About half of all sexually active people will contract at least one sexually transmitted disease (STD) by the time they turn 25. Millions of Americans are newly diagnosed with STDs every year, but many people who are infected with STDs or STIs are unaware they have contracted an infection.
That’s why health officials recommend just about everybody gets checked for at least one STDS. But these guidelines vary depending on your age and your sexual habits. Here’s a look at what tests are recommended and when for various population groups.
Regardless of age, lifestyle or other factors, anybody who is sexually active can get an STD, and getting tested is vital for just about everybody.
In fact, everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 should be tested at least once in their lifetimes for HIV. Those who are sexually active should most likely be tested for more diseases and with more regularity, but that depends on their risk level.
Sexually active women under 25 should get tested for chlamydia and gonorrhea, two of the most common STDs, once a year.
Most women over 25 don’t need to get tested every year for STDs unless they have new or multiple sexual partners, regularly have unprotected sex or had a sexual partner who has an STD. For those women, annual checks for chlamydia and gonorrhea are recommended.
Starting early in a pregnancy, pregnant women should be tested for HIV, hepatitis B and syphilis, and at-risk pregnant women should be screened for chlamydia and gonorrhea to ensure no infections are transmitted to the fetus.
Gay & Bisexual Men
Men who have sex with men should have annual screenings for syphilis, chlamydia and gonorrhea, and those tests should be more frequent for men who have new and/or multiple partners or who regularly have unprotected sex. For those men, testing should be done every three to six months. Gay and bisexual men, even those in monogamous relationships, may benefit from more frequent HIV testing as well.
All sexually active men should at least be screened for HIV in their lifetimes, but men who have sex with women are generally at a lower risk of contracting STDs, even if they have unprotected sex. Still, straight men who do engage in unsafe sex with many partners should consider at least annual HIV tests and more regular tests for other STDs.
Which STDs Are Most Common?
In addition to at least one preventive HIV screening for almost everyone and more regular preventive screenings for high-risk groups, you also can get tested for specific STDs or groups of them if you’ve been exposed by having sex with an infected person.
- Chlamydia: This is one of the most common curable STDs, and about 2 in 3 cases occur in people between the ages of 15 and 24. Women are more likely than men to be diagnosed.
- Gonorrhea: Another common but treatable STD, gonorrhea is more likely to be diagnosed in men than in women, but the infection rate for everyone is rising.
- Syphilis: If left untreated, syphilis can cause permanent damage and even death. Men have higher rates of syphilis than women, but the prevalence of this infection is rising across the board.
- Trichomoniasis: Usually called trich (pronounced “trick”), this affects about 3.7 million Americans, making it the most common curable STD. The infection is more common in women than in men.
- HIV: An estimated 1.1 million Americans are living with HIV, but about 15% haven’t been diagnosed. Prevalence of HIV has remained relatively stable in the U.S. for the past few years, but the majority of new cases occur in men.
- Herpes: Genital herpes can be caused by two related viruses, herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) or type 2 (HSV-2). Both types can cause genital herpes, though HSV-2 more commonly does so, and this virus is estimated to impact nearly 12% of people between 14 and 49.
- Hepatitis: Two types of hepatitis virus can be passed through sex, hepatitis B and hepatitis C, though hep B is more commonly spread sexually. About 7,000 acute infections of hep B or hep C occur each year.
- HPV: Human papillomavirus is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the world, with about 80% of all sexually active people contracting at least one strain in their lifetimes.
- Bacterial vaginosis: A common imbalance of vaginal bacteria, the cause of BV is not well-understood, though research has shown that having new sexual partners can increase risk. Nearly 1 in 3 women age 14-49 have BV.
Your primary care provider, gynecologist or other healthcare provider can give you more detailed advice on what STD tests are right for you based on your medical history and current lifestyle. But certain infections are well-known to be more common among certain populations and among people who engage in particular sexual activity. So being open and honest about your sexual history is a good first step to understanding which STD tests you should get.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Most Americans Have Never Had an HIV Test, New Data Show. (2019.) Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/nchhstp/newsroom/2019/NHTD-2019-press-release.html
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance 2018, Table 1. Sexually Transmitted Diseases — Reported Cases and Rates of Reported Cases, United States, 1941–2018. (2019.) Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/std/stats18/tables/1.htm
- HIV.gov, U.S. Statistics, Fast Facts. (2019.) Retrieved from https://www.hiv.gov/hiv-basics/overview/data-and-trends/statistics
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Surveillance for Viral Hepatitis – United States, 2017. (2019.) Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/statistics/2017surveillance/index.htm