It was that time of year. STD testing time. It’s a routine part of the swing lifestyle … the duty of the proudly promiscuous. I made my appointment at the Chelsea Sexual Health Clinic, showed up, and submitted my samples.
Each time I visit an STD clinic I’m struck by how friendly the people working in them tend to be. Whereas when you give blood the people often treat you like you’re some kind of chore, when you go in to renew the inspection sticker on your genitalia the staff acts as if you’re doing something for the good of humanity. Don’t fear the STI clinic.
How often should swingers get tested for STIs?
It had been a good six months since my last STI panel. I usually aim for bi-annual checks. While this is less than what’s recommended for someone having new partners at my frequency (I average around a new partner per week), I haven’t had a positive STD result yet. The same goes for my wife, who is on a similar pace as me.
However, while my wife and I have many new partners we usually don’t engage in very risky behavior with them. We’re cool with giving and receive oral without a condom. Blowjobs, cunnilingus, analingus, we go raw. However, when having penetrative — vaginal or anal — sex with other partners we usually use protection.
This seems to be the swinger standard. That said, every once in a while we have a partner who likes to wrap up everything for everything (including one who doesn’t even finger women without a latex glove) or a couple that prefers everything raw, most swingers tend to follow the oral=no condom, penetration=condom guideline.
However, there are some exceptions to this for us — as there probably are for everyone. For example, my wife recently had unprotected sex with one of her regular partners … and every once in a while she gets carried away and ends up creampied.
So I’ll put it like this: swinging is a hobby, and like nearly all hobbies comes with some degree of risk. You don’t climb mountains, travel internationally, or even powerlift risk-free. The things in life that get your heart pumping tend to also be things that can harm you. The game here is balancing risk and reward.
That said, how often you get tested for STDs is obviously directly connected to how risky your behavior is. If you’re regularly going to creampie gangbangs, then you may want to get tested monthly. If you’re including raw dude-on-dude sex into your repertoire, then maybe every 1-3 months would be good. But if you’re just doing the average swinger’s fare, then I feel as if a couple times a year is good.
Even the CDC only recommends that us sluts get tested every 3-6 months.
However, there is an obvious elevated risk of STIs when it comes to swinging. A study published by BMC Infectious Diseases showed that swingers generally have no idea about the sexual behaviors of their partners and greatly underestimate their rates of STIs. In the study, participants were only correct about their partners’ STD statuses 22% of the time. While a Dutch study found that swingers — particularly those 45+ — had a slightly higher incidence of STIs.
Some swingers claim to get tested monthly, but I think this is mostly them patting themselves on the back — it’s mighty good virtue singling to have “tested monthly” written on their SLS profiles. Condoms are incredibly effective and the risk of getting anything from oral sex, in my experience, is low.
The herpes paradox
The thing about herpes is that you may as well assume that just about everyone in the swing community has it — whether they’re aware of it or not. I’ve been tested for it before, but it’s not a usual part of most STI panels. A couple of screenings ago I asked the doctor about this and he just laughed. “We don’t do that here,” he said. “The test is really inaccurate and basically just says everyone is positive.”
The medical consensus seems to be that HSV is so common and the tests are so poor that it’s not even worth checking for — even the CDC doesn’t recommend testing for it. Nearly 70% of the people in the world carry HSV-1, which is commonly known as cold sores and occur in the mouth but can also infect the genitals. While HSV-2 — aka genital herpes — is carried by one out of every six people in the US between the ages of 14 and 49 … and 90% of those infected have no idea they have it and probably never will.
What’s interesting is that genital herpes actually wasn’t stigmatized until the 1980s — before that it wasn’t even really considered an STD. Then in 1982 the FDA approved a drug for genital herpes and its manufacturer began a public relations campaign engineered to stigmatize the infection enough to coerce people into seeking treatment — i.e. give them money. It was probably one of the most successful PR blitzes ever undertaken, as it took a condition that nobody really cared about for literally hundreds of years and turned it into a new form of plague. Throughout the 80s Herpes was even making the cover of Time magazine, with headlines like “Herpes: The New Sexual Leprosy” and “The new scarlet letter: Herpes.”
I’ve known women who have needlessly had their sexual lives severely stunted and potentially promising relationships not started because they had herpes and thought everyone would think they were disgusting. They would rarely pursued sex, and when the time came had to bust out with a very uncomfortable “Wait, I have something to tell you.” When I was in my 20s I had three partners in a row who revealed that they had herpes, which caused me to do a deep dive into it, and this is what I found:
The stigma surrounding herpes is bullshit and it should be regarded as what it is: a relatively minor skin infection that almost everyone has some form of which usually doesn’t require medical treatment.
Where to get tested for STIs?
Where you should get tested for STDs is dependent on where you live and the availability of sex clinics, your medical insurance, and how quickly you want the results. I usually go to public sexual health clinics, where you can get tested for free and get the results either the same day or in one to two days. Just enter your zip code here to find one near you.
That said, getting regularly tested for STIs is an important part of swinging. It is not uncommon to be asked about your status or when your last test was by prospective partners, and being able to answer confidently that you were recently tested shows that you not only care about yourself, but them, and the broader swinging community. This puts minds at ease and opens gateways — figuratively as well as literally.