Discussing your STI status with a new partner can be a daunting prospect. Nonetheless, it’s an important discussion you need to have.
In this article, we’ll explain:
- why you should get tested for STIs and know your status
- why discussing this with your partner is important
- and 5 factors you should keep in mind when doing so.
Knowing your own STI status is crucial anyway, whether you are starting a new relationship or otherwise.
The only way to know whether you have an STI is to get tested. You can do this at your local genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinic, and your doctor can also provide information on STI testing.
If you have been diagnosed with a bacterial STI, such as gonorrhoea or chlamydia, then you should refrain from having sexual contact until at least two weeks after you have received treatment (and in the case of gonorrhoea, re-tested to ensure the infection has gone).
If you have herpes, then you should refrain from having sex whenever blisters or lesions are present (and for a few days until after they have completely healed), as this is when the infection is most likely to spread. Using barrier contraception does not always provide protection as the virus spreads through physical contact with a sore (and not solely through semen or vaginal fluid).
In short, your partner needs to know before any sexual contact takes place whether you have an STI; because if you do, having sex can put them at risk of infection.
Being aware of your STI status helps them to make an informed decision about whether or not to have sex, and to take any extra precautions where necessary.
Of course, the circumstances depend on the STI you have or have had in the past.
If you have had a bacterial STI in the past, received treatment and been successfully cured, and do not have an STI at present, then whether you tell your new partner about your STI history is ultimately up to you. Some people prefer to be as open as possible with their partner about their sexual history, even if the STI they had has gone and there is no risk of infection.
However, if you have been diagnosed with an STI that can’t be cured, then the circumstances are different. Your partner needs to be made aware of this before you engage in sexual contact, as there is a risk (however small) that you may pass on the infection at any time.
With herpes for example, the risk is higher when sores or blisters are present. But even if you don’t have these symptoms presently, the risk is small, but it’s still there.
HIV is another example of an STI which needs to be addressed and discussed before any sexual contact takes place. Using barrier contraception and managing the virus with the right treatment greatly reduces the risk of transmission; but the risk is still there nonetheless.
The subject of STIs can undoubtedly be a tough one to bring up with a new partner. You might feel hesitant or apprehensive, and concerned about the reaction your partner might have.
But there are things you can do to help the conversation go as smoothly as possible.
1. Choose a suitable setting
The topic is a delicate one, so find a private, comfortable and calm environment, away from distractions.
A face-to-face discussion is obviously preferable to an exchange over text or email. Having the conversation in person demonstrates a degree of openness and honesty.
2. Be clear
It’s better to avoid ambiguity and address the issue directly. If you brush over the subject in passing and assume that your partner has taken the information in, but in actuality they haven't, this definitely has the potential to cause significant problems later on.
It’s also important not to leave this discussion until the very last moment just before sexual activity, as doing so can put unnecessary pressure on your partner and impact on their decision-making. Have the talk well in advance, so your partner is made aware in good time.
3. Be informed
It’s good to be knowledgeable about STIs anyway and practice safe sex. But if you have an STI, having some knowledge about the condition, how it affects you and what it means for your future is important, and means you’re aware of what precautions you need to take.
If you are knowledgeable on the subject, this should help to reassure your partner.
4. Be prepared to answer questions
It is understandable that your partner will want to ask some questions about the condition, how it affects you, and what (if anything) it means for you relationship.
So be prepared to answer their questions; but at the same time, don’t worry if you aren’t able to answer everything.
If you’re not sure on something, you can always ask your GP for clarification.
If your partner doesn’t already know, try to help them understand what your STI means for your relationship.
For instance, if you are talking to your partner about herpes, you might explain:
- that you will have to refrain from having sexual contact during any herpes outbreaks
- that condoms can significantly reduce the likelihood of an infection being transmitted from one person to another
- and that it is possible to pass the infection on when symptoms are not present but it is unlikely.
5. Be understanding
For someone who has never had to discuss this topic before, the conversation might seem overwhelming at first, and it could take some time for your partner to process the information that you have presented them with.
This means that they might need some time to think about how the information could affect your relationship.
If your partner chooses to end your relationship after you have disclosed your STI status, then this can obviously be disappointing at first; but at least you’ll know that you have done the right thing by telling them, and that there will be other people in the future who are perhaps more understanding of the issue.
Experiencing a setback like this can be upsetting, but you shouldn’t let it put you off pursuing new relationships in the future.