Survey: Over 42% of People Have Tried Treating Themselves for STDs During COVID-19 Pandemic
When the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States started in March 2020, many public health workers responsible for STD programs were shifted to dealing with the coronavirus.
As a result, 83% of STD services were deferred until later, 66% of clinics reported a drop in testing, and 60% of clinics experienced a reduced STD treatment capacity.
With this decrease in availability of testing and treatment, we were curious how people who regularly get tested for STDs adapted.
Are people getting tested? If they are, how so? How about treatment?
To gain insight into these questions and more, we surveyed 1,000 U.S. citizens who regularly get tested for STDs.
I. Key Insights
Many people doing their own STD research & treating themselves during the COVID-19 pandemic
We started off by asking our respondents if they have done more research on STDs on their own since the pandemic started because of difficulty getting a doctor’s or other professional’s advice.
As shown in the chart, 61.6% of respondents have done more research on their own because they had difficulty consulting a doctor or other professional.
While people doing research for themselves isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s concerning when it is done because of difficulty connecting with a doctor. This could lead to people misdiagnosing themselves or trying unsafe at-home treatments—the latter of which our next question investigated.
An extremely concerning 42.2% of respondents have tried treating an STD or possible STD on their own because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Even if these respondents were able to successfully diagnose themselves, the chance of them successfully treating their STDs is low. Often, STDs require antibiotics or antiviral drugs, both of which require a prescription. In addition, at-home remedies can be dangerous, possibly causing lasting, harmful effects.
Many people aren’t getting tested because of the COVID-19 pandemic
So we know that many people have been doing research on their own and some are even trying to treat themselves, but are they getting tested?
We next asked survey respondents if they had been tested for STDs since the start of the pandemic in March 2020.
As shown in the chart, over half of respondents have either gotten an in-person test or an at-home test.
This was surprising given the closure of many STD testing centers. It seems that many people do not want to take any chances when it comes to STDs and have made an effort to get tested, even if it was harder than normal.
Still, nearly 40% of respondents have not gotten a test. Why haven’t they?
That’s what our next set of questions investigates.
Why haven’t people been getting tested for STDs during the COVID-19 pandemic?
We asked our subset of respondents who haven’t been tested since the start of the pandemic why they have not.
As shown in the chart, 37.08% of respondents haven’t gotten tested because they feared that they would contract COVID-19. Another 11.23% didn’t get tested because their regular testing center was closed.
Over 40% of respondents either didn’t get tested because they had limited sexual contact (31.59%) or because they didn’t have any symptoms of an STD (10.97%).
An additional 9.14% of respondents didn’t get tested for another reason unrelated to COVID-19.
Zooming in on those who didn’t get tested because of COVID-19
We next asked those who didn’t get tested because of fears of contracting the coronavirus or because their testing center was closed if they would have gotten tested since March 2020 if the pandemic wasn’t going on or if their testing center was open.
As shown, nearly 70% of this group would have gotten tested if the pandemic wasn’t going on or if testing centers were open. These people would have liked to be safe by getting tested but were either too uncomfortable to do so or couldn’t because their testing center was closed.
What’s more alarming is that nearly one-third of these respondents are worried that they may have let an STD go untreated.
Untreated STDs can lead to brain damage, cancer, heart disease, birth defects, and more. A considerable portion of sexually active people may have developed STDs during the pandemic and haven’t received treatment, potentially having serious, lasting impacts on their health.
Over 90% of people who got in-person STD tests during the pandemic felt safe doing so
Our next set of questions was directed at those who did get tested for STDs during the pandemic.
First, we asked this group if they felt safe getting their STD tests.
As shown, a convincing 90.33% of respondents either felt very safe or somewhat safe getting their STD test.
This suggests that those people who avoided getting tests because of fears of contracting COVID-19 may have been worrying unnecessarily. There are forms of STD tests, such as urine tests, that require little contact with clinicians, and health clinics typically follow recommended safety protocols to keep patients and clinicians safe.
We next wanted to get some insight into how the in-person testing process was for these respondents. Given that many STD testing centers closed or pivoted to other kinds of testing during the pandemic, we were curious if it took longer than usual to get tested.
As shown in the chart, 68.35% of respondents said it took longer than usual to get tested.
While it’s good that these people got tested, this delay—especially for those that had to wait over a month—could lead to more problems as many STDs start causing symptoms in just a few days, and delaying treatment can lead to lasting complications.
