Many sexually active men don’t realize the importance of getting checked regularly for Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) and HIV. Even the ones that know they ought to go are often anxious about or unsure of what’s going to happen when they get there.
HOW DO MEN GET STIs?
STIs and HIV are passed during unprotected oral, anal, or vaginal sex with an infected person. A man can get an STI if he has sex with other men, with women, or with both men and women. A man can get an STI when he is giving or receiving oral sex. A man can get an STI if he is engaging in anal sex, whether he is penetrating or being penetrated. A man can get an STI during vaginal intercourse. A man can get an STI if he is having unprotected sex with an infected partner, no matter who the partner is, no matter what they’re doing.
HOW ARE MALES TESTED FOR STIs?
The first thing the clinician will do is ask about the patient’s sexual history. S/he will likely want to know how many partners the patient has had in the past year and also in his lifetime. The clinician will want to know if the patient has sex with men, with women, or both. The clinician will also ask if the patient has noticed any symptoms of infection recently.
Then the physical exam will begin. The clinician will feel the testicles, scrotum, and penis for any lumps or abnormalities. S/he will also press on the lower abdomen, to see if there are any sensitive areas. The clinician will also look closely at the genitals to see if there are any warts or sores visible.
By squeezing gently on the head of the penis, the health care provider will check for unusual discharge. S/he may also use a swab (much smaller than a Q-tip) to get a culture from the urethra by inserting it gently into the opening at the end of the penis. Most men experience very little discomfort (or none at all) during the test. Depending on the type of intercourse that the patient engages in, the clinician may also perform a swab of the throat or of the rectum (butt). There are some STIs that can be detected with a blood test. The clinician will help the patient decide what tests are right for him.
After the exam, the clinician should take the time to answer any questions that the man has and also tell him when and how he can get his test results.
WHAT ARE SOME COMMON SYMPTOMS OF STIs IN MEN?
It is important to know that some men don’t show any symptoms of Sexually Transmitted Infections, even if they do have an infection. However, men should be aware of the common symptoms of STIs:
o Pain/burning during urination (peeing)
o Unusual discharge from the penis (may be watery, white, reddish-brown, yellow, or green)
o Discharge that smells bad
o Warts, sores, bumps, blisters, or rashes around the mouth, genitals, or anus
o Lumps or bumps along the penis or on the testicles.
If a man develops any of these symptoms, he should contact a health care provider right away.
HOW OFTEN SHOULD I GET CHECKED FOR STIs?
How often a man should go to get tested for STIs depends on whether or not he is sexually active. If he has ever been sexually involved with another person, he might want to consider getting checked for STIs and also for HIV. If he is currently sexually active with only one partner who is only sexually active with him, both partners should get checked before having intercourse. As long as the couple remains monogamous (only having sex with each other), and neither of them has an STI or HIV, there is no risk of infection. In general, men who engage in sexual behavior with other people should get checked once a year, or more often if they have a symptom of an infection.
WHERE CAN I GO TO GET STI TESTING DONE?
If a man has a regular doctor or health care provider and he feels comfortable doing so, he can make an appointment to have STI testing done there. The other option is a reproductive health facility; the Family Planning Association has a Male Services Clinic. Some reproductive health clinics and physician’s offices offer HIV testing. If a male wants to have an HIV test that is free or anonymous, he should visit a separate HIV test site.
HOW MUCH DOES STI TESTING COST?
The cost of STI testing depends on the provider doing it. Most reproductive health clinics operate on a sliding fee scale, asking patients to pay only what they are able to afford. Depending on the type and number of tests that are done, a visit to a doctor’s office would likely cost $50-$250. Some insurance companies will pay all or part of the costs associated with STI testing