Have you ever been faced with the task of talking to a partner about STI’s, and not even known where to start?
We know talking about Sexually Transmitted Infections can be awkward…but it’s an important part of practicing safe sex. Testing regularly should be a part of every sexually active person’s life. If you know you need to have “The Talk” but aren’t sure where to start, we have some tips for you and some ways to start the conversation.
So how do you get started?
Know your stuff.
First thing’s first: Why is this important?
STI’s (Sexually Transmitted Infections) are incredibly common. The CDC estimates that 1 in 5 Americans have an STI on any given day.
Many STI’s can have long term consequences if it is not caught early: gonorrhea and chlamydia can result in infertility in women, HPV is linked to cervical cancer, and herpes and HIV are treatable but incurable.
Testing positive for an STI can be a stressful and an “embarassing” event, but the reality is, any sexually active person is at risk of an STI and they are fairly common. Using protection can reduce your likelihood to catch an STI or pass one on, but testing regularly is important to staying safe as well.
Unfortunately, many people are reluctant to get tested, for fear of testing positive - even though testing is the only way to protect your health and the health of your partners.
Get tested yourself.
Don’t let the stigma discourage you from being proactive about your health. Not only should you request a standard screening at your annual gynecology appointment (even if you have a regular partner - if it’s covered by insurance, go for it!), but it’s incredibly easy to get a walk-in appointment at a Planned Parenthood, Urgent Care, or a local clinic.
Most clinics will offer free screenings of common STI’s like gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis, and hepatitis. You can also request testing for herpes, HIV, and other STI’s if you’re showing symptoms or feel you’ve been exposed.
It can seem intimidating, but these are health care professionals who want to ensure your comfort and safety. If you test positive, they’ll offer you treatment, and if you test negative, they’ll send you on your way and ask you to come back when you have a new sexual partner.
You should get tested at least once a year if you’re sexually active, and in between each new sexual partner. If you don’t use protection, you should be tested every three months or so to be safe.
Once you incorporate this into your routine, you’ll have much more peace of mind. And you can answer questions personally if your partner or friend has hesitations about getting tested themselves.
Ask a new sexual partner their status before you hook up.
It’s always best to have this conversation before you get hot and heavy with a new partner. Not only does it protect you from any nasty surprises down the road, but it lets you set the tone for your sexual relationship with this person, no matter how long or serious it will be.
By talking about it early, you can avoid any difficult conversation later on in your relationship - this is just something you talk about with every partner because it’s important to you that you get tested regularly.
Don’t come at it from a judgemental place.
Getting tested yourself will help alleviate any ideas about you judging your partner.
Be matter-of-fact and gentle when you bring this topic up. Many people feel that getting tested is only for “others” - they think it implies that you’re unsafe or have too many sexual partners. It can be hard to overcome that attitude.
You don’t want your partner to feel judged by you when you talk about this. It’s a very personal topic, but if you’re mature enough to have sex, you’re mature enough to talk about sexual health and safety.
Be considerate, patient, and kind - but don’t budge on the necessity of testing.
Suggest going together.
It can be intimidating to get tested - suggest going to a clinic together for the first time, so that you can encourage this habit and show that it isn’t so bad.
This way, you can frame it as a thing you do together. And they can be sure that you’re being safe about your sexual health as well.
Be open and honest - and expect the same from them.
Worst case scenario: one of you tests positive for something. It’s not the end of the world!
If you test positive, be honest with your partner and start a dialogue about it: “Hey I wanted you to know that when I got tested, I tested positive for chlamydia. I’m on antibiotics and it’ll be totally clear in a few weeks. I wanted you to know because I don’t want you to get it from me. We shouldn’t have sex until I test negative.”
If they test positive, be supportive: “STI’s are common for any sexually active person. I appreciate you letting me know.”
It can be scary putting yourself out there, but there’s nothing “bad” about testing positive for an STI. It’s like catching a cold; there’s no need to shame or be ashamed. Just be safe and considerate to others who might be exposed.
Get tested regularly and keep the dialogue going.
Even when you’re in a relationship, you should get tested regularly. This doesn’t mean you don’t trust your partner to be faithful - it sometimes takes time for an STI to show up in a test, and some STI’s only test positive during an outbreak. This could be dormant in you from back when you were single.
By showing trust, but still enforcing this boundary, it creates a line of communication between yourself and your partner so you can be honest with them about your health and have these important conversations.
However you come at this conversation, remember that your health comes first. You should be with a partner who respects you and understands your need for safe sex.
As always, talk to your doctor if you want more information about STI’s or if you want personal guidance on when you should test.