This article is published in partnership with the National Coalition of STD Directors (NCSD) as part of our joint series on STD Awareness.
For many youth and young adults, getting tested for sexually-transmitted infections (STIs) is not an easy task because of fear and embarrassment. I can remember in high school my peers having to go behind their parents’ back to make doctors’ appointments related to their sexual health in fear of their parents’ judgment. And while in college I remember whispering on the phone to the nurse “Can I make an appointment to get tested?” This might not be the same story for all young people, but it is for many. It is important to use this time in April to highlight the positive messages in going to get tested and steer away from the negative stigma surrounding sexually transmitted infections.
I found it helpful and I was more likely to return for future testing if there was someone in the clinic to whom I could relate. I would think to myself, “Maybe she can understand what I’m going through.” I also found it beneficial when my university hosted HIV testing events; the feeling of not going alone was somewhat of a relief for me.
According to the CDC, less than half of people who should be screened receive recommended STI screening services (2009). The reality is that a lot of young women and men in the United States don’t have access to preventive care and treatment for STIs. During this month for raising the awareness of getting tested we also need to raise awareness of the importance of having these resources easily accessible for young adults living in communities with limited access to quality health care.
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STIs affect people of all races, ages, and sexual orientations, though some individuals experience greater challenges in protecting their health. When individual risk behaviors are combined with barriers to quality health information and STI prevention services, the risk of infection increases. While everyone should have the opportunity to make choices that allow them to live healthy lives regardless of their income, education, or racial/ethnic background, the reality is that if an individual lacks resources or has difficult living conditions, the journey to health and wellness can be harder. Even with similar levels of individual risk, African Americans and Latinos sometimes face barriers that contribute to increased rates of STIs and are more affected by these diseases than whites (CDC Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance Report 2010).
The biggest sexual education opportunity for me was during these visits to the public health departments and free clinics to get tested, it was there where I felt most comfortable asking questions related to my sexual health. For many young adults this time spent at the clinic is the only time they might learn about their bodies and sexual health, so it is vital that service providers, social workers, case workers and physicians take full advantage of this opportunity to educate young men and women and be open to answer any questions or concerns they might have.
Getting tested is about more than your sexual health; knowing whether or not if you have an STI brings you closer to your spiritual, mental and physical well-being. The power is in getting tested, following up for your results, finding ways to practice safe sex and/or seeking treatment. In April, take charge of your sexual health by getting tested for STIs. Let this become the new norm because with the knowledge comes the power.