“So … are you STD-free?”
… Probably not the opening line you want to use on a date.
In fact, it’s a pretty awkward question all around, one that a lot of people are flat-out afraid to ask.
In fact, you may wonder what the etiquette is here. How do you ask a casual partner about STDs? What about someone you are seeing in a more serious way? When do you pop this dreaded question? If you do it too soon, it could be seen as presumptuous. Do it too late, and you can kill the mood. At that rate, can you even believe the answer the person gives you—especially if you just met?
Well, truth be told, there is only one way you can know that someone is STD-free, and that is for them to get tested and for you to ask to see the results.
Hopefully you are only having unprotected sex with people you trust (even then, you cannot be sure someone is clean). Obviously for casual sex, you should be using a condom.
But you should also not be hinging your health and well-being on their answer. A lot of people are truthful. Many are not.
This is especially true where sex is concerned. When someone thinks they are about to get laid, they are often going to be thinking with their raging chemicals, not with their brains. And they may decide that a moral compass is overrated.
Signs Someone Might Have an STD
So you may be looking for other ways to tell if someone has an STD. Again, there is no way to be certain, but you can alert for signs of high-risk situations. Here are a few to be on the lookout for:
- Bumps or scabs. These might appear on the genitals or the mouth. A few different STDs can result in bumps, sores, blisters, warts and so on. These include HSV-1 (oral herpes) and HSV-2 (genital herpes) as well as HPV and Molluscum contagiosum. If bumps ooze and then start to heal, they scab over. Just remember, not every bump or scab is an STD symptom. Sometimes an ingrown hair is just an ingrown hair, and razor burn is just razor burn.
- A sore throat may sometimes be a red flag. This symptom may result from a variety of STDs, including HPV, HIV, chlamydia, syphilis and gonorrhea. With gonorrhea, the throat glands may swell. Syphilis produces lesions which may be white or gray in color. HIV may result in a yellow or white fungal infection. Sometimes, if symptoms are severe enough, a person may have difficulty swallowing or speaking. Of course, he or she could just have a really bad cold.
- Sometimes a rash is the result of an STD. For example, syphilis in the secondary stage can lead to a red or brown rash which appears on the soles of the feet and/or the palms of the hands. This rash does not itch. Sometimes though, a rash on the hands or feet could just be the result of a skin allergy.
- Pink eye may sometimes be caused by STDs. Herpes, chlamydia and gonorrhea all can result in it. That being said, there are a lot of other reasons a person might have pink eye which have nothing to do with sex.
- Flu-type symptoms are often a sign of the flu—but not always. Sometimes they indicate another underlying health problem, and in some cases, it may be an STD. HIV, syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia may all cause flu-like symptoms. These can include chills, fever, nausea, fatigue and even pain in the joints.
- Someone who has meningitis or encephalitis could have an STD, depending on his or her history. The herpes virus can cause both of these infections.
You get the idea here. STDs can easily mask as other conditions like flus, colds, allergies, razor burn, and so on. The converse is true as well however. Sometimes these symptoms point toward nothing more than someone having a flu, a cold, allergies, razor burn, or something else totally unrelated to sexually transmitted disease.
Other Situations Which Carry Extra Risk
Because not everyone who has an STD displays symptoms of infection, there are other situations where you might also want to be extra careful.
Some people are more likely to be exposed to STDs than others. If you are having casual sex for example, there is a good chance your partner also regularly has casual sex. This certainly increases his or her risk, especially if that casual sex is also unprotected.
Then there are occupations where people may be exposed to STDs. The obvious ones are of course prostitutes, porn stars, and so on.
But that is not the full extent of the list. Think about medical professionals. While first responders, OB/GYNs and other medical workers are trained to protect themselves, there are still situations where they might be exposed. This also applies to aid workers.
Janitors and housekeeping staff may sometimes come into contact with sexual fluids as well in the course of their jobs.
You might say, “Well, if my partner is a medical professional, surely she knows better than to simply assume she is clean.” Well, that would be nice, wouldn’t it?
But just because someone is a medical professional, that does not mean that he or she always follows intelligent recommendations. Some doctors smoke or drink. Others may neglect to get an STD test after unintentional exposure. There may also be situations where an aid worker or first responder has no idea that he or she was exposed.
So if your partner has one of these high-risk positions, there is a greater chance that he or she might have contracted and STD. Is it a high chance? Probably not in most of these cases, but it is still worth thinking about.
Finally, it is a sensitive topic, but someone who has been raped or sexually assaulted could also have contracted an STD. While many people who go through a situation like this get tested immediately, others may foolishly skip it out of shame or dread. So be aware of that.
Other Tips for Safe Sex
- If you have specific reasons not to trust someone, you probably should not be having sex with them. Of course, you should not trust strangers, and you might still want to hop into bed with them. If so, use protection, period.
- You do not need to be shy about asking someone if they have been tested. Just say something like, “I want to let you know before we go much further that my most recent STD test was on (date). My results were (describe your results). Have you been tested?”
- If someone reacts poorly to being asked about their STD status, or if they try to dance around the question, you should be very suspicious. Whether or not they have STDs, they are pretty immature, and probably not suitable as a partner. And no, this should not be a “trust” issue. Even if you have been seeing someone for a while, the question should be blatantly asked.
- If you refuse to ask about STDs, you may have a serious maturity issue. This is a matter of basic respect for yourself and your partner(s).
- Some people simply assume they are STD-free. This isn’t good, especially if they make a fuss about it. This is why the correct question is never, “Do you have any STDs?” It is always “Have you been tested for STDs?” It is perfectly possible for someone to carry an STD without having symptoms. Even someone who only had one partner a decade or more ago could have an STD and have no idea. This person should get tested. He or she does not have a right to get angry if you insist on it.
- When in doubt, just walk away. Nothing is forcing you to have sex with someone you are uncomfortable with. If you feel something is amiss, then spare yourself the frantic, endless hours of wondering whether you could have an STD, and just refuse to have sex with that person.
- Don’t put yourself in a situation where you are going to lose perspective. It is a lot easier to walk away from someone when you still have all or most of your clothes on than it is when you are seconds from getting it on and you are both stark naked. So ask the question about STD testing before you get to that point.
How to Tell If You Have an STD Yourself
Of course, the person you are worrying about might not be somebody else. It is entirely possible you landed on this page because you are wondering whether it is possible that you could have an STD.
The answer is the same here as it is for evaluating someone else. If you display symptoms of an STD and/or you have potentially been exposed through sexual activity, you could be infected.
The only way to be sure is to get tested. Thankfully this has never been faster or easier. You do not even need to go to the doctor’s office anymore. You can order online STD testing.
In fact, you can start the process right here on our site. Click here to begin.