illustration of a person who has a coral fingernails holding a clear test tube in their left hand a white swab in their right hand; the instructions for their at-home STI testing kit are visible on the table below their hands
Illustration by Maya Chastain

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The public health crisis has been caused by the COVID-19 epidemic.

But there’s a congruent health crisis that the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention declared a growing epidemic: the rise of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and infections (STIs).

The COVID-19 Pandemic affected access to in-person testing, treatment, and preventive care. Experts think so.

The intersection of the two types of viruses is explained in the following paragraphs. Where to get a test for STI?

“Most STIs don’t make themselves known with painful, awkward, or bumpy symptoms, despite common belief.”

“If you don’t know if you have a symptomatic or not, you should get it checked out.”

The only way to treat an STD is to have it diagnosed.

“The general recommendation is that everybody who’s sexually active gets tested once a year unless they’ve been in a monogamous relationship for a long time and are certain of their partner’s status,” says Dr. Emily Rymland, DNP, FNP-C, director of clinical operations at Nurx, a digital healthcare platform.

She says that some people need to be tested more often.

This includes people who are not related to each other.

  • Have new partners frequently.
  • “They are not sure of a partner’s status.”
  • They were exposed to an STD.
  • Unusual symptoms can be experienced.

FYI: You may not be able to get tested for STIs and COVID-19 at the same time

COVID-19 isn’t an STI. But, due to the closeness of bodies and likely exchange of infectious respiratory particles, COVID-19 can be transmitted during sex.

Knowing your COVID-19 and STI status is important.

“Most of the testing centers don’t test for COVID-19 and most of the testing centers don’t test for STIs.”

Clinics that do have the capacity to test for both COVID-19 and STIs may require that each test be performed in separate appointments for insurance purposes.

“Most insurance companies don’t consider symptoms for the two to be connected health concerns because they are different. Insurers won’t cover COVID-19 testing unless symptoms are present.”

If you want to get tested for both COVID-19 and STIs at the same time, you should call your local clinic and check their protocols.

You may need to visit two different clinics to learn your status.

Some of the testing centers are still at a limited capacity, but others have returned to their regular schedule.

These are the testing sites for STI.

Click the above links or hit up Google to find your local testing site. You can also check out our round-up of STI testing locations available in each state, in Washington, D.C., and online.

You can also get tested with at-home STD test kits.

Most clinics have protocols in place to protect the people getting tested and the ones giving the tests.

When you arrive, most clinics will have you call them, and then ring you when it is your turn.

You need to wear a mask indoors. Even if your state does not have indoor mask mandates.

Some clinics will ask you about your recent COVID-19 exposure before allowing you inside, and you will also be taken to the door for a temperature.

“You can learn more about the testing center’s protocols by visiting their website or calling them.”

It is similar to how you would mitigate the risk of doing anything during the Pandemic if you were to get a STD.

  • Wear a mask (or two).
  • Stay at least 6 feet away from your clinician or clinic staff.
  • Before and after the appointment, wash your hands.
  • It is a good idea to avoid touching surfaces.

“It’s easy to test for STI at home. It allows you to do it without having to go to a lab or talk to a medical provider.”

Here is how they work.

  • You order an at-home STI testing kit to your home, which includes everything you need to collect your sample(s).
  • You open the box and follow the instructions to get your samples.
  • You mail your samples to the lab and wait for your results via email or patient portal.

“A perk of at-home STI tests is that they [can] cost less than in-person visits for those who aren’t insured,” says Rashmi Kudesia, MD, medical advisor for SimpleHealth, an online prescriber of birth control for folks of all genders.

She says that they are a way for people who have insurance to side-step it if they want to keep their privacy. Those who were unfaithful to their partner and share an insurance plan with those who are covered under parental insurance are examples.

Kudesia says that at- home STI tests are reliable if you follow the directions for collecting specimen.

After all, most at-home STI services send the samples you collected to the same labs doctor-collected samples are sent to, says public health expert Charlene Brown, MD, MPH.

timeliness is the main downside of at- home tests. You have to wait for the kit to arrive, then send it back in, and wait for your results.

If you know you are at risk for exposure or have symptoms that are active, at- home tests may not be the best way to treat.

“Take your coronaviruses contraction risk into account when you decide to have STI treatment. To make an accurate decision, you should know what your testing site’s COVID-19 protocols are.”

The following brands have popular at- home testing kits.

Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is an oral medication that can be taken daily for HIV-negative people who are at risk of contracting HIV. PrEp helps reduce that risk of transmission.

