STI stigma is real. All the world’s advice doesn’t guarantee that this conversation won’t feel a little awkward, but it’s an essential one to have.
The urge to avoid this conversation is understandable. Who wants to talk about their last STI test or the time they had chlamydia two years ago?
Having an STI isn’t a be-all and end-all thing. Most are curable, and those that aren’t are mostly manageable. Though this tip won’t kill the awkward, they may help you and your partner have a constructive conversation about STIs.
Bringing It Up With Someone New
If you’re at the moment before having sex with a new person, you may want to take a pause and ask when last they got tested and what the results were. You may not know the person all that well, but the question is worth asking, and the response will be a great litmus test.
Unless you know with certainty that the person got tested and hasn’t had sex with anyone else since then, operate under the assumption that the person may have an STI and use condoms or a dental dam. Take note that this won’t prevent all STIs as few can be transmitted via skin-to-skin contact.
Bringing It Up With Someone You’ve Been Seeing
Deb Laino, a sex therapist in Delaware, suggests that ideally, you want to have this conversation in a casual, non-sexy moment.
If you’re having this conversation with someone that you’ve been having protected but want to stop using condoms and dental, it may be worthwhile to talk about not having unprotected sex with other people, too.
If Your Partner Is Unreceptive
STI stigma is real; even someone who’s otherwise a total catch might be confused or offended. The importance of getting tested is not about trust and explain that you’re trying to look out for their health, too.
“If you ultimately explain that this is non-negotiable and they still say no, then you may want to question if this is the right partner for you. If they’re not thinking about…what you need to be comfortable, that’s a red flag.” Megan Fleming, Ph.D., a sex and relationship therapist in New York, tells SELF.
Proceed With Sensitivity
If you have or have had an STI, you might want to have some additional information on-hand. Explain that this is what you have; these are the symptoms. You’re more likely to know more about STIs if you have had one than someone who doesn’t.
If your partner discloses that they have an STI, respond with compassion. Dr. Colleen Krajewski — an ob-gyn and medical adviser to Bedsider, an educational site from the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unwanted Pregnancy, says many people react to a partner disclosing an STI by immediately asking, “how does that affect me?” Your health is imperative, but you also want to show someone that you appreciate their honesty.
Before planning your celebratory sex, keep in mind that when going to test, the prospect of someone having an STI is on the table. If you or your partner find that you have an STI, it doesn’t need to ruin your life.
“It’s not who you are; it’s just a thing you have. You need to take care of yourself and your partners, but it in no way defines you, who you are, or what you can offer as a partner.” Fleming says.