Ask Ang October 22
I recently had unprotected anal sex. Taking the different incubation periods for STIs into consideration, how long should I wait to get reliable STI testing?
The shortest answer here is that you should talk with your doctor or a clinic, like Whitman Walker, within 72 hours of having unprotected sex if you believe that your partner might be able to transmit HIV (i.e. not on PrEP and HIV-positive). This will allow you to begin Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP), which is about 80-90% effective at preventing an HIV infection.
The slightly longer answer is that you should wait three months (90 days) before testing in order to get the most reliable possible test results. The longest STI to incubate is HIV, but, according to the CDC, it can be detected between 18 and 45 days after exposure through a laboratory test of blood taken from your vein. Blood from a finger prick and other rapid test methods can begin to detect HIV as late as 90 days after exposure. So, if you want the most reliable results, and you have not shown signs of other STIs (e.g. unexpected inflammation, irritation, or lesions on the genitals), wait 90 days.
The very long answer is that you should consider your unique situation and seek to make the sex that you have in the future is as safe as possible. Whenever possible, try to use latex or non-latex condoms to prevent many STIs. Some, including herpes and HPV, can still be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact, so, make sure you are aware of your herpes status (by getting tested!) and learn about the risk factors associated with herpes transmission. Additionally, if at all possible, try to get vaccinated for HPV. If the vaccine is not covered by insurance, click here to find an alternative method to get vaccinated for HPV. Also, if you find that one or more of the following items applies to you, you might consider taking Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) to prevent the risk of contracting HIV.
-You and/or your partner(s) don’t always use condoms (external or internal) when you have sex.
-You have been diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the last six months.
-You’re unsure of the HIV status of your sexual partner(s).
-Your sexual partner(s) are HIV-positive.
-You are a person who injects drugs, or you’re having sex with an injection drug user.
-You are HIV-negative and interested in taking PrEP.
More information about PrEP can be found here.
Finally, the most important thing you can do is to communicate with your partner(s)! But in order to do so, you have to know your statuses. Those who get tested most frequently do so about every 3-6 months, but only you, in talking with your doctor, the student health center, or a clinic specializing in sexual health, can identify how often is right for you. Free STI testing and screenings are available at Whitman Walker. Having sex comes with risks, but there are many options out there to keep the sex you have as a safe as possible.
2. I keep getting urinary tract infections. What can I do to prevent this from happening?
Urinary tract infections, or UTIs, occur when bacteria enter the urinary tract through the urethra and cause inflammation. When a UTI occurs more than once in six months, it is considered a recurrent infection. Bacteria can enter the urinary tract from the outside to cause a UTI to come back, or a recurrent infection can be caused by bacteria that remain in the urinary tract after a previous infection. If you think you have a UTI, your doctor will test your urine for bacteria and white blood cells. You will likely be prescribed antibiotics to take care of the infection.
But, if you’re having recurrent UTIs, your doctor may prescribe low-dose antibiotics to prevent future infections. The best idea, in this case, is to talk to your health care provider and see what they recommend.
In the meantime, you can try some steps to prevent UTIs. First, pee as soon as possible after sex. Make sure your partner has thoroughly washed their hands and has showered reasonably recently before having sex. Stay hydrated, and try cranberry juice or cranberry supplements. Make sure to wipe from front to back when you go to the bathroom. Don’t hold your pee too long--that allows bacteria to grow in your urinary tract. Finally, avoid any potentially irritating vaginal products with fragrances.
3. What are some products I can use (other than tampons and pads) for my period?
There are tons of products out there to use during your period! Menstrual cups, like the Lily Cup and DivaCup are inserted into the vagina and catch menstrual blood. They must be emptied and rinsed at least twice a day. At the end of your period, the cup needs to be washed thoroughly with warm water and mild soap. It can also be disinfected with boiling water. One of the best parts of menstrual cups is that they are reusable--no more spending money on pads and tampons!
Another option is Flex, a menstrual disc which, unlike menstrual cups, is disposable. They can be worn for up to 12 hours and are then discarded.
Thinx, period-proof underwear, can be worn for a light to medium flow. It can also be used in lieu of pantyliners in the case of leakage from a tampon or menstrual cup/disc.
These are just a few options for period management. Don’t be afraid to try a new method--you might find that you love it.