STI testing not perfect (surprised?)

Often I get a sense from my students and from readers that a) you can get tested for "everything" and b) that if you get tested and your tests come back negative, then you definitely do not have a STI. Unfortunately, neither is true. We cannot, for example, currently test men for the human papillomavirus (HPV) except in a few research studies where imperfect, and difficult, testing is used (researchers are working on finding a cost-effective, accurate and comfortable HPV test for men). We also do not have routine testing available for infections such as those caused by m. genitalium. Then there are cases where there are unusual variants of common infections and they escape the typical testing done in clinics. 

This article describes a variant of chlamydia in Sweden that basically meant people were going in to get tested, getting negative test results but they really did have chlamydia – they just had a type that wasn’t picked up by the usual tests, so the testing had to be adjusted in order to begin getting more accurate test results to clients. The take-home messages are these: be honest with your healthcare provider about the types of sexual activity you engage in (e.g., vaginal intercourse, oral sex, anal sex), your number of partners, your last time being tested – and make sure to talk with and be honest with your sexual partner(s) about these topics too. Follow your healthcare provider’s recommendations for testing and treatment. 

And if you have genital symptoms (e.g., itching, discharge, vaginal bleeding) that don’t go away – don’t let a negative test result stop you from getting a second opinion or asking your healthcare provider what other things might be causing your symptoms and how you can be treated. If it’s at all possible that you have a STI, you want to get treated and often a course of certain antibiotics will be given to you even if you have a negative test result but have certain symptoms and no other determined cause. It’s your health so take care of it.

About Dr. Debby Herbenick

Dr. Debby Herbenick

Dr. Debby Herbenick is a sex researcher at Indiana University, sexual health educator at The Kinsey Institute, columnist, and author of five books about sex and love. Learn more about her work at