If you’re about to have sex with a new partner, before engaging in sexual activity, you should ask them about STDs. If they tell you they don’t have any STDs, you should ask them when they were last tested. It’s not for lack of trust; you’re asking because, unfortunately, the possibility of having an STD—even if they’re convinced they don’t have one—is still very real.
How can that be?
Even if your partner has been tested, it’s still possible that they might have an infection and not know. The results of an STD test are only as accurate as they were at the time and date someone got tested. In most cases, you can trust that your partners’ tests results as accurate, as long as no sexual activity has occurred after the testing.
However, there are some instances in which they might have received a false negative test result at the time of their testing. This typically happens if they are tested too soon after coming into contact with an infection. This is because some STDs take a while to develop fully in your body. Take the human papilloma virus, for example: HPV doesn’t show up completely in the body for at least two months. And, at the latest, it can take half a year to fully manifest. So, if you get tested for HPV just days or weeks after having sex with a potentially infected partner, it’s possible that the virus simply won’t show up on your test results. But if you get tested closer to the two-month mark, when HPV has more fully developed in your body, the chances of a positive result are higher.
Consider a different sexually transmitted disease, like gonorrhea. Unlike HPV, this STD takes just days (roughly 2 to 5) to develop fully in someone who’s been infected. Thus, for gonorrhea, it’s better to get tested sooner rather than later. If you get tested between two and five days after engaging in sex with an infected partner, the disease is more likely to be visible on a test than if you’d waited weeks or months.
The time frames for these diseases aren’t random, either; there’s an actual scientific term for all of this: the “incubation period.” Every disease has a different incubation period, and so the optimal time to be tested for each varies depending on the type of STD you’ve been exposed to. As another insight into how much incubation periods can change from one disease to the next, an infection like chlamydia takes just 14 days to be fully present in a person’s body. For this reason, it would be wise to get tested two weeks after sexual activity with a partner who may have passed chlamydia to you.
So, if you’ve been wondering whether you can get an STD from someone who doesn’t have one, the answer is: it’s possible, because it’s possible that they do have one without knowing it. And while incubation periods have a lot to do with this, so do symptoms, or, in this case, the lack thereof.
Here’s why: Another major reason it’s hard to discern whether you or a partner has an STD is because many diseases never present symptoms. A sexually transmitted disease that rarely or never shows symptoms is referred to as being “asymptomatic.” So, you may be left wondering, “If symptoms never show up in my body, why should I get tested?” The skepticism is understandable, but it’s still a dangerous game to play. It’s always better to be safe than sorry. Any time you’re preparing to have sex with a new partner, both of you should get STD tested first. No, you may not show signs or symptoms of an STD, but that’s actually the most important time to check.
Finally, if you and a new partner are engaging in only oral sex, for example, because you think it’s “safer,” here’s the hard truth: You can still absolutely contract an STD this way. Unfortunately, it’s fairly common for sexually active people, especially young adults, to see themselves as virgins if they’re just having oral sex. To make matters worse, the belief that oral sex is risk-free is just as common. In fact, a recent study found that the “risk-free” factor ranks at the top of teenagers’ lists for whey they have oral sex instead of vaginal sex.
The truth is that oral sex is still sex, and it comes with its own share of infections and diseases. If you’ve recently had oral sex with a potentially infected partner, you could test positive for an STD.
At the end of the day, wondering whether you can get an STD from someone who doesn’t have one is normal, but ultimately leads to the same answer: maybe. Because of incubation periods, asymptomatic infections or misconceptions about sexual activity, sexually transmitted diseases are still a possibility. Find out for sure and get tested today.