There are two basic rules to dating with a STI:
- Tell potential sexual contacts about your STI
- Tell them before you have sex and ideally before things are hot and heavy. It’s a vulnerable conversation, but if you want to be intimate with this person then you need to have it. This is all about honesty, trust, and healthy sex as you enter in to a potential relationship.
Dating in the 21st century is full of impersonal moments. Swipe left, swipe right, judge your potential romance based off of 3 pictures. Though we may feel detached and distant, discussing STIs is as important as ever within today’s hook-up culture. In this new world of algorithmic matchmakers, navigating personal topics such as STI histories feels increasingly daunting. When do you tell a potential partner? How do you tell a potential partner?
In an ideal world we would all talk about sex before we have it. We would talk about what we enjoy, what we don’t, what our previous experiences are, and what we want from future experiences. We would get tested together and disclose our tests to our partners with full honesty and no judgment. Maybe we’d feel more emotionally connected and open with our partners. And most importantly we would have created the safe, honest foundation for physical intimacy.
But, as we know, this idealistic storyline is not how life generally works. Relationships move at unpredictable speeds, conversations are awkward or don’t happen at all, and we make mistakes. There is a lot of fear of rejection or judgment that prevents people from being open about their STIs. Not to mention, there are tons of misconceptions about STIs that cause people to react inappropriately to hearing that a partner has an STI. It’s important equip yourself with all the facts before you bring up your STI to a partner. That way you can accurately talk about what your STI means for your relationship.
How to tell a partner that you have an STI:
Before the conversation, understand your STI, how it is transmitted, and what treatment options exist. You can talk to a medical provider about these things (we are here if you have any questions), or reference reliable online sources such as the CDC. It is perfectly normal to be nervous or anxious about talking to a new partner. To make it easier, practice it out-loud beforehand so that you know what information you want to get across. Know that STIs are increasingly common, they don’t make you dirty, and chances are your partner has had previous exposure to STIs. Better yet, all STIs can be cured or treated so by telling your partner you are allowing them to seek testing and potentially treatment as quickly as possible.
When it comes time for the conversation, remember that not only are you showing you respect them, but that you care about them. It’s likely that they will recognize your honorable intention and reciprocate the respect. Regardless, your partner(s) may be shocked or upset, and they may have lots of questions. Acknowledge their concern and don’t pressure them to respond immediately. Stick to the facts and do your best to stay calm. You are being kind by telling the truth. Your bravery now will allow everyone involved to take proper precautions moving forward.
It is possible that they will respond inappropriately, be judgmental, or reject you. Remember that you do not have to respond. It is completely acceptable for you to remove yourself from any situation that makes you feel unsafe. You can tell them they are misinformed, reach out to them later, or never talk to them again. Take solace in knowing that if this is their reaction to your honesty, then they may not have been the best partner anyway.
So…here’s the bottom line:
If you currently have an STI, it is your responsibility to tell your partner(s) in a place where you feel safe and comfortable. If you had an STI in the past that has already been treated and is gone, it is up to you if you want to discuss tell your partner(s). That being said, if you have a viral infection such as herpes or HIV, you need to talk about it before you have intimate contact with your new partner(s) even if you’re not currently having an outbreak. Luckily, many STIs can be cured and after completing treatment you will have no risk of transmitting the STI. For the STIs that can’t be cured, there are lots of precautions that you can take to significantly reduce your risk of infecting a partner such as taking antiviral medication or using condoms correctly.
For additional advice on how to talk about STIs, check out “Have an STI? Here are 5 helpful tips on how to tell your partner.”