Our last question to those who got tested gauged if they would have let an STD go untreated if they had not gotten tested.
Just under 30% of respondents believe they would have let an STD go untreated if they did not end up getting tested. Getting tested (and the subsequent treatment) may have saved these people from lasting complications that could develop if they weren’t treated.
The pandemic may have helped the popularity of at-home tests
In the past few years, there have been many new at-home STD testing companies that allow people to take a wide variety of tests from the comfort of their homes.
Aside from seeing how many people have taken at-home STD tests since the pandemic started (16.4% of respondents), we also asked them about their experience and if they plan to use them in the future.
First, we asked those who took an at-home test if they would have taken an in-person test if it weren’t for the pandemic.
As shown, the vast majority of respondents (82.27%) would have gotten an in-person test if it weren’t for the pandemic.
Aside from testing centers being shut down, earlier questions showed that many respondents simply weren’t comfortable getting an in-person test. At-home tests are a great way to compromise between getting a normal test and skipping testing altogether.
In addition, we also found that the majority of respondents’ health insurance covered some or all of the at-home test costs.
So how were these people’s experiences with their at-home tests? We next asked this group if they thought their at-home STD test was as effective as an in-person test.
The majority of respondents (69.09%) thought their at-home test was just as effective. Another 15.15% were unsure, leaving only 15.76% saying that they didn’t think it was as effective.
This is a good sign for the feasibility of at-home testing growing in the future. To take things further, we asked this group if they planned to take at-home tests even after the pandemic is over.
As long as insurance covers at-home tests, most respondents (69.09%) plan to continue to use them in the future. Another 16.36% of respondents said they would use at-home tests after the pandemic is over even if insurance didn’t cover them.
To get even more insight into the potential for at-home testing in the future, we asked all of our respondents what prices they would pay out-of-pocket for at-home tests.
It seems that somewhere between $25 and $50 is the price that the majority of respondents would be willing to pay for the convenience of at-home tests.
The pandemic has caused a significant portion of people who get regular STD tests to try out at-home testing. The majority of these people also enjoyed their experiences and would use them again even after the pandemic is over.
It will be interesting to see if the popularity of at-home testing continues to grow in the coming years just as other services like food delivery have in recent years.
Many people are hoping to get the vaccine to feel safe during sexual contact
With the widespread vaccination just around the corner, we wanted to gauge whether people are eager to get the vaccine so they don’t have to worry about contracting or passing COVID-19.
We found that 60.6% of respondents are eager to get the vaccine so they don’t have to worry about contracting or passing COVID-19. While it remains unclear whether people can pass COVID-19 once they are vaccinated, epidemiologists suggest that one-on-one contact should be relatively safe if both parties are vaccinated.
Even if the risk of contracting COVID-19 is minimized, sexually active people still have to be cautious about contracting STDs, especially since many people weren’t able to or weren’t comfortable with getting tested during the pandemic.
Fortunately, the results of our next question indicate that people will be taking their sexual health seriously once things open back up.
As shown, 73.50% of respondents plan to get an STD test once the pandemic is over. Even if they weren’t able to or were uncomfortable with getting a test over the past 10 months, people are planning to get tested once things normalize.
II. Full Results
Q1. Have you gotten an STD test since the COVID-19 pandemic started in March 2020?
