So, the other night was hot as fuck. But right now there’s something a little less enjoyable on your mind. That’s right. You might have “caught” something more than just feelings from your last hookup.
This can be a stressful situation. You probably have questions about what to do next. But that’s why we’re here. Read on to learn more about some key questions you might face AFTER a hookup.
Should I Panic?
No. You should definitely NOT panic. We’re still several steps away from determining whether or not you DID “catch” anything. And even if that’s the case, the world is far from over!
But I just checking online and I’m pretty certain I am going to die.
No. Seriously. Stop.
If you do enough digging online, you can turn an ingrown hair on your forearm into terminal brain cancer. People study for years in nursing or medical school to learn the necessary knowledge and skills needed to accurately diagnose things that are happening within your body. Hopping online to self-diagnose generally does nothing more than increase your anxiety – which does absolutely nothing to benefit your mental health.
That said, as much as an online “checkup” can prove problematic, there are some common symptoms or warning signs you can watch out for that might indicate you’ve got a bacterial STI:
Burning sensation during urination
Random or unusual discharge
Bumps or sores
Redness and itching in/around the anus or genitals
If you’re experiencing any of these after a recent sexual encounter (be it oral, anal or frontal), you should plan to get checked as soon as possible. The presence of these symptoms are not definite signs that you’ve got something (since the only way to know FOR SURE that you’ve got an STI is by getting tested). But if any of these signs are present, you should definitely get checked sooner rather than later.
Okay. So, if I’m not experiencing any symptoms that means I don’t have to get tested, right?
Good guess Sally. But no.
Many STIs are asymptomatic, particularly among cisgender men, meaning that even though you might not have any symptoms, there is a possibility that you might still have something. So, the lack of symptoms does not equate not having an STI.
Okay. But What about HIV?
HIV is a different story. Although some people might experience flu-like symptoms in the initial stages after HIV infection, others won’t notice anything. And even if you do experience flu-like symptoms, you probably won’t equate it with HIV – unless you’ve been spending too much time browsing WedMD.
The fact that many people don’t experience tell-tale signs of HIV infection likely contributes to the high undiagnosed HIV rate in Canada (about 20% of HIV-positive Canadians are unaware of their status). Therefore, it’s important that you get testing on a regular basis, whether or not your body is giving you signs that something might be up.
There are no concrete rules as to how often you should get tested, but sexually active GBTQ men should be tested at least once every 6 months – and potentially more often depending on how often they might have sex, how many different partners they might have, and what types of sex they are having.
Okay. You’ve convinced me. So, where can I get testing done?
There are several locations in Edmonton to get tested. All except for the last one are walk-in clinics so there is no need to make an appointment beforehand.
Edmonton STI Clinic – (11111 Jasper Avenue)
Monday: 8:30am – 5pm
Tuesday: 9:45am – 5pm
Wednesday: 8:30am – 6pm
Thursday: 8:30am – 6pm
Friday: 8:30am – 5pm
Wednesday: 6:15pm-8:15pm (Specifically for GBTQ men)
Westmount Centre Mall – (111 Ave and Groat Road)
Steamworks – (11745 Jasper Ave) (Specifically for GBTQ men)
East Edmonton Health Center – (7910 112 Ave)
Community Member Pharmacy – (10611 101 Street) (Rapid HIV Test ONLY)
Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday during daytime hours (By Appointment)
Testing can also be done through a family doctor or a walk-in clinic (i.e. medicentre). They will likely provide you with a requisition which indicates what you should be tested for. This can then be taken to a lab (like Dynalife) where you can get the testing done. Just keep in mind that not all healthcare providers always offer comprehensive HIV and STI testing. Depending on the types of sex you’re having you might want to ensure you’re getting additional forms of testing in addition to blood and urine such as a rectal swab and throat swab.
Okay. Thanks Boo. I’m gonna go get tested, like, right now.
Great! It never hurts to get tested.
But, if you’re concerned about a sexual encounter that happened just a couple of nights ago, you might want to consider “window periods.” Window periods are essentially the period of time from a potential exposure to HIV or an STI to the time it takes for the relevant test to provide an accurate result. As per the BC CDC’s Smart Sex Resource, the window period for HIV and bacterial STIs are as follows:
HIV: 95% of tests are accurate at 6 weeks but it can take up to three months to return a final result
Syphilis: 3-4 weeks
Gonorrhea: Most results are accurate after seven days
Chlamydia: Most results are accurate after two weeks
Again, it never hurts to get tested. And as mentioned earlier, routine testing is highly recommended. However, if a particular sexual encounter has you feeling nervous, going out and getting tested the next day is not an effective way to determine whether or not you’re in the clear. You’re going to want to make sure that you follow up to get tested after the window periods for the STIs in question have passed.
Okay. I took your advice and got tested. And, shit, I have _________.
Firstly, you are GOING TO BE FINE.
Secondly, you are FAR FROM the first person to get the call. So stand tall and proud. You had great sex. You got tested. And sure, you got something you didn’t bargain for. But at least now you can do something about it – which is far better than the alternative.
So, if something does come up during testing, you will be referred to treatment. And while not all STIs have a cure, they can all be treated and managed. For bacterial STIs such as chlamydia or gonorrhea, antibiotics will be prescribed to clear up the infection in 7-10 days.
On the other hand, some viral STIs like HIV have no cure. But upon diagnosis, people can access effective, low side-effect treatment which can help them achieve an undetectable viral load (so that they don’t pass the virus onto their partners) and live long, healthy lives.
