sex

Sexy times are back in Victoria, so here's why STI tests are more important than ever.

The Victorian Government
Thanks to our brand partner, The Victorian Government

As everyone emerges out of lockdown, you can bet that hook-ups are back on the menu.

For those starved of human contact (and human touch) for so long, the opportunity to get real up close and personal now that restrictions have lifted will be a HUGE drawcard.

And because of this, we’re anticipating people acting like moths to a (sexual) flame.

But while this may mean super hot fun for three or so minutes, it can also mean syphilis. Yep, syphilis.

The infection better known for making the rounds in the 1400s is weirdly having a MAJOR spike - with reports of infectious syphilis cases increasing by a whopping 475 per cent since 2010.

And it's not the only sexually transmissible infection (STI) on the rise. Which is why, despite a whole lot of (very valid) focus being on COVID tests, we simply can't forget about STI tests.

So, with the Victorian Government's STI Testing Week kicking off, there's no better time to talk about sexy health, get a test and get treated (if needed).

To ease your fears about the whole sexual health check thing, we run through literally every question you may have - including what actually happens for each different STI check for each different STI. Read on, and book in your STI check. STAT.

So, how often should I be getting an STI check?

On paper answer = Every time you get a new sexual buddy.

Yep, every time your personal space is literally invaded by another new being, it’s good to get tested.

But as a general rule, these are the 'actions' that should normally be followed with a trip to the clinic:

  • After getting a new or casual sexual partner
  • If you know or suspect that your partner has had other sexual partners
  • After any unwanted or non-consensual sex 
  • If someone you've slept with has contacted you to tell you they have an STI
  • After any sexual contact in countries where HIV and other STIs are common
  • If you are planning on having a baby anytime soon (to prevent any infections being passed on to your baby)
  • And if you're a sex worker, it's recommended that you have regular STI checks every three months

And, yes, for folks in long-term monogamous relationships, you should be getting tested every year. We know that seems excessive if you’re sure that neither of you in the partnership have had another sexual partner, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. Always.

Which STIs have no symptoms?

This may surprise you, but there are honestly lots. STIs with no symptoms or asymptomatic STIs vary between men and women, but if we’re focussing on the STIs that often go unnoticed in women then these are the biggies: Herpes, Chlamydia, Gonorrhoea, Syphilis and HPV.

...but don't worry, we address all of those and walk you through what the tests are like for each so you can know exactly what you're walking into when you book in an STI test. 

What happens during a Herpes STI test?

A lil' swab test if you have symptoms (like blisters around your mouth or on your genitals), or a blood test if you’re not showing any physical symptoms.

Herpes symptoms.

While herpes can present itself in the form of painful blisters (and when they are on your mouth or genitals that is when you’re the most infectious), you still technically ~have~ herpes when you have nada symptoms.

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How do you treat herpes?

Look, you can’t actually cure herpes. If you catch it, you have it for life. However, you can be prescribed with medication to manage symptoms and your doctor can inform you how to reduce the risk of transmission to whoever you sleep with.

What happens during a HIV test?

The check for HIV requires a blood test and can usually be bundled in with your regular blood test - so if there are a few things that you need to tick off at the doctors, then flag this with your GP. 

The thing to note with HIV tests is that you may need to have a second test a month or so after the first test. Why? Because that’s how long it can take for the blood tests to find HIV after your initial exposure to the virus. Your doc will let you know this, but it's good to keep in mind.

As a very important side note: If you think you have been exposed to HIV you have options.

First one = PEP. What's that? PEP (or post-exposure prophylaxis) is medication you can take to prevent HIV infection if you have potentially exposed yourself to the virus.PEP must be started within 72 hours of exposure to HIV and be taken correctly over a 28-day treatment period to work. If you have questions, you can call up the PEP info line (1800 889 887).

Second one = Your regular HIV test at a STI clinic (as mentioned above). Tests for HIV and other STIs are available from your regular doctor, or from your local sexual and reproductive health clinic. They are simple, confidential and straightforward. Most HIV test results are available within 10 days.

Give some thought to taking PrEP too (pre-exposure prophylaxis) for HIV if you are at risk of the virus. PrEP is up to 99 per cent effective at preventing HIV when taken consistently as prescribed. Talk with your doctor to see if it’s right for you.

How do you treat HIV?

While HIV isn't curable (yet), most people with HIV can live very normal, happy and healthy lives. It requires you take daily medicine and for you to prioritise your health as HIV can really weaken your immune system. Treatments are so effective now that people with HIV live the same life span as people without HIV.

Nearly all people on HIV treatments (if they take their medication as prescribed), can achieve what is known as an 'undetectable viral load'. If you achieve and maintain an undetectable viral load you cannot transmit the virus to anyone and this is known as U=U or undetectable equals untransmissible.

What happens during a Human Papillomavirus (HPV) test?

A HPV test requires a bit of a look at your cervix. This usually happens during a cervical screening test which is conducted every five years for women aged over 25.

