Overheard On Campus: My partner cheated on me – should I get tested for an STI even though I don’t feel any symptoms?

Contributed by Melissa Kelley, MS, CHES,  Beau Dooley, MS, MPH, &  Erin Kaufmann, BS

Check out what Melissa Kelley, a health educator at the University of Rochester, Beau Dooley, Associate Director of Student Wellness and Outreach at James Madison University, and Erin Kaufmann, MPH student at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, have to say about getting tested in this not-so-fun situation. For information on similar topics, check out the Overheard On Campus category or log in to MyStudentBody.

Melissa says …

Many people aren’t symptomatic or don’t recognize the symptoms of a sexually transmitted infection (STI). It’s always better to be sure.

Most clinics and health services offer confidential, free, or reduced-cost testing, so that lessens the burden of testing.

Keep in mind that getting tested regularly can be part of your standard health care regimen. Even people in long-term, committed relationships can benefit from knowing for sure whether they have an STI. People tested regularly also benefit from early detection and treatment if necessary, and from the confidence of knowing that they’re keeping their partner(s) safe.

We are each only responsible for our own health and well-being, so getting tested, even when we think the risk is low, is worth it!

Beau says …

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that there are about 19 million new STI cases each year, making STI a major health concern, especially for sexually active young adults. So your anxiety about contracting an STI from your partner is a valid one.

If you’ve had sex, especially unprotected sex, with your partner after your partner has had sexual contact with another person, you should strongly consider getting tested for an STI – even if you do not feel any symptoms.  Here’s why:

  • Many STIs are asymptomatic, which means that you’re infected but don’t exhibit any symptoms. For example, the majority of people infected with chlamydia (the most frequently reported STI in the U.S.) have no symptoms at all.
  • If symptoms do appear, there may be a delay from the time of infection to their onset. For instance, chlamydia symptoms, if present, usually appear between 1 and 3 weeks after exposure. Symptoms in HIV-positive individuals may take months or even years to develop.
  • The symptoms of many STIs may be mild and mistaken for other conditions. For example, in women, the symptoms of gonorrhea are often mild and can be so nonspecific that they’re mistaken for a bladder or vaginal infection by a medical provider.

Periodic testing for both you and your partner(s) is a good thing. Using safer-sex practices and effectively communicating with your partner about STIs is a great thing. Talk to your healthcare provider about STI testing options and other ways to protect your health.

Erin says …

One of the best ways to prevent sexually transmitted infections is by staying in a monogamous relationship with an uninfected partner, but this means that both partners have to stay monogamous.

An STI is probably the last thing you want to think about after your partner has cheated. But unfortunately, because you don’t know the unwanted third party’s sexual history, you don’t know what unwanted STIs he or she may have passed to your partner and then on to you.

It’s important for both men and women to get tested for STIs even if they don’t experience any symptoms. Most people who have an STI don’t know that they have it.

Many common STIs, such as chlamydia, herpes, and HIV, can be spread between partners even when no symptoms are present. Because your partner has recently had sex with someone else, he or she may have contracted an STI, even without feeling or seeing any signs of one. Getting tested early, before you experience symptoms, is the best way to cure or treat an infection and to prevent its long-term effects.

Even if or when your cheating partner is long gone, you don’t want to be left with a burning, itching reminder of him or her.

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