How Is COVID-19 Affecting Sexual Healthcare?

It’s been several months since the first recorded case of COVID-19 in the United States was reported. In this time, the healthcare industry has been put into overdrive as essential workers try to take care of those infected by the virus. This also means that other health concerns, such as sexual health, have had to be put on the backburner. Moreover, depending on the condition you may have, you could be part of the COVID-19 high-risk population.

Currently, New York City’s public health page asks people to not go to their regularly scheduled testing appointments for HIV and other STIs. Instead, the city has created online portals for several clinics in order for those concerned about their sexual health to still get treated. This has many people wondering where else telehealth can be utilized to fill in the gaps caused by the COVID-19 outbreak and if it’s something we can use after the pandemic has ended.

When it comes to our sexual health and concerns though, it’s important to consult all available resources and discover more information about how the COVID-19 pandemic could possibly affect your sexual habits and activities.  

How Technology is Changing the Healthcare Industry

When the average person thinks of the STI testing process, it’s likely to invoke images of busy doctor offices, stiff medical gowns, and long bouts of waiting patiently to be seen. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, most of us aren’t going to be making a visit to our doctor anytime soon (if we can help it). So, what’s the alternative for those concerned about their sexual health? 

The advancements in telemedicine have opened up possibilities for patients, even before COVID-19 struck. As outlined by some experts, the impact of telehealth on patient care has allowed more people to have consultations from the comfort of their own home. They explain:

“Many illnesses, injuries, and conditions can be diagnosed over the phone, computer, or video conference. This often takes the form of a virtual appointment, similar to visiting a healthcare provider’s office. Essentially, patients can schedule phone or video calls with their doctor, nurse, nurse practitioner, or another medical professional to diagnose and treat certain medical issues regardless of their physical location. These virtual appointments are typically covered by insurance providers, and may even be less costly than an in-person visit for patients.” 

While it’s perfectly reasonable to be worried about how your sexual health could be affected by the pandemic, it’s worth keeping in mind that certain issues can be taken care of remotely, and with positive results. 

With all of that in mind, however, it is important to note that some areas of sexual health have been directly impacted by COVID-19. Access to abortion services has been limited as some states, such as Arkansas, have deemed it a non-essential service. The COVID-19 situation has also impacted LGBTQ youth due to quarantining with their families, who might be less accepting and as such, can cause stressful family tension and confidentiality concerns, leading to LGBTQ youth feeling more isolated during the pandemic. 

When Should You Get Tested

Pandemic or not, when it comes to the basics of STI concerns and sexual health, some people may wonder when is the best time to visit their healthcare provider to get tested. According to those at Accurate HIV STD Testing, the best time to be tested depends on the kind of STI. They go on to list some common STIs and note the best testing time periods in order to receive the most accurate results as possible:

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  • Gonorrhea: This bacterial infection has one of the quickest incubation periods so it’s best to get tested and treated as soon as you start noticing symptoms.  
  • Syphilis: Syphilis can be tricky to self-diagnose as it often manifests as other ailments such as the flu. However, it’s important to keep in mind that the incubation period for Syphilis is around three weeks. This means it’s best to get tested one week to three months after being exposed. 
  • Chlamydia: Chlamydia is easily cured with the right antibiotics, so it’s recommended to get tested for it 14 days after sexual activity with an infected partner. 

Of course, it’s still important to be getting regular STI screenings if you’re sexually active, even if you don’t notice any symptoms. With COVID-19 shifting the focus of healthcare professionals and clinics, you might be worried that you won’t be able to get tested. This shouldn’t deter you from getting tested though as many places, such as New York City mentioned above, have found alternatives to in-person visits. In fact, Planned Parenthood recently announced that patients can use telehealth for services, including STI testing, in all 50 states. Try reaching out to your trusted healthcare professional and see what options are available for you. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected so many areas of our lives, and that certainly includes our sexual health. Beyond limiting typical sexual activities, many people might be worried about testing and treating their STIs during these strange times. However, as stressful as the current situation might be, there are still plenty of resources available that can help ensure that you sexual health is taken care of. 

Author: Sam Bowman