When I first heard about STD Test Express, a new online provider of testing for sexually transmitted diseases, I was intrigued. The public health graduate in me was cheering for the frankly brilliant marriage of the easily accessible and fairly anonymous internet with an anxiety-producing, often-ignored fact of life: Sex isn't always safe. Condoms break, partners cheat, drunken mistakes happen. Besides, we go online to bank, to watch movies, to Google our date for next Saturday...why not use it for STD testing?
Now you can -- STDtestExpress.com invites men and women to log in, create an account and select either a panel of tests or an individual screen (including Chlamydia, Syphilis and HIV.) Next, they pay for the test -- the company does offer testing for the uninsured -- and choose a local testing center. Two days after providing a sample (urine or blood, depending on the test), consumers receive an e-mail notifying them that their results are in. Negative? You can access your results online. Positive? You'll be hearing from a physician to help guide you through treatment options and coping mechanisms.
"They can talk to us and be in a testing center in 15 minutes," Julie Springer, the general manager of Analyte Media, the company behind STDtestExpress.com, told Medill Reports.
Considering April is STD Awareness Month, I thought it would be the perfect time to ask Michelle Sobel, co-founder of STDTestExpress.com, about the ever-rising rates of sexually transmitted infections in our country, and the fact that, despite popular perception, it's not just teenagers and college kids being diagnosed with gonorrhea and genital warts.
Is the current trend towards women and men being more careful and practicing safer sex, or are people becoming more lax as treatments for HIV and other STDs improve?
While it's hard to really know what people are doing in the dark, there are a few studies that can help us see how practices may be trending. We found it interesting that it's the grownups who are more lax than younger people. The New York Department of Health and Mental Hygiene found that among single people with at least two sexual partners, 56% of people over age 45 reported using condoms the last time they had sex, compared with 61% of 25-to-44-year-olds and 80% of 18-to-24-year-olds. You can speculate that older people are less concerned about safe sex because they're not worried about pregnancy. Or, blame Viagra, Facebook, online dating, midlife divorce, and basic lack of awareness. STD Awareness campaigns tend to focus on teenagers, but we need to educate and test everyone who's active.
I'm in a committed relationship. Why should getting tested matter to me?
Two main reasons: First, it's possible to have an STD for years and not know it. Sixteen percent of the U.S. population between the ages of 14 and 49 has genital herpes...and that's just the reported cases. The CDC estimates that more than 80% of the people who have the herpes simplex 2 virus have no idea they are infected. Often, the only way to know if you have an STD is to get tested. If you and your partner have not been tested, get it done. Second reason -- only one of you may actually be committed to your relationship. If you suspect that your partner may not be completely monogamous, you may want to get tested to protect yourself.
Do people in their 40s and 50s need to be concerned about STDs? Why?
STDs are not something that only affects young people. In fact, the highest number of newly acquired cases of HIV/AIDS have been found in middle aged adults, ages 35 to 44. Next highest age group? Ages 45 to 54. The least affected group is the youngest group between the ages of 25 to 34.
I've heard of more women in their 60s and up becoming infected with HIV. Why is this?
Women in their 60s are not worried about getting pregnant so they are less likely to use condoms when they have sex. This is astonishing, but one out of every 10 people diagnosed with AIDS in the United States is over age 50. Women are at risk if they have more than one sexual partner or are recently divorced or widowed and have started dating and having unprotected sex again. This is particularly worrisome because some age-related changes make older women more vulnerable to STDs. Declining immunity, increasing vaginal dryness, and a gradual thinning of the vaginal walls also boost risks of contracting HIV and other STDs.
Do doctors and ob/gyns routinely test for STDs in annual physical exams?
The answer is yes and no. There's widespread inconsistency in private practice for a variety of reasons, most of which are biased assessments of risk behavior on the part of the doctor. While the CDC urges annual HIV and STD testing for all sexually active adults, few doctors routinely test their patients. Herpes testing is rarely done routinely. If you want to get tested, you have a few options. You can ask your doctor explicitly for the tests. You can get doctor-supervised lab tests through a trusted service like STDTestExpress. Or you can find a free clinic in your area.