Talking about STIs is never easy. Whether you’re in a relationship or casually dating, opening up about your sexual history may feel awkward, uncomfortable, or even embarrassing. While STIs may not be the sexiest topic, conversations about your sexual history are critical in protecting the health of both you and your partner.
Why it’s important to disclose your STI status
If you’ve tested positive for an STI, sharing your diagnosis with your partner will allow them to make better informed decisions about their sexual activity and health. Though many STIs like Gonorrhea and Chlamydia can be easily treated and managed, and others may not present any symptoms, some, like HPV and HIV, are incurable and could lead to more serious complications like infertility or cancers if not treated sooner. Telling your partner about your STI will give them the chance to be tested and treated if necessary, and save them from potentially more critical health issues in the future. Additionally, informing your partner of your infection can prevent them from unknowingly passing it on to someone else. “By telling your partner about an STI, it may alert them that they also need to be tested and treated and can help prevent the spread of STIs to others - and in some cases, it can also prevent you from being reinfected, says One Medical provider Christine Boyer, PA. “Another benefit, is that you and your partner can decide together on any methods to reduce the risk of transmitting the STI, which is important for consent.” Honesty and transparency are crucial for a healthy relationship. While you may think your partner will not be affected by your STI, discussing your sexual health together can allow you to build greater trust and intimacy in your relationship.
How To Start The Conversation
Finding the right way to tell your partner about your STI can be nerve-wrecking. It’s normal to be nervous about having a tough conversation, especially about something so personal. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to make the conversation a little easier.
Know you’re not alone
Unfortunately, many people feel embarrassed or ashamed about having an STI due to negative societal stigma, and may refrain from telling their partner out of fear of judgment or rejection.The truth though is that STIs are incredibly common. According to the World Health Organization, more than 1 million sexually transmitted infections are acquired each day. And the American Sexual Health Organization says that one in two people will have contracted an STI by the age of 25. If preparing for this conversation is making you feel alone or singled out, remember that millions of people are currently living with STIs and in happy relationships. Do not beat yourself up. Understanding the prevalence of these infections can help you stay calm and confident when broaching the subject with your partner.
It’s best to go into this conversation armed with as many facts as possible. Your partner will likely have lots of questions about what this news means for them, so it’s important to come prepared with the facts. With so many myths and misinformation circulating about STIs, doing your research ahead of time can help you clearly communicate the reality of the situation with your partner. Be prepared to explain what symptoms look like, how it’s transmitted, and even how common the STI is. You should also discuss testing options, potential treatment and medications, as well as how your sexual activity may be affected. This can be a lot to process so reach out to your primary care provider if you need help understanding your STI and its impact on your partner.
Write it out
It can be easy to forget what you want to say when you’re nervous. If you’re worried emotions may get the best of you, try writing a script for yourself. “For some people, practicing to say beforehand can help make the conversation easier, while for others gathering as much information as possible will help them feel more comfortable,” says Boyer. “Preparing for the conversation is an important first step.” Even if you don’t plan out every exact word, jotting down key points can help you stay on track. Likewise, a script may help you stay calm and confident in your delivery and enable you to more effectively answer your partner’s questions. You may even consider practicing the conversation with a friend or family member who already knows about your STI status.
Consider the time and place
Don’t wait until your partner’s pants are off to have the conversation. Rather than broaching the subject on the way to the bedroom, choose a non-sexually charged moment in a quiet, private place where you won’t be distracted or interrupted. Choose a time when both you and your partner are relaxed and in a positive mood. It may not be productive, for instance, to begin a serious discussion when you both are tired at the end of a long day or when your partner is on their way out the door. You should also avoid having this conversation if alcohol is involved. While you may be tempted to have a drink or two to loosen or ease your nerves, it’s important to create a space where both you and your partner are able to think clearly about the situation.
Because of the stigma around STIs, people often get caught up in determining the origin of the infection. Avoid assuming your partner is to blame for your STI or reacting defensively. Many STIs do not present any symptoms and can go undetected for years. It’s possible that you contracted an STI from a previous partner or that your partner may not even be aware they have an STI. Either way, it’s difficult to determine who is responsible for transmitting the STI to whom. It’s also important to remember that STIs do not necessarily mean anyone cheated. Instead of placing blame, focus the conversation on you and your partner’s health and your next steps together.
Discuss your action plan
It may ease your partner’s mind knowing that you are already taking steps to manage your infection. Let them know how long you have known about the STI, whether you are taking medication, and what your provider has recommended for a treatment or care plan. You should also establish boundaries and a plan to reduce the risk of transmission. Your partner may want to hold off on intercourse until your infection has cleared up, you have completed your treatment, or until they have received the appropriate vaccines.
Allow your partner time to react
Think back to when you were diagnosed with your STI. On top of having questions, you may have experienced a range of emotions, including fear, shock, and possibly some anger. Being told you have an STI can be a hard thing to accept. Your partner may be upset or confused initially and need some time to digest the information. After disclosing your STI, it may be helpful to provide your partner with some reliable resources to circle back to after they’ve had time to process the news. Your partner may think of questions afterwards so it’s important to be willing to listen and be open to having more than one conversation about the topic.
Know your worth
Sadly, not everyone may have a mature reaction to this information. While your partner may be upset after this conversation, you also deserve respect. Having an STI is not a reflection of your character and should not be held against you.If your partner threatens you and makes you feel ashamed for having an STI, you may want to reconsider your relationship with them.
The One Medical blog is published by One Medical, an innovative primary care practice with offices in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix, Portland, the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, and Washington, DC.
Any general advice posted on our blog, website, or app is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace or substitute for any medical or other advice. The One Medical Group entities and 1Life Healthcare, Inc. make no representations or warranties and expressly disclaim any and all liability concerning any treatment, action by, or effect on any person following the general information offered or provided within or through the blog, website, or app. If you have specific concerns or a situation arises in which you require medical advice, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified medical services provider.