- No, I have not (38.3%)
- Yes, I have gotten an in-person test (45.30%)
- Yes, I have taken an at-home test (16.4%)
Q2. Why haven’t you gotten an STD test since March 2020? (Asked only to those who haven’t gotten a test since the pandemic started)
- I have been hesitant to go to a testing facility in fear of contracting COVID-19 (37.08%)
- The STD testing center I would have gone to was closed (11.23%)
- I didn’t think I needed one because I had no symptoms (10.97%)
- I didn’t think I needed one because I’ve had limited sexual contact (31.59%)
- Other reason unrelated to COVID-19 (9.14%)
Q3. If you did develop symptoms of an STD during the pandemic, would you have gotten an STD test? (Asked only to those who haven’t gotten a test since the pandemic started because they didn’t have symptoms or have had limited sexual contact)
- Yes, I would go in person (75.46%)
- Yes, I would get an at-home test (15.34%)
- No (4.91%)
- Unsure (4.29%)
Q4. Would you have gotten an in-person STD test since March 2020 if the pandemic was not going on or if your testing center was open? (Asked only to those who haven’t gotten a test since the pandemic started because they were afraid of contracting COVID-19, their testing center was closed, or for another reason unrelated to COVID-19)
- Yes (69.55%)
- No (20.00%)
- Unsure (10.45%)
Q5. Are you worried that you may have let an STD go untreated? (Asked only to those who haven’t gotten a test since the pandemic started because they were afraid of contracting COVID-19, their testing center was closed, or for another reason unrelated to COVID-19)
- Yes (32.27%)
- No (67.73%)
Q6. Did you feel safe getting tested for STDs with the COVID-19 pandemic going on? (Asked only to those who have gotten an in-person test since the pandemic started)
- Yes, very safe (47.91%)
- Yes, somewhat safe (42.42%)
- No, somewhat unsafe (8.35%)
- No, very unsafe (1.32%)
Q7. If you didn’t get tested, would you have ended up letting an STD go untreated? (Asked only to those who have gotten an in-person test since the pandemic started)
- Yes (29.23%)
- No (62.20%)
- Unsure (8.56%)
Q8. Did you have to wait longer than normal to get an STD test? (Asked only to those who have gotten an in-person test since the pandemic started)
- Yes, over a month longer (22.64%)
- Yes, between a week and a month longer (25.27%)
- Yes, a few days longer (20.44%)
- No, it took the usual amount of time (29.01%)
- No, it took less time than usual (2.64%)
Q9. Would you have gotten an in-person test instead if the COVID-19 pandemic wasn’t going on? (Asked only to those who have take an at-home test since the pandemic started)
- Yes (87.27%)
- No (7.27%)
- Unsure (5.45%)
Q10. Did insurance help cover the costs of your at-home STD test? (Asked only to those who have take an at-home test since the pandemic started)
- Yes, it covered all of the costs (60.00%)
- Yes, it covered some of the costs (24.85%)
- No, I paid out of pocket (15.15%)
Q11. Do you think your at-home test was as effective as an in-person test? (Asked only to those who have take an at-home test since the pandemic started)
- Yes (69.09%)
- No (15.76%)
- Unsure (15.15%)
Q12. Will you use at-home STD tests after the pandemic is over? (Asked only to those who have take an at-home test since the pandemic started)
- Yes, if insurance covers them (69.09%)
- Yes, even if insurance does not cover them (16.36%)
- No, I prefer in-person tests (14.55%)
Q13. Have you done more research on STDs on your own because it has been more difficult to get a doctor’s or other professional’s advice during the COVID-19 pandemic?
- Yes (61.60%)
- No (38.40%)
Q14. Have you tried treating an STD or possible STD on your own instead of seeking treatment from a doctor due to the COVID-19 pandemic?
- Yes (42.40%)
- No (57.80%)
Q15. Are you eager to get the COVID-19 vaccine so you do not have to worry about contracting or passing COVID-19 during sexual contact?
- Yes (60.60%)
- No (39.40%)
Q16. Have you been more or less sexually active during the COVID-19 pandemic?
- Much less sexually active (23.70%)
- Somewhat less sexually active (18.10%)
- Unchanged (28.20%)
- Somewhat more sexually active (15.70%)
- Much more sexually active (14.30%)
Q17. Why have you been less sexually active? (Asked only to those who have been less sexually active during the COVID-19 pandemic)
- I am worried about contracting or passing COVID-19 (44.98%)
- I have not been able to meet as many people due to COVID-19 restrictions (29.90%)
- A reason unrelated to COVID-19 (25.12%)
Q18. In the future, would you consider getting an at-home STD test if the out-of-pocket cost was….?
- Yes (78.60%)
- No (15.60%)
- Unsure (5.80%)
- Yes (65.40%
- No (22.70%)
- Unsure (11.90%)
- Yes (41.30%)
- No (43.00%)
- Unsure (15.70%)
- Yes (26.00%)
- No (61.60%)
- Unsure (12.40%)
- Yes (17.60%)
- No (71.60%)
- Unsure (10.80%)
Q19. Do you plan on getting an STD test once the pandemic is over?
- Yes (73.50%)
- No (14.80%)
- Unsure (11.70%)
All of the data included in this study come from a Pollfish survey commissioned by Testing.com ran from January 6, 2021, to January 7, 2021. In total, 1,000 people aged 18+ from the United States who regularly get tested for STDs were surveyed. A screener question was used to find respondents that typically get tested annually or biennially.