The public conversation about sex during the COVID-19 pandemic has been… kind of awesome. People are talking openly about solo sex. Everyone is “horny on main.” City governments are discouraging rimming, but only because the virus has been found in feces, not because they're anti-rimming. They're also encouraging people to masturbate. But one thing we do not hear a lot about? Getting tested for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) while social distancing.
“In theory, if everyone were to practice social distancing, get tested and treated, then you could make a huge dent in the number of STIs, perhaps even come close to eliminating them,” Dr. Ina Park, MD, associate professor at the UCSF School of Medicine, and the co-author of the forthcoming 2020 CDC STI Treatment Guidelines, tells Bustle.
Eliminating STIs — can you imagine? It’s a future that every sex educator dreams of — and that any sexually active person can work toward. Taking some of the physical “danger” out of sex would be an amazing step toward widespread sex-positivity. (And a better sex life for everyone, all around.)
Getting tested is an excellent self-care step for any individual, but especially for people with vulvas, vaginas, and uteruses. That’s because while many STIs don’t show symptoms, they can still cause serious long-term health problems, including infertility in people with uteruses if they’re left untreated. (STIs don't lead to infertility in people with penises, however.)
“Getting tested and treated for STIs benefits people on an individual level, because it eradicates infections before they can cause complications such as pelvic inflammatory disease and infertility,” Dr. Park says. “Even if someone isn't planning on having sex in the near future, getting tested and knowing your status means that you are ready to get out there when the time is right.”
But how do you get tested when you’re not really supposed to go to the doctor’s office unless it’s an emergency? Or maybe your doctor’s office or local sexual health clinic isn’t even offering STI testing right now? As with so many other aspects of this pandemic, the internet is here to help.
While getting tested used to require a trip to the gynecologist and a visit with the friendly duck (my favorite term for the speculum), you can now do it yourself in the comfort of your own home. One company that offers at-home STI testing is Nurx. Their system is simple, comprehensive, and likely covered, at least in part by your insurance. Their practitioners walk you through everything you need to do and also let you text with their health care providers for up to a full year after you get tested.
For people who decide to take their health into their own hands while they're social distancing, Dr. Park recommends getting treatment — even if you’re not showing symptoms.
“Even asymptomatic infections can lead to complications,” Dr. Park says. “Many STI clinics and family planning clinics such as Planned Parenthood are offering some limited services, including treatment of people who have positive test results.”
Dr. Park also says that urgent care and the emergency room are both options, but should be used “as a last resort,” so as to preserve those resources for people with coronavirus or other emergencies. And if you do an online test, the company you choose to go with will guide you through your next steps for treatment.
So, why not add STI testing to your social distancing activity checklist? It's easy, affordable, and it will ensure you are ready when the time comes to get back out there again.
Dr. Ina Park, MD, UCSF School of Medicine, co-author of the forthcoming 2020 CDC STI Treatment Guidelines