Sex and intimacy are inherently vulnerable acts, which is why it’s so dangerous not to be honest with your partner(s). Need proof? The World Health Organization reports that over 1 million sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are picked up every day. According to the American Sexual Health Association, one out of every two people will acquire an STI before they turn 25, but only 12 percent of people get tested at least once a year. To put it plainly: Anyone can get an STI at any time from anyone, so knowing your status is just as essential as knowing a partner’s.
With knowledge comes great responsibility though, meaning that after you get your test results, you are responsible for sharing your status with whomever you get physically intimate. This can feel intimidating and even downright scary, mostly due to the stigma surrounding STIs. It’s important to note, though, that if you’re ever diagnosed with an STI or meet a person who has one, it does not mean you or anyone else is reckless, careless, or stupid. You’re just human. And you’re not alone. (Again, 50 percent of people get an STI before they turn 25. You’re definitely not alone!)
Even if you know how common STIs are, it can still feel difficult to share that you have them. It’s normal to ask yourself questions like, What if it turns your partner off, and away from you? Will it affect how they see you? These fears are common, but we should all remember that a positive STI status does not mean the death of your sex life. There are treatments for herpes, gonorrhea, syphilis, and HPV; even HIV is not the death sentence it once was because of medications like Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). There are as many treatments as there are STIs, but you still don’t want to pass a disease along—unknowingly or not—to anyone else. And that means having a difficult talk when the time is right.
I spoke with several doctors, and all agree on the importance of sharing your status with someone you know you’re going to be physically intimate with. However, as Dr. Segun Ishmael, the founder of besafemeds, an app that helps people get treated for STIs, says, “You should not rush through this type of discussion. It shouldn’t be right before you take your clothes off; however, if you know you’re about to get intimate then having the conversation in a calm and rational way is the best way to go.”
Get straight to the point and be matter-of-fact. Kryss Shane, a licensed mental health professional and sex and relationship expert, suggests beginning by addressing the relationship. “I feel like we’re getting closer together...” and “Before we go any further...” work well. From there, talk about your status bluntly. Saying something like, “I have...” or “I’ve been diagnosed with...” are great ways to start. Dr. Ishmael advises not getting into the backstory of how you got it. What matters is making sure a partner feels comfortable, giving them the facts about the STI and letting them respond to the news in their own way, which will probably involve them asking you about what this means for your intimacy together.
“Be open to the person asking you questions,” Shane says. And give them time to sit with the truth. “If the person truly cares and loves you, they will work around you having an STI,” Dr. Ishmael says.
And if they don’t? It’s not the end of your world. You’ll find someone who will. And you’ll go forward knowing that you did the right thing for your prospective partner(s) and yourself.