Thursday, April 12, 2012

Ask Aunt ABby: the morning-after STD test

Time: Surprisingly complicated!

Spring has sprung here at Abortioneers HQ, and there's a new feature on the block! You've got questions. We've got answers. And we received a comment that may or may not deserve its own post.

After reading VV's post on the importance of Backing Up Your Birth Control, Virginia commented:
So much concern about getting pregnant and been able to terminate it...what about getting HIV and STDs while having unprotected sex, do you go check if you got those as fast as you go get a day after pill??

Dear Virginia,

It's hard to tell if you're being snarky or simply not very knowledgeable. Either way, welcome to our new advice column, and thanks for giving us an opportunity to clear up potential misconceptions!

Testing for STIs the morning after unprotected sex (especially HIV, which can take up to 6 months to be detectable) is like testing for pregnancy the morning after unprotected sex -- you won't get a positive result when you test that soon, even though you're not in the clear. So to directly answer your question: No, of course you don't "go check if you got those as fast as you go get a day after pill" [AKA the morning-after pill, emergency contraception, EC, the brand-name Plan B, or any number of generic-label names], as you put it. You literally CAN'T do it right away; whereas with the morning-after pill, you MUST.

That's why, instead of rushing out for a meaningless "morning-after HIV test," many people make it a habit to seek testing at regular intervals. I usually do mine at my yearly physical, because I consider it part of a complete checkup. Many providers suggest you only need to test when exposure is suspected, for example IF you had unprotected sex in the past 6 months or year and haven't yet had a test in that time.

Contraception, on the other hand, is important to seek out as soon as possible after unprotected sex, in order to prevent ovulation -- because that's how ALL birth control pills work, including emergency contraception. The longer you delay, the more time for ovulation to occur, and if it does, then EC won't work and you're left at risk for pregnancy. (This is why taking a regular birth control daily is still most effective -- you've targeted ovulation BEFORE the approach of sperm even begins.) If you miss that window and one of your ovaries does release an egg into its fallopian tube, then at that point all you can do is wait a couple weeks to see if a pregnancy does result, and if so, then (potentially) seek abortion care.

It's important to realize that the "morning after pill" is NOT the same as "getting pregnant and be[ing] able to terminate it." You can only use the morning-after pill to PREVENT pregnancy, and it's only effective in the first 5 days after unprotected sex; abortion, on the other hand, can only take place AFTER pregnancy has begun.

I sure do hope this helps, Virginia. Feel free to follow up with lingering questions, and definitely feel free to share this knowledge with your friends and family.


Placenta Sandwich
VP of Taking You At Face Value
Head Know-It-All

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