We all know the drill: you start dating someone, things are going well, but then you have to have that dreaded conversation about your sexual history. No, not your exes, but your mutual risk of spreading sexually transmitted infections, or STIs.
Talking about STIs can certainly be an awkward, confusing, and sometimes scary conversation. Unfortunately, having any kind of STI can open a person up to stigmatization and discrimination. And many of us worry that if we disclose having an STI to our partners that they will not want to be with us. Or, for those of us who do not have an STI, even asking to get tested or asking a partner if they have had one can feel invasive and strange. But no matter how uncomfortable, it’s a conversation that you should be having with your partner(s).
Here are some tips to make it easier
First, approach the subject from a non-judgmental point of view. Disclosing an STI can be incredibly scary. Reassure your partner that you aren’t trying to make them feel bad or guilty, but that you are simply trying to make sure you both stay safe. And be honest; both about your own STI status and if you could possibly have something you don’t know about.
One thing you can do is offer to have you and your partner get tested together. Getting tested for an STI can be a difficult experience, especially if you suspect you may be positive. Having someone there with you, going through the same process, can be a huge comfort.
Secondly, talk with your partner(s) about a plan for diminishing your risk of STI transmission, from each other or from other partners if you have them. Whether it’s condoms or dental dams, frequent testing, or anything else, it’s important to have a game plan in place, the same way you plan out birth control with your partner when that’s a concern.
Remember that not all STIs are equal
Some, like Chlamydia, are totally curable. Others are not. Herpes, for example, is not curable, but it’s also not nearly as scary as you may have been led to believe. Having genital herpes means you’ll have to suffer through the occasional bout of uncomfortable red bumps on the genitals (or possibly other areas of the body), it will not ruin your life by any stretch of the imagination, and there’s almost no risk of passing it on when you’re not having a flare-up. Of course, there are some STIs that might change your life. HIV is probably the one that comes to mind for most of us. While HIV is a very serious disease and should be treated as such, being HIV+ is not a death sentence, and it cannot stop you from having a full, rich life, and sex life as well. Every day scientists are making new advances into treating HIV, and thanks to drugs like Prep (pre-exposure prophylactic) and Pep (post-exposure prophylactic), people who have HIV+ partners have plenty of ways to protect themselves.
The point is, having an STI doesn’t make you a bad person, nor should it stop you from having the sex you want, as long as you are being safe and responsible. Be honest, be compassionate, and be safe.
Written by Adina Heisler
Adina is a writer, part-time drag king, and sex-positivity and education advocate based in Toronto, ON.