Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)

Also called sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), STIs are infections that can spread during sex via contact with skin, semen, vaginal fluids, blood, breast milk, and the anus. Depending on the STI, transmission can occur during sexual activity that exposes one person to another’s skin, mouth, genitals, or anus.

Examples of STIs include chlamydia, gonorrhea, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV/AIDS), herpes, hepatitis, human papillomavirus (HPV), syphilis, and trichomoniasis. Many people with STIs do not experience symptoms and might not know they have an STI.

Not engaging in any sexual activity is the only 100% effective method for preventing STIs. When used properly during every sex act, barriers such as condoms and oral dams prevent the transmission of STIs. You and your partner(s) can reduce the risk of contracting or transmitting STIs by always using barrier methods during sexual activity.

For more information on specific STIs, please visit the websites for the Boston Public Health Commission and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Here’s a video from Planned Parenthood to explain more about STDs.

Why should I get tested for STIs?

  • STIs are common: The CDC estimates that 50% of new infections occurring in people aged 15–24.
  • Many people with STIs do not experience symptoms and do not know they have an STI.
  • You can contract an STI even if your partner does not have symptoms and does not know they have an STI.
  • You can contract an STI even if you have only had one sexual partner or you only have oral sex.
  • Left untreated, STIs can cause long-term health complications such as pain and infertility and make it more likely you will contract additional STIs.
  • The only way to know if you have an STI is to get STI testing (sometimes referred to as “STI screenings”) from a healthcare provider. Different STIs require different types of testing.

Information courtesy of the Boston Public Health Commission and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

STI testing

The only way to know your STI status with certainty is to get a medical STI test, sometimes called an STI screening.

When and how often should you get screened? Courtesy of the Boston Public Health Commission:

You should be tested [for STIs]:

  • If you have symptoms
  • Every year (even if you don’t have any symptoms) if you are a sexually active and age 24 years or younger
  • If you change sex partners
  • If you have more than one sex partner
  • If your partner has more than one sex partner
  • If you do not use a condom or dental dam EVERY TIME you have sexual intercourse”

If I’m under 18, can I get tested without my parents’ permission?
Yes. In Massachusetts, if you are age 13 or older you can get a confidential STI test without your parents’ permission – it’s the law!”

Testing sites: All Northeastern students can receive STI testing at UHCS. In addition, there are off-campus testing locations available in Boston. Click here for more information about STI testing at UHCS and other sites.

What should I expect when getting tested? What should I ask about?

For more information about testing, please refer to the Boston Public Health Commission and the CDC.

For additional trusted information about STI testing, please visit the Bedsider website.

Asking your partner(s) about STI testing

Here are some things to keep in mind when having this conversation with your partner(s):

  • Find a good place and time for the conversation. It can be a harder conversation to start in the middle of sex. Try to have the conversation earlier rather than later.
  • Think about how you would like to bring up the topic of STI testing. Here are a few examples of ways to start the conversation:
    • “My sexual health is important to me so I always check in about testing. Before things go any further, would you be willing to get tested?”
    • “I think it’s a good idea to get tested. Would you be willing to go with me?”
    • “I want to go further with you but I’ll enjoy it much more knowing about your STI status. Have you been tested?”

Start by telling them about your own testing and sexual history and then ask them to do the same. For example, “Before we go any further, I wanted to let you know that I’ve been tested and I don’t have [specific STIs you got screened for]. You’re the first person I’ve been with since then… what about you?”

Check out these videos by Laci Green and Planned Parenthood for more tips on talking to your partner about testing:

How to talk about STD testing & screening

Wrap your junk before you bump

Telling your partner(s) you have an STI

If STI testing reveals you have an STI, you should share this information with all sexual partners you’ve had since your last screening so your previous and current partner(s) can get screened and receive medical treatment, if appropriate. Here are some guidelines about disclosing that you have an STI:

  • Choose a time where you have a private space, are free from distractions, and have plenty of time to talk. Ideally, this should happen when you are sober and before you are intimate, if you are speaking with a current partner(s).
  • Think about a way to state clearly and directly which STI(s) you have. Here are some idea of ways you could bring it up:
    • “I really like you. Before things go any further with us I wanted to tell you that I contracted _____ in my last relationship.”
    • “There’s something I want to talk to you about before things go any further with us. A couple years ago I got ____.”
    • “I want you to know that I have _____.”
  • Explain what it means for you and for them: You may choose to share information about your symptoms and medical treatment, if applicable. Remember, you and your partner(s) can use barrier methods such as condoms and oral dams to minimize the chance you partner(s) contracts the STI you have.
  • Give your partner space to ask questions.

See the next section for information about barrier methods and check out Frisky Husky to order free safer sex supplies you can use together.

Depending on what you and your partner want and need, you have the option to bring your partner with you to UHCS so that you can talk together with a healthcare provider about treatment and next steps.

Here are some videos from Planned Parenthood about telling your partner(s) you have an STI:

How to tell someone you have an STD