No Joke: April is the Month to Get Yourself Tested

STD testing should be a routine part of healthcare checkups.

OPINION -- Did you know that half of all sexually active young people in the United States will contract a sexually transmitted disease by the time they’re 25 — and that most won’t even know it? Or that young people account for a quarter of new HIV infections each year? Unfortunately, the startling rate of STDs among young people in this country is no April Fool’s Day joke.

This April, STD Awareness Month, the most important part of the month isn’t avoiding pranks or getting caught in April showers: It’s encouraging young people to educate themselves on sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and to get themselves tested.

Everyone deserves a sex life that is safe and healthy. Many sexually active young people may not realize that getting tested is part of basic preventive health care and can actually help improve their sex lives. But in fact, STDs impact young people the hardest. Half of the estimated 20 million sexually transmitted diseases in this country each year are in people younger than 25, although they represent only a quarter of people having sex.

That’s why Planned Parenthood Columbia Willamette has joined with MTV, the Kaiser Family Foundation and other organizations for the seventh year of the award-winning Get Yourself Tested (GYT) campaign. GYT is a national campaign that includes online and on-the-ground activities designed to promote sexual health among young people and address their disproportionately high rates of STDs — including HIV, chlamydia and gonorrhea.

A few things young people should know about getting tested and STDs:

  • Getting yourself tested for STDs is one of the most important things you can do to protect your health. STDs, if not treated, can lead to serious health outcomes such as increased risk of cervical cancer and infertility.
  • Getting tested is easy, quick and painless. For example, rapid HIV tests can provide results in 20 minutes from just a swab in the mouth. For other tests, all you have to do is urinate in a cup. No needles necessary.
  • The good news is that most STDs, including HIV, are treatable, and many are curable. The sooner you know your status, the sooner you can get treated. Not all medical checkups include STD testing — so unless you ask to be tested, don’t assume you were the last time you saw your doctor.
  • You can’t tell by looking at someone if they have an STD. Many STDs cause no symptoms. For example, 70 percent to 95 percent of women and 90 percent of men with chlamydia have no symptoms. On average, people with HIV don’t develop symptoms for 10 years. The only way to know your status for sure is to get tested.
  • Getting tested is important no matter who you are or where you live. Unfortunately, because of health inequities, some communities are harder hit by STDs than others. African Americans and Latinos account for dramatically disproportionate rates of new HIV infections. For African-American women, the rate of new HIV infections is 20 times higher than that for white women. For Latinos, the rate is more than four times higher than that of white women. Overall in the United States, men who have sex with men have the highest rates of HIV nationwide. Our health shouldn’t depend on who we are or where we live: Access to quality health care, resources and information is a fundamental right for all people to reach their fullest potential.

Planned Parenthood Columbia Willamette is proud to offer affordable STD testing, treatment, and sex education and information to help ensure that young people in Oregon and Southwest Washington stay healthy and safe. We work every day to reduce the rates of STDs — and our doors are open to everyone. To make an appointment at our Vancouver Health Center, call 888-576-PLAN.

This April, spread the word that STD testing should be a routine part of your healthcare checkups — especially if you’re a sexually active young person. It’s one of the easiest and most important things you can do to protect your health. No fooling.

Stacy M. Cross is President and CEO of Planned Parenthood Columbia Willamette, the largest nonprofit provider of sexual and reproductive health care and youth education programs in Oregon and Southwest Washington. For more information visit PPCW.org.

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