“Many people who could benefit fromPrEP aren’t taking it. This was true before the epidemic.”

Lincoln Mondy, the associate director of strategic projects at Advocates for Youth, says it’s due in part to the marketing of the medication as well as its limited ability.

“On one hand, PrEP has become overly gendered, often exclusively associated with ‘men who have sex with men,’” Mondy says. “[This] erases nonbinary, trans, queer, fluid, and other people that could stand to benefit from PrEP.”

This, again, is any HIV-negative person at risk of contracting the virus.

“On the other hand, research has shown that one in eight PrEP-eligible people live in ‘PrEP deserts,’ or at least a 30-minute drive from a clinic where they can access PrEP,” Mondy adds.

To help address this, digital providers, like Nurx and PlushCare, offer PrEP and other reproductive care to Americans of all genders through telehealth.

Are people actually having less sex during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Yes and no!

It’s true that people were having less sex when in lockdown than before the pandemic started. June 2020 research, for example, reported a dramatic decrease in partnered sexual experiences in 2020 compared to the previous year.

Everyone is having sex. People were still getting it on even during periods of social separation.

As Eric Paulukonis, director of prevention services at the Mazzoni Center, told The Philadelphia Inquirer, “We know from hookup apps and conversations with patients that people are still sexually active with partners they aren’t quarantined with.”

He says it means people are having sex less frequently.

But neither the amount someone has sex nor the number of sexual partners someone has are good indicators of STI transmission risk.

Here are some better indications of someone’s sexual health:

  • How often do they get tested for STDs?
  • which barrier methods they use during sexual activity
  • if they use barrier methods correctly and consistently
  • if they talk about STI status and safer sex practices with their partner(s)

As for after social distancing orders were put into place? Rymland says people are still having sex.

She says that sexual activity has not declined since the onslaught of the COVID-19 Pandemic.

There is no data on how vaccinations affect sexual activity. People who get jabbed start to have partner sex, according to common sense.

Does developing COVID-19 make you more likely to contract an STI?

“If you have COVID-19, you don’t increase your risk of contracting an STD. Having an STD doesn’t make you more likely to contract it. There is no research suggesting this kind of link.”

That is not the intersection of the two viruses we are suggesting.

What is the intersection we’re suggesting? Well, the COVID-19 pandemic greatly impacted people’s access to STI testing, safer sex barriers, preventive medication, and treatment. But it didn’t change how much sex people were having that much.

“According to healthcare officials, the result of this one-two punch is that more people have sexually transmitted infections. Even if they don’t know their current status. More on this below.”

Has COVID-19 affected STI test availability?

“The pandemic had a serious impact on STI testing,” says Rymland. In short: It greatly reduced it.

She says that many brick-and-mortar clinics closed during the epidemic. School health clinics are closed.

Many urban community centers, which are major providers of healthcare and sexual health services (especially for LGBTQIA+ communities), also announced they would limit their in-person visits. Even local Planned Parenthood centers reduced hours or suspended walk-in appointments.

Hospitals in the COVID-19 area were encouraged to improve their resources and so sexual health services were reduced.

In total, over 80 percent of STD programs across the U.S. paused services and community visits throughout this time, according to a May 2020 survey by the National Coalition of STD Directors.

Two years after their initial closing, many testing centers are still not back and running “as usual.” Take New York, for example. To this day, the NYC Health Clinics are either operating at reduced capacity or closed until further notice.

Does COVID-19 affect STI rates?

A drop in overall testing will result in a drop in positive tests.

Indeed, one 2021 report found that between March 2020 and September 2021, the number of reported STI cases was 51% less than expected.

But this drop, according to experts, isn’t a reflection of a decrease in the number of people living with STIs.

Rather, it’s a reflection of the decrease in people who have gotten STI tested and the increase in undetected infections.

Asymptomatic cases were especially likely to go undiagnosed (and untreated), per a September 2021 study by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

There are a lot of people with undiagnosed STIs.

Pleasure seekers have had to change their sex practices due to a combination of closed testing sites, limited in-person appointments, and concerns about contracting COVID-19.

“Now that the COVID-19 vaccine is available, it’s a good time to get tested.”

Enjoy your new life knowing your status.

Gabrielle Kassel is a New York-based sex and wellness writer and CrossFit Level 1 Trainer. She’s become a morning person, tested over 200 vibrators, and eaten, drunk, and brushed with charcoal — all in the name of journalism. In her free time, she can be found reading self-help books and romance novels, bench-pressing, or pole dancing. Follow her on Instagram.