Rip off the proverbial band aid: There’s nothing to be ashamed of.
Telling a partner that you have a sexually transmitted infection, or STI, can be really intimidating. You might worry about how they’ll react or what they’ll think of you.
As common as STIs are among U.S. adults, there’s still a stigma that’s hard to shake. It’s even common to describe having a negative STI test result as being “clean,” as though a positive result would imply one is “dirty.” (Perhaps it’s time to retire that practice, okay?)
Tips for Safely Talking to a Partner About STIs
Here’s the truth: STIs are an unpleasant byproduct of sexual activity that mature, consenting adults need to be aware of. With modern medicine, they are less likely to become a death sentence than they may have been previously. This is especially true if you’re committed to prevention, early detection, and treatment.
Unfortunately, some people may react negatively to the news that you tested positive for an STI. While some people will be understanding, others may be angry or even violent.
Here are tips for having a difficult conversation with your partner about testing positive for STIs, while reducing the risk of conflict:
1. Have the chat in a non-sexual setting.
It probably goes without saying, but the best time to tell someone you have an STI is long before (not right before) having any sexual contact. Yes, that includes oral sex, as STIs can be transmitted through lesions in the gums.
It’s hard to make smart decisions when your hormones are racing, and you’ll both enjoy your intimacy more without the anxiety of taking on or presenting risks. This will let you both make informed decisions about what steps to take to protect your health. It could be simply wearing a condom (which is always a good idea anyway), but it might also mean delaying sexual activity until your STI has been cleared.
2. If you find out you’re positive after you’ve been intimate, tell your partner as soon as you know.
These conversations can be even more intimidating, but it’s crucial to tell them immediately. They will likely need to get tested since one of you may have passed the infection to the other. Once they know their status, they can take the necessary steps to avoid spreading the infection to others.
Making your partner(s) feel as though you hid this information from them will only increase animosity. It’s worth noting that knowingly spreading an STI without your partner’s knowledge is beyond disrespectful, and could be criminal. To help the conversation go better, be honest and straightforward, avoid placing blame, and pick a relaxed, safe setting to have the conversation.
3. If you’re worried about your safety when you share the news, consider having a professional present.
Reach out to your primary care doctor, social worker, or a local health program. They may be able to offer guidance about not only what your next steps should be, but even how to have a productive, empathetic conversation. You don’t have to go through this alone, and having an STI doesn’t have to ruin your livelihoods.
Haven’t been tested recently for STIs? Consider this your reminder to call your doctor and get an appointment on your calendar. Informed sex is safe sex—and safe sex is way more fun sex.
- Sexually Transmitted Diseases. Rockville, Md. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, 2020. (Accessed on May 7, 2021)
- Telling Your Partner You Have an STD. Nemours TeensHealth, 2019. (Accessed on May 7, 2021)
- STD Testing: Conversation Starters. Washington, D.C. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2021. (Accessed on May 7, 2021)
- How to talk to your partner about STDs. Washington, D.C. American Public Health Association, 2018. (Accessed on May 7, 2021)