Go back to school in the know – meaning get tested and know your sexually transmitted infection (STI) and Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) status! You would be in good company with more than 4000 students getting screened for sexually transmitted infections including HIV during last academic year at UC Berkeley’s University Health Services, Tang Center. Knowing your STI/HIV status is important if you plan to be sexual with others or are hoping to have children one day. The latter is important as some infections such as Chlamydia often does not have visible symptoms in women. If left untreated Chlamydia can lead to Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) and possible infertility.
If you are having or have had sexual experiences the only way to know for sure that you are STI and HIV free is to get tested regularly. Sexually transmitted infection testing options involve collecting specimens in a variety of ways including a blood draw, urine sample, genital swab, or finger prick for HIV. I’ll tell you a bit more about each of these. Depending on what you are being tested for you may need more than one type of test.
Blood Draw. This type of testing involves drawing blood (hence the name) using a needle and syringe. Blood draws are useful for diagnosing viral infections such as HIV and/or for determining various strains of some viral infections such as Herpes Simplex Virus. As with any breaking of the skin, there is a small risk of infection at the testing site. However, the risk is very minimal.
Urine sample. Urine samples may be used to test for bacterial infections such as chlamydia and gonorrhea. This is one of the simplest and least invasive methods for STI testing, especially for infections that may have a discharge as a common symptom.
Swabs (vagina, anus, throat, etc.). This type of STI testing is somewhat invasive in that your vagina, anus, throat, and in some cases your urethra may be penetrated to collect samples. This method is super useful for STI testing performed during a pelvic exam or for testing open sores. Swabbing is the best way to test for infections in the throat such as gonorrhea.
Finger Prick. Finger prick testing is one of the more recent testing options available. It is great for collecting a small amount of blood. Finger prick testing is now commonly used for HIV antibody testing.
At the Tang Center, we offer a few options to get tested for STIs/HIV including regular medical appointments, urgent care and most recently through our self-directed testing option. Scheduling a medical appointment is the way to go if you are thinking ahead. Ask for a women’s health, men’s preventive health, or STI check appointment. Urgent care is great if you think you may have been exposed to HIV and would like to start a post-exposure prophylactic. Otherwise, if you think you may have been exposed to an STI other than HIV, there will be a window period (period from time of potential exposure to time STI may be detected via testing) and a regular medical appointment may be your best bet. Lastly, if you are at very low-risk our self-directed testing option is an excellent choice for chlamydia, gonorrhea, and HIV testing. UC Berkeley students with our Student Health Insurance Plan (SHIP) have one full STI check covered per plan year. Good news, the plan year just started!!!
If you are not a UC Berkeley student or waived out of SHIP, there are still many ways for you to get tested and know your STI and HIV status. If you are in the Berkeley area, a few good options are Berkeley Free Clinic, or the Ann Chandler Public Health Center. If you are a student in West Contra Costa County, in addition to 3 Planned Parenthood locations, Brookside Community Health Center as well as the Richmond Health Center may be great options. You can also request STI and HIV testing with your primary care physician.
Though this blog post is about knowing your status it is also a great idea to educate yourself on the more common STIs including what they are, how they are transmitted, what symptoms may be associated, and how to treat various STIs should you be diagnosed with one. If you would like to chat with someone about this on the UC Berkeley campus, there are several options available to you – health and wellness coaching appointments with myself or my fabulous co-worker Queen Karen Gee, you can enroll in one of our student facilitated courses Sex 101: Topics in Sexual health, Sex and Disability, or FemSex. You can get a group of friends together and request a Sexual Health Education Program (SHEP) workshop. If you wuld like an LGBT focused workshop on HIV prevention, Berkeley Builds Capacity (BBC) has you. If you are not a UC Berkeley student, I am more than happy to educate you via phone or email about STIs and HIV. I also teach a Human Sexuality class at San Ramon Valley College enroll and learn from me in person on a regular weekly basis! However, you choose to do it, be sure you go back to school in the know. Until next time…
Keep it safe and sexy,
Ms. Robin, the Sex Goddess
Have a topic or question you’d like me to address in a future Sexy Saturdays article? Send it to me at RMills@sexucation.org.