Okay. I got treatment and things are good. But when they called to tell me I had ________, they had some other questions as well.
That’s right. Part of the way our healthcare system helps to control the rate of HIV and STI transmission is through something called the Partner Notification Process. To learn more about this process, we spoke to a couple of individuals who work within – or in partnership with – the program.
[This section was composed from several interviews with individuals involved in or knowledgeable of the partner notification. Special thanks to Logan Chinski and Dr. Ami Singh for their contributions}
So, what is Partner Notification?
Partner Notification a process by which the sexual partners of someone recently diagnosed with HIV or an STI are notified that they may have come into contact with HIV or an STI and should therefore seek testing.
Partner Notification is mandated under the Public Health Act (PHA) and is an effective way of preventing HIV and STI transmission as it enables those potentially exposed to HIV and STIs to be informed, seek testing, and – if needed – treatment. By treating the person, they essentially become “non-infectious” (due to being cured or becoming virally suppressed), meaning that they will not pass the infection onto others.
What type of information is generally asked of the recently diagnosed person?
The information requested will be the names and contact information of people the recently diagnosed person has had sexual contact with, within a relevant time frame. For HIV, the names and contact information of needle or drug equipment sharing partners and any children the person has given birth to within a relevant time frame may also be asked.
Who is asking this information and following up to contact sexual partners?
The Partner Notification Process is generally undertaken by specialized staff known as Partner Notification Nurses (PNN). When a test comes back positive, the lab will notify public health services who will then notify a PNN. For chlamydia and gonorrhea it’s technically the testing physician’s responsibility to notify and test sexual contacts but they can also seek assistance from a PNN if needed.
Is this the same for all STIs?
No. Partner Notification is only conducted for infections that are notifiable under the Alberta Public Health Act: HIV, chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, lymphogranuloma venereum, and chancroid.
What methods are used to contact sexual partners of someone recently diagnosed with HIV or an STI?
There are several approaches to partner notification but the most common is the “traditional” approach (provider referral), where the PNN contacts the partner(s) to advise them that they have may have been exposed to HIV or an STI and they should seek testing and/or treatment. There is also an option for “self-referral,” where the person diagnosed chooses to notify their sexual partners themselves.
Contact by a PNN is generally made by phone, although text and email are also options (and even SNAIL MAIL in some cases). There is no formal process in place in Alberta regarding social media contact although some other regions have implemented public health profiles on certain dating or hookup apps and sites for this purpose. In the meantime, individuals who are diagnosed can use social media or online apps and sites to notify partners themselves – particularly if this is how they met and they do not have the person’s name and/or phone number.
Ideally, if someone chooses to contact their sexual contacts themselves, they would still provide the name and date of birth to the PNN so that they could confirm once the person comes in to seek testing and treatment. However, in cases where someone is not comfortable providing that information, a “self-referral” or self-notification is better than no referral at all. Additionally, if the person changes their mind in the future and want the PNN to make the contacts instead, that’s always an option as well!
For some people, concerns about confidentiality might act as a barrier to them providing the names and contact information of their sexual partners. In what ways are people’s privacy protected?
That is totally understandable. To ensure the privacy and confidentially of the person providing the contact information of their sexual partners, the PNNs ONLY disclose to these partners that they have been potentially exposed to a particular STI. They do not disclose the name, date of exposure, place of sexual contact, what kind of sex (e.g. anal, vaginal), or any other health information.
If someone tests positive for an STI, how do they access treatment?
There are many options: The STI Clinic, Sexual Reproductive Health Clinics, doctors’ offices, walk-in clinics, mobile health services, and health centres in rural/remote areas.
Is the treatment free of charge?
YES! STI treatment is FREE! No prescription necessary!
[And back to us.]
Okay. But I’m still not buying it. There’s no way I’m giving some nurse I don’t know the names and contact information of everyone I’ve been getting fresh with. Plus, I don’t even have their names and numbers to begin with!
Yeah, we thought that might be the case. A lot of others feel the same way. Telling a stranger about who (and how many) people you’ve been sleeping with isn’t super fun. Plus, a lot of of people are meeting their partners online these days and may not have access to their name or phone number.
So what can you do if a) you don’t want to tell a healthcare provider who you’re sleeping with and/or b) don’t have their name or phone number, but c) want to do your part to stop the potential spread of STIs?
Yeah. What she said.
If you met a sexual partner on an online dating or hookup app/site, some of these apps/sites have really useful features you could use to track down past sexual partners if you need to get in touch with them. Here are a few things you might want to try:
1) Message History: Some apps/sites give you access to your message history. Depending on which platform you’re using and whether you are using a paid or free version, you may be able to see as little as the most recent dozen or so conversations you’ve had to a maximum of… well, forever!
2) Favourites: Some apps/sites allow you to “favourite” other users. This could provide a useful tool for potential partner notification in the future. For example, if the number of new sexual partners you meet on an app/site between HIV and STI tests is within your “favourites” limit, adding them to your “favourites” is a great way to be able to get in touch with them if something pops up on your next test. If your test comes back clear, you’re good to remove them and start fresh again.
3) Search: The power and specificity of search functions differs significantly depending on which site/app you’re using and whether or not you have a paid membership. However, if you’re not able to pop back into your message history or “favourites” to locate a previous sexual contact, the search function offers an additional option. On some apps/sites you can search using a variety of demographic information, someone’s username, and even words used in their profile. On others it’s much more limited. But again, it’s just one more option you might have at your disposal.