Most of the misconceptions surrounding STIs could be solved if people talked about them more openly and frequently. But according to a recent Cosmopolitan.com survey of 1,454 Millennials, that’s not something most people are doing. Nearly half of all respondents said none of their past partners had ever asked about STI test results before having sex, and when they happen, most of those conversations are initiated by women. Given that many STIs can cause serious long-term side effects like infertility, “it’s just too awkward!” is no longer a valid excuse for avoiding a conversation about testing with new partners.
To help ease some of the anxiety about bringing up STI testing with partners, and to hopefully get more men to initiate the conversation from time to time, here, experts offer some of their best advice on how you can talk about STIs without feeling awkward AF.
1. Don’t wait until you’re taking someone’s pants off to bring up STIs.
Deb Laino, a sex therapist in Delaware, suggests bringing up STI tests during a casual, non-sexy moment. “Not at the dinner table, not right in the middle of having sex or right before having sex,” Laino said. “Just on a casual night or day, in a time and place where you guys aren’t doing much.” In the case of a one-night stand scenario, however, she said you just need to buck up and ask ASAP. “You’re going to have to live with the result, so when it comes to a hookup or one-night stand, just come out with it and make sure you use a condom.” Don’t wait until you’re literally in bed with a hookup. Get it out of the way as you’re leaving the bar, on the walk home, in the Uber, whatever.
2. Don’t expect to make this a ~sexy~ conversation.
Just because discussing STIs is something you do before having sex doesn’t mean it’s foreplay. You’re asking someone for their medical history. Just be straightforward and direct.
3. Start by talking about your most recent STI test.
Colleen Krajewski — an ob-gyn and medical adviser to Bedsider, an educational site from the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unwanted Pregnancy — said a lot of her younger patients worry that bringing up an STI test feels like turning a casual, undefined hookup into something more serious. First off, if you have a partner who’s pressuring you to have sex without condoms, get a different partner. But to ease into the STI conversation in a way that feels casual and not Super! Serious!, Dr. Krajewski suggests being chill about it. “Like, ‘Hey, when was the last time you got tested, because I got tested this long ago,'” she said. Opening the conversation by talking about yourself makes it a little less disarming for your partner to talk about their own sexual history. It’s a good way to make it feel less like a line of questioning and more like a casual conversation.
4. If you currently have or have had an STI, have some information handy.
If you’ve had and been treated for an STI, odds are you’re way more knowledgeable about it than someone who hasn’t. Coming into a conversation with a partner with that knowledge handy not only helps you take better care of yourself but can help put them at ease. Tris, a 26-year-old woman who was diagnosed with genital herpes a year