Medically reviewed by Vicky Davis, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 8/28/2021
Here’s a tough fact: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention millions of sexually transmitted diseases (STD) infect sexually active adults each year.
STDs can be passed on through sexual contact — primarily through vaginal, anal or oral sex. Thankfully, if you do have an STD, depending on the type you have, it can be managed or cured with medical treatment.
Now for the tricky part: Some people may not even know they have an STD, especially if they have mild symptoms.
So if you are sexually active, it’s important to be tested to ensure you have a clean bill of health.
But how often should you be tested for STDs? We’ll answer that — but first, here’s a bit more about why you may want to be tested in the first place.
STDs often do not have any symptoms. That means that getting tested is the only way to know for sure if you have one or not.
By getting tested, you can avoid the possibility of unknowingly passing something along to a sexual partner.
Another important reason to get tested: STDs — such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, genital herpes, HIV and syphilis — can cause serious health complications if left untreated.
Some of the serious health complications that can arise if an STD is left untreated include:
Yes, things can get that serious — which is why it’s so important to catch STDs early through regular testing.
So now that you know why you should get tested, let's discuss routine STD testing — and exactly what your testing frequency should be.
The general rule, if nothing has changed in your sexual life, is that you should go in for annual testing.
But there are some life events that, if they occur, should encourage a sexually active woman or man to get tested (even if you’ve already done your annual testing). These situations include:
Before you hook up with a new sex partner
You’ve got physical symptoms of an STD — like bumps on or around your genitalia, discharge or a rash
Your partner is sleeping with someone else — or you are
Someone you’ve slept with let’s you know they’ve tested positive for an STD
You used a condom — but it broke
Whether you want to get your annual tests or any of the above apply to you, make an appointment with a healthcare provider to get tested.
While it may feel uncomfortable to speak with a medical professional about your sexual history and desire to get tested, being open and honest will yield you the best care and results.
Want to get tested but not sure where to go? Your healthcare provider’s office can run or order STD blood tests for you, or direct you to a testing location. You can also visit Planned Parenthood or other health centers. This site from the CDC allows you to search for free testing near you.
There are also at-home kits you can purchase online — with which you collect your own samples and send them to a lab.
While these make for a convenient testing option, there can be more room for error. If you do decide to go this route, use a test approved by the FDA.
While we’re talking about the importance of regular testing for STDs, it’s worth going over preventative measures you can take during sexual activity to encourage that your STD tests stay negative.
According to the CDC, these are the best ways to prevent transmission of an STD:
Reduce the number of sexual partners you have.
The fewer partners you have, the less you are putting yourself at risk. That said, even if you reduce your sexual partners, it is still important to get tested.
You are in a mutually monogamous relationship.
If your relationship status is serious and long-term and you are both monogamous, your chances of contracting an STD are slim to none.
Condoms are a must. Using condoms
during every sexual encounter is a highly effective way of preventing the spread of STDs.
Abstaining from sexual activity. This one may not be realistic, but it’s worth mentioning that abstinence will prevent STDs.
When it comes to how often to get tested for STDs, there is no one-size-fits-all answer.
If your sex life hasn’t changed, you can stick with routine screening once a year.
However, if you are thinking of sleeping with someone new, it’s a good idea to get tested before engaging in sexual contact.
Additionally, you should get tested if you forget to use a condom with someone new (or the condom breaks), if your partner is sleeping with someone else, or if you’re experiencing symptoms of an STD.
If you have any other questions about STDs, your best bet is to speak with a healthcare professional.