For anyone who’s had a pap smear in the past, this is the new test for cervical cancer. Plus, if you've had a pap, you’ll be familiar with the contraption the doctor uses, but for those that aren’t, it looks a little bit like a plastic or metal duck head.

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Image: Getty.

Then the doc will use a soft brush spoolie-type-thing to collect cells from your cervix and these cells will be sent off to the lab for testing.

HPV symptoms.

A super common sexually transmissable infection that can sometimes present itself as genital warts, but the majority of ladies with HPV won’t show a single physical sign. HPV, when left untreated, can cause cervical cancer, so it’s one to definitely test for.

How do you treat HPV?

While there’s no cure for the HPV virus (and it can actually go away by itself), you can get treatment to remove the genital warts that may come as a result of an infection. There is also a nanovalent vaccine that prevents against nine (yes, nine!) HPV strains that is usually given to both male and female students (aged 12 or 13) while they’re at high school as part of the secondary school immunisation program.  This nanovalent vaccine will also protect against 90 per cent of genital warts. BONUS!

What happens during a Syphilis STI test?

Your doctor tests you for syphilis by taking either a blood sample or a swab from any genital sores you might have. (Yup, syphilis is another STI that causes genital sores. Yay.)  The sample is tested in a lab and you’ll get the results back from your doctor. 

How do you treat syphilis?

Syphilis is easy to cure in its early stages, usually with penicillin (which is an antibiotic medication that can kill the organism that brews up syphilis bacteria).

What happens during a Chlamydia STI test?

You can check for chlamydia with a simple pee-in-a-jar urine sample or with an examination - particularly if you’ve had unprotected oral, vaginal or anal sex as the doctor will probably want to swab those areas. 

Chlamydia symptoms.

One of the most common STIs in women under 25, chlamydia is often referred to as a ‘silent’ infection because you rarely experience any symptoms. If you leave chlamydia untreated it can spread to the uterus and fallopian tubes, resulting in pelvic inflammatory disease - which leaves hectic scarring in your fallopian tubes and can dramatically affect your fertility. The scarring also increases your likelihood of having an ectopic pregnancy, which can be life-threatening for both the mother and baby.

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How do you treat chlamydia?

When you catch it early, you can clear up chlamydia with a quick round of antibiotics. 

What happens during a Gonorrhoea STI test?

Just like the STI test for chlamydia, you can check for gonorrhoea with a urine sample but often it requires an examination - particularly if you’ve had unprotected oral, vaginal or anal sex, so the doctor will need to swab those areas.

Gonorrhoea symptoms.

Again, super common in women under 25 and the symptoms are often mild at best, and completely undetectable at worst. Much like chlamydia, untreated gonorrhoea can cause pelvic inflammation and scarring, and increase transmission risk of HIV.

How do you treat gonorrhoea? 

Gonorrhoea is treated with antibiotics, and symptoms (if you have any) usually resolve within a week. Some strains of gonorrhoea are now resistant to many antibiotics, so don’t forget to tell your doctor if you’ve travelled overseas recently.

Quick question: Can I have sex after getting an STI test?

We hate to be a Debbie Downer, but every GP will recommend a period of abstinence (AKA not having sex - oral, vaginal, anal or otherwise) after having an STI test and having treatment if you have an infection.

You should avoid any sexual encounters while you're waiting on your STI results and if you find out you've tested positive for anything, then you need to definitely not have any sex whatsoever until your treatment is complete and you get the all-clear to get back to sexy times by your doctor.

Another VERY IMPORTANT thing to note, if you do test positive for anything, do the right thing, be a decent human and contact your previous sexual partners for the past six months. If you want to avoid that conversation altogether then there is a genius website called Let Them Know which allows you to send an anonymous message to a previous sexual partner letting them know that someone they have slept with has tested positive with an STI.

This allows them to then take matters into their own hands and get tested and treated themselves - preventing further spread of any STIs.

Do I need to get an STI test when I’m pregnant or if I'm trying?

Absolutely yes. Pregnant women and their partners should have an STI test before and during their pregnancy. Why? Well, if you have an STI that has gone undiagnosed then it can cause serious health issues for both you and your child.

We genuinely hope that none of the above has spooked you, because ultimately your sexual health lies with you. Remember that condoms offer the best protection against most STIs, but not all. Which is why that annual sexual health check is oh so important. You can prevent, treat and improve pretty much any sticky situation with a trip to your GP or your local sexual health or family planning clinic. And in particular, a trip to a Victorian medical centre during STI Testing Week.

And make it part of your sexual health routine in the future - you will literally never regret it.

Feature Image: Getty/Mamamia.

The Victorian Government
There are many types of STIs, most are curable and all are treatable. If left untreated, STIs can cause long term effects on the body, including infertility. It is estimated that around one in every six people will get an STI – and most don’t even know it. STI testing is available from your local doctor, family planning clinics, community health services, Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations and specialist sexual health clinics. Tests are quick, easy and confidential. For more information visit www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/STI
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