Getting asked for good advice is something I handle on the regular. I walk about networking events wearing a button that says “got condoms?” Think a la the “got milk?” campaign. Of course, I get stopped and asked what I do, then the onslaught of questions come. One that keeps coming up is how to have the STI talk. After getting the message below, I decided it was time to address the topic in a more open setting.
From C, 31: “I’m single, and I have a sexually transmitted infection (STI). I’ve dealt with talking to previous partners. I’ve sought appropriate treatment from my doctor, I’m managing my symptoms, and I know how to prevent transmission to a partner. I’m ready to move on with my dating life! But how the hell do I talk to a someone I’m dating about this? I don’t even know where to start.”
Telling someone you want to sleep with that you have an STI can be really intimidating, especially if it’s your first time after a diagnosis. Anxiety can well up in a person just wondering how to bring up the topic with someone they’re interested in. Totally understandable!
Being open with any lover or partner about your status is a touchy subject. There’s a stigma around STIs. However, it’s the responsible thing to do. You not only need to discuss your status, you need to ensure they are up-to-date on their status as well.
In 2016, the CDC reported the highest infection rate ever for three infections – chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis. This is the third year in a row that STIs have increased in the US. There were almost 38,000 new HIV diagnoses in 2014, only 7% of which were among intravenous drug users. 25% of American’s have an incurable STI. So chill…
Ali Wong by Erthdragoncomatus via imgur
You’ve might have some complex emotions around this, and I get that. But you HAVE to talk to your partner now. Here are some things to consider when it comes to discussing your diagnosis – before you’re between the sheets. Or on the couch. Or on the desk. Wherever…
It’s time to start being upfront
Having the talk with a partner before you have sex the first time – and that includes oral sex – is essential. You owe it to yourself and them to be open. Quick rant: Don’t call yourself “clean”. No one is “clean”. Clean is not a state of being. You can say your “last results were all negative”. Anyone who says “I’m clean” might not actually go to the clinic as often as they say…
If I were to ask an audience how many people in the room have had a partner ask about their status and or/shared theirs, most hands would be down. Our not talking about it is creating a rise in certain infections. In 2016, the Centers for Disease Control reported that in just one year, cases of gonorrhea, syphilis, and chlamydia were up, as much as 18%. While most cases are easily curable, treatment must be sought before long-term complications arise. And, yeah, you can totally die from syphilis.
Noted in a Vox article about these findings, what’s so disturbing about this trend is that 10 years ago, these were at an all-time low, now they are at an all-time high. Why? Because we aren’t all being consistent with condom use, particularly gay and bisexual men; Mother to baby transmission is up; dating apps and anonymous sex make it hard for public health departments to track outbreaks; testing is better; and finally, funding had been cut for STI clinics.
Condoms and dental dams don’t protect you from everything. Some STIs are spread through skin to skin contact, not just bodily fluids. But, you should still use them. Every. Single. Time.
It’s like wearing a seatbelt in a car, you’re just safer that way.
And oh hey! You know what’s more awkward than having this talk before you have sex? Having a completely different talk after your partner goes to their doctor and get’s a diagnosis…
Lots of people have had this talk before.
Let’s normalize for a sec…You’re not the first, and you won’t be the last. Perhaps your partner had an experience with an ex and understands how gut-wrenching it is to get the words out the first time. Again, many people have some sort of STI. While safe sex has helped slow the transmission rate of things like HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis, there are still millions of American’s living with an incurable STI today.
I recently read a piece by Dating Addict about a time he dated a girl with herpes. She was totally forthcoming about having it, and she was informed about her STI. (With herpes, most people take Valtrex or another anti-viral, they know when they are having an outbreak, and they avoid sexual contact during that time.) So he was cool with it. She had it under control. Not a big deal to him.
I had a situation once where I had already had sex with a partner when he told me about his herpes. Fear kept him from telling me, but he felt guilty since we’d already slept together, so he broke down and told me. I was forgiving, but I was not happy that he took the choice away from me to decide if that was a deal breaker. It also made me do a shit load of research the next day before I decided to keep dating him.
Discuss how to best protect each other if there’s a chance to infect one another, such as different strains of HIV and HPV. Condoms and dental dams – Use ’em! You can even find community resources and outreach programs that give out free protection, such as the Good Samaritan Project.
Face what you really fear
You don’t fear telling someone you have an STI. You fear them rejecting you after you tell them about it. There is so much stigma around having something like herpes or HIV. Teens, and even adults, use insults such as saying a girl is “dirty” or a man has “the clap”. No wonder you worry about someone’s perception if you tell them you take Valtrex daily.
If they are uninformed, take the opportunity to educate them, or recommend resources they can turn to for more information. However, if your date is a jerk, disrespectful, or anything by compassionate, that’s on them. They are probably someone you wouldn’t want to date in the first place. Don’t take their reaction personally. It’s not because you have an STI, it’s because they’re an asshole.
Buuuuut be ready for them to say “Thanks, but no thanks.”
When it comes to sexual health, if an adult is making an informed, science-based decision and that decision includes not sleeping with you because they don’t want any chance of contracting whatever you have, that is their choice. You can still to be proud of yourself that you were honest and gave them the opportunity to decide what was best for them and their health decisions.
How to be on the receiving end of this news
To anyone who is faced with a partner being honest about an STI diagnosis, please please please be open and empathetic. Ask questions. Ask for time to do your own research if you need to. Again, since 25% of the US has an incurable STI, just do the math! You have probably slept with someone with an STI who didn’t have the guts to tell you, so at least value this person’s honesty. Your potential partner had the integrity to tell you, when who knows how many times you have been exposed by previous lovers. You are welcome to say “pass”, but know the medical facts first. Also, be kind, and treat this as confidential medical info.
What do you do if you’ve already had sex, then you find out you have something?
A client once shared with me (and I have permission to tell it here) that she got a call from her OB after her yearly and was informed she had an STI. It was one that an antibiotic would clear up real quick, thankfully, but she then had to make the phone call to her new partner she’d just hooked up with. He got tested, his results were clear, and the next time they went out, he asked her, “When did you find out you had this?” She said, “Literally 10 minutes before I called you.” He said, “That’s actually really cool that you called right away.” He appreciated being told and that she cared enough to make sure he was okay. It actually turned him on it seemed and they had a fun night after they got back to his place.
Easy and quick advice – call them right away! Will all of them react like this prince? Probably not, but, you need to backtrack for other people’s health and well-being. This client reached out to a few more partners until the culprit was found, and he had no clue. He got treatment, and none of her other partners had a positive result. She’s been pretty consistent on using condoms, but not always. She said this made her commit to protected sex every time.
When was your last test?
If you’re single and sexually active and not committed to one partner, or you’re in a new relationship, you should be USING PROTECTION (yes I’m shouting), and you should be going to your health professional or a local clinic to have testing done at least quarterly, even when you’re using protection. The CDC only recommends testing this often for men who have sex with other men.
Can we be open for a sec? In today’s world, bisexuality and pansexuality aren’t on the rise, they are just more widely discussed, but there’s still a lot of people who aren’t out. That means no matter your gender or orientation, you would do well to get tested this often if you’re not monogamous. It’s not up to your lovers to discuss all their previous experiences with you.
Did you know many people with STIs have no symptoms? Or 85% of Americans with herpes don’t know they have it? Or that you can contract some infections from just fooling around? These are not scare tactics…they are facts. And they are all reasons why you should get tested regularly.
My goal is for people to feel empowered and informed about their sexual health. While our society has become more sex-positive over the last decade, this is still an aspect of our lives that remains sensitive to discuss. If you’re still not feeling confident about having this kind of talk with your potential partner, you have a recent medical diagnosis and you’re not sure where to turn, or you just need someone to talk to, reach out to me. You can also visit resources like the American Sexual Health Association for more information.
Kristen Thomas is the Owner and Head Coach of Open the Doors Coaching, LLC. She helps people nurture their love lives as a relationship, dating and sex coach. Follow Kristen via Twitter @openthedoorskc, Facebook, and Instagram. Need help with your sex life or relationship? Striking out on dating sites? Looking to host a private group event or workshop with a coach? Email her at Kristen@openthedoorscoaching.com.