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Just the idea of being tested for a sexually transmitted infection (STI) is overwhelming for some, and that can keep people from being tested at all. So researchers at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine found a way to make the process a little easier.
They devised a quick quiz to help people assess their risk of having an STI. The quiz asks your age and gender, as well as the following questions:
- Have you had either (or both) a new sexual partner or multiple sexual partners in the last 90 days?
- Do you have more than one sex partner at the present time?
- Have you ever been told you had or been treated for a sexually transmitted infection in the past?
- How many sex partners have you had in the past 90 days?
- When you have sex, do you use a condom?
After taking the test, the quiz assigns you a score and tells you whether you have a low, intermediate, high, or very high risk of having an STI. All questions aren’t created equal — some, such as condom use and your number of sexual partners, are weighted more heavily than others.
The quiz’s questions were tested through research on 836 women and 558 men in their early 20s. The results were published in the journal Sexually Transmitted Infections.
According to the study, the majority of people who took the quiz didn’t receive a high-risk score, and only 14 percent of women and 7 percent of men had an STI. But women who received a high-risk score were at a much greater risk of actually having an STI: They were four times more likely to have chlamydia, gonorrhea, or trichomoniasis.
“We tried to pick things that were easy for someone to answer, fast, and non-threatening,” study co-author Charlotte Gaydos, DrPH, MVH, a professor of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, tells Yahoo Health.
Some questions, like condom use and number of sexual partners, are more obvious, but what about the others? Melissa Goist, MD, an ob/gyn at The Ohio State Wexner Medical Center, tells Yahoo Health that these questions aren’t uncommon — they’re usually the questions she asks when patients come in for a general exam to decide if they need STI testing.
As for the question about whether you’ve had an STI in the past, women’s health expert Jennifer Wider, M.D., says there is a link between having had an STI and your risk of getting one in the future. “Studies show that some STIs can increase a woman’s risk of getting HIV and other STIs because they cause vaginal irritation and vaginal sores,” she says. “This makes it easier for bodily fluids, like semen, to gain entry inside a woman’s body, resulting in additional infections.”
Age may seem arbitrary, but according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 15- to 24-year-olds account for half of all new STI infections — even though they make up just one quarter of the sexually active population.
And if you’re wondering why the women were twice as likely as men to have an STI, Wider tells Yahoo Health that that’s just the way it is. “Men are less likely to get an STI when compared with women, just based on biology,” she says. The cells found in a woman’s cervix may make female more susceptible to certain STIs like chlamydia, for example.
People who take the quiz and live in Maryland or Washington, D.C., can sign up to receive a free STI kit. Simply take a vagina, penile, or rectal swab, send it back, and wait to get your results. As for the rest of the test-takers, Goist still urges regular STI testing — regardless of your score. “Anyone who is interested in taking the quiz should consider being tested,” she says. “Testing is easy and fairly painless.”