intercourse, it’s possible to spread some STIs via rubbing against an infected person or through the mouth. So if you cheated, don’t further potentially compromise your partner’s health by not getting tested. Just make the appointment.

4Your Partner Might Have Cheated

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If you suspect your partner might have cheated — or you know for a fact that they did — it’s a good idea to get tested. And, unfortunately, cheating is really common.

While none of us want to believe that our partner is stepping out on us, it doesn’t hurt to get tested every few years, just in case. Think of it as just another way you’re looking after your health.

Remember: Most STIs are curable, all are treatable — and some, left untreated, can cause infertility. Why take the risk?

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