Let’s Talk About STIs: The Follow-Up

**Note:  This is my experience in my area of the country.  I can’t speak for any other areas.  Please check with your local offices.**

“I would like to schedule for STI testing.”

“Um..”

“Because I like to get tested every 6 months.”

“Oh, ok.  We do a swab that tests for HIV, chlamydia and gonorrhea.  It will be $55.”

“I would like to also be tested for hepatitis and herpes.”

“Oh, we don’t offer those tests just for screening purposes.  You would have to have an outbreak or exposure.”

“So I can’t just ask for a herpes test?”

“No, we don’t do them unless you have an outbreak or exposure.”

Frustration.  That was my approximate conversation with my Planned Parenthood in Kalamazoo.

In my previous post I shared how HSV isn’t included in the standard STI panel.  So while I thought I was clear, I really don’t know as I haven’t been tested for HSV or many other STIs that aren’t included in standard testing.  I feared knowing my status as it would come with stigma from future potential partners.  It was possibly easier not to know.

Since that post I have educated myself more and I have decided I do in fact want to know my HSV status.  I didn’t want to be possibly exposing partners to something when I knew I wasn’t being tested for it.

I hung up the phone, frustrated, but for a minute I thought, “Ok.  I tried.  I can’t get tested.  I guess I don’t have to get tested after all.”  That lasted all of maybe 2 minutes.   I wanted to know!  I had come to terms with the possibility that I could have been exposed based on statistics. 90% of those with HSV2 don’t know they have it.  So even though I have done the STI talk with potential partners, if they weren’t being screened and I wasn’t being screened, there was a fair chance I could have been exposed.  Especially when you consider it can take up to 6 months for exposure to even hit your test, if you can get a test.

I’ve never had an outbreak.  But I don’t wear a body condom so technically, I’m at risk.  You are too.  You there, thinking you don’t have it.  You really don’t know.

I had an idea.  I know a very reputable sex educator that posts his STI results on his facebook page.  He uses an online service.  Bingo!  I will use that service too.  I went with the 8 panel test that includes:

  • Chlamydia
  • Hepatitis B
  • Herpes l
  • HIV-1 Antibody
  • Gonorrhea
  • Hepatitis C
  • Herpes ll
  • Syphilis

It was as easy as clicking, paying, printing my lab orders and driving to the closest lab which it helped me find.  I did it all in one afternoon.

(You can support this blog and get $25 off any testing by using the link at the bottom of the blog or by clicking here for Tests and Pricing .)

Now I wait up to three days to get my results.  But I’m still pissed about Planned Parenthood refusing to test me.  I decided to spend my waiting time seeing what other public health options were offering in the way of STI testing.  I knew you could go to your general practitioner and ask for an STI panel (and you would need to specifically ask for HSV and any other non standard test) and if the insurance gods allowed, you could get them all covered.  But what about the health department?  What were they testing for?

Kalamazoo County Health Department

  • Gonorrhea
  • Chlamydia
  • Syphilis
  • HIV
  • Herpes testing was only offered as a culture test (swab) if you had an outbreak.

Calhoun County Health Department

  • Gonorrhea
  • Chlamydia
  • Syphilis
  • Hepatitis B & C
  • HIV
  • Herpes testing was only offered as a culture test (swab) if you had an outbreak.

Western Michigan University Sindecuse Health Center

  • Chlamydia
  • Gonorrhea
  • Offers HIV
  • Was explained to me that unless there is an outbreak or exposure it is hard to get insurance to cover HSV testing.  Students just can’t afford it out of pocket.

So basically, if you want HSV screening, you either need to lie and say you were exposed, you have to go to a general practitioner and ask them to order the test, or lastly go online, like I did.

My message that I really want to scream…

If you think you are “clear” (a term that lessens the stigma that comes with “clean” or “dirty”), most likely you really don’t know what your status is when it comes to herpes.  So quit judging our friends with a positive status!  And if you do know your status, you need to share it!  It is only fair to your partner and it will help reverse the stigma!

The truth of the matter is, the health care (and insurance) world doesn’t seem to think your status is important.  You can carry herpes and not show symptoms.  Yet they don’t think it is important to know.  But some people DO know their status, generally because their status is positive.

So is herpes a big deal?  Obviously it’s not too big of deal as the world doesn’t think screening is important.  But it is the gift that keeps on giving.  And if you do know you are positive you owe it to your potential partner to share that info.  You have to take on the stigma and rise above it.

If more people talked about their status, the stigma would lessen.  This is about education.  It is easy to point fingers and treat a herpes positive person as if they have cooties.  But once you understand that it isn’t included in a standard test, that it is actually hard to get tested, and that 90% of those that have it don’t know, you could allow yourself to have a softer heart.

I have taken the past few days to ask many people if they specifically know their herpes (HSV) status.  They immediately say they do.  Do I believe them?  Not necessarily.  I think they think they know their status.  I don’t think they actually know it.

So what do I do now?  How does this affect my risk aware sex practices?  Here’s the deal, if I wanted to be 100% sure not to catch anything I would have to practice monogamy and be in a relationship for 6 months before having any sexual contact (including dry humping because HSV2 virus sheds in the boxer short zone) so that we can be tested with some certainty to declare ourselves “clear”.  That’s definitely not happening.  That isn’t my lifestyle.  I understand I absorb a risk in practicing my lifestyle of non monogamy with multiple partners.  My practices aren’t really going to change.  I’ve been with many people that didn’t know their HSV status.  I haven’t known mine.  Most aren’t going to.  That’s just a fact.

Here is a great chart on STI risk based on sex act. Please take “man” and read “penis” and “woman” and read “vagina”.

Now I wait for my results.  Am I scared?  No.  I am curious.  I’m educated.  If I have to add an uncomfortable conversation to my future elevator speeches, I’m ok with that.  The people I am going to play with generally live a very similar lifestyle to me.  I’m not worried about running out of partners.

No matter what my results are, expect to hear me yelling about STI stigma for the rest of my blogging career.  I’m not one to be quiet.


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