Routine testing for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) is a vital part of maintaining a healthy sexual life. If you are having sex, whether protected or not, you need to regularly check if you have contracted any STI in order to get proper treatment before the condition worsens, and prevent spreading it to your unsuspecting partner(s) through penetrative or oral sex.
Most STIs do not show visible signs that indicate their presence, and when they do, they are usually overlooked. When left untreated, an STI can result in cancer, infertility, or organ damage.
STI testing can be done at any standard hospital or laboratory. It is a non-invasive process that is quick and as easy as peeing into a specimen bottle, dropping it at the laboratory, and waiting for the test result. For privacy and quicker results, HIV self-testing (HIVST) kits are available for use in the comfort of your home.
While there are different types of contraceptives that prevent unplanned pregnancies, only condoms simultaneously prevent pregnancy and contracting STIs. Dental dams, as well, prevent transmission of an infection through oral sex.
I spoke to six young Nigerians about their experience of STI testing and here are their stories.
Adunni, Female, 21
My introduction to STI testing happened on ‘Freshers Weekend’ at my university, when new students were given free condoms and flyers for an STI clinic at a stand on the school campus. I was 17 years old at the time and wasn’t sexually active, but I felt great that my school was being so open about sexual health. This instilled a culture of testing in me, even before I began having penetrative sex.
The first STI testing I did was just a routine test. I felt like I should go and get checked because of the prior knowledge I had. For over one year now, I have been going for my monthly routine testing. I find it moderately affordable.
Getting tested often has made me very aware of my body and how delicate the female reproductive system is. It has also made sex more enjoyable for me, because there is no worry or guilt about infections. And even if anything comes up, I can get it sorted quickly.
To every young Nigerian out there having sex: PLEASE GET TESTED OOO!
If you ever get tested and your results are positive for any STI, don’t feel dirty or ashamed. You can get treated and everything will be fine. Being ashamed of having an STI is a form of purity culture that you have to unlearn.
Also, be honest and open with your sexual partners at all times and only do what you are comfortable with. Do not ever put yourself at risk or inconvenience yourself for another person’s pleasure.
Lastly, always take care of yourself.
Fe, Male, 22
When I was in secondary school, some people came to my school to do free HIV tests. They also educated us on what STIs are and the importance of being tested frequently.
After this time, I did not get tested until when I had to do some documentation that required certain medical tests; so I did STI tests along with the required tests.
Since then, I have been getting tested for the past four years. I do the tests whenever I go for malaria tests. And I have malaria frequently.
Usually, I go for my routine STI testing in a 3-6 months interval, but 2020 has been tight; I have been indoors most of it.
I ensure to do the tests often because I do not like wearing a condom during sex.
Soso, Female, 26
I learnt about STI testing in school, but the first time I paid attention to it was when I was about to have a surgery for keloid excision; it was routine. After the surgery, I went for my next STI testing when I decided to have unprotected sex for the first time. Since then, I have been going to the hospital for six years to get tested every quarter. Getting tested frequently makes me feel safe enough to explore and experience different partners.
I advise young Nigerians who are sexually active to have safe sex, and make sure their partners are willing and engaging participants from start to finish. They should be honest, open and willing to learn. Get tested often with your partner(s) and centre their pleasure as much as yours.
Chiedoziem, Male, 25
My first introduction to STI testing happened when an NGO was doing free tests for students in my university. Curious to see how the testing was done, I went to get tested too. I have been going for my routine testing for six years, usually once in two years.
STD testing isn’t very affordable for me, and I think it should be free.
Ola, Female, 24
I have known about STI testing since I was a teenager, but I only began paying attention to it in 2019 when my close friend had to do it. Yet, I am still not on any routine for STI testing. I only did it when I was scared I could have an STI because one of my partners was showing symptoms for it, and eventually turned out to have an infection when he got tested. I know I should have a routine for STI testing, but I have only done it once in the one year duration I have been sexually active.
STI testing is very affordable for me. Even if I were to be doing it every three months, it would still be affordable for me.
Dayo, Female, 22
About a year ago, I went to the hospital for an ultrasound, but the scan result showed an infection I had no clue I had until then. That was what led to my first and continuous STI testing. For more than a year, I have been going to the hospital for STI tests every three months. Doing these tests has made me and my partners conscious of our sexual lives.
The tests are not affordable and are highly inaccessible for me, because I am a person living with a disability. The healthcare workers always make me feel uncomfortable whenever I go for these tests.
If you are reading this, this is the voice of reason reminding you to develop a plan for routine STI testing, mark your calendar, set reminders, and begin a saving plan for it (if you have to).
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About the author: Emitomo Tobi Nimisire is a writer, sexual and reproductive health and rights advocate, and communications strategist. She blogs at nimisire.wordpress.com.