Ask Kim: Why do we ask so many questions during STD testing?

Dear Kim,

I get an STD test regularly to keep myself and my partners safe, but I have a question about part of the testing process. Before the test, my provider always asks a ton of questions about my sex life, drug use, and relationships. To me, it seems kind of irrelevant. Why do providers always ask these questions? 

Love My Privacy

Dear Privacy,

You’re right that there are a ton of questions at STD testing appointments, and to a lot of people they can get tedious. However, there are good reasons for all the questions we ask. They help us give the best tips we can on reducing your risk of STDs and HIV. Here are some of the questions we ask, and why we ask them:

Are you sexually active? Sexual activity is the only way to contract an STD, so if you aren’t doing anything sexual with other people, you are not at risk for an STD. Therefore, we probably won’t recommend STD testing.

What body parts of other people do you have sexual contact with? Different sexual activities carry different risks – for example, oral sex is low risk for HIV but higher risk for many other STDs, while anal sex is the highest risk sexual activity for HIV. Mutual masturbation, on the other hand, is risk-free. If we know what kind of sex you are having, we can provide information on keeping yourself safe during that particular type of sex.

How many sexual partners have you had in the past year? More partners means more potential exposures to STDs, so we might recommend things like PrEP and consistent condom use to reduce the risk of STD exposure.

What drugs do you use, if any? Drugs can affect your judgment and make you more likely to take sexual risks; some drug use is also associated with HIV and Hep C infection, like if you share needles during intravenous drug use. We can make recommendations on drug harm reduction, as well as refer to healthcare services that can help you stop using drugs.

We are not here to judge you. Asking lots of questions about your sexual encounters and substance use helps us get a full picture of what risks you may be exposed to, so we can help you help yourself stay safe. The more information you give us, the better tailored recommendations we can provide.

Be well, Be Yourself!

Kim Adamski
HIV Prevention Specialist
Hartford Gay and Lesbian Health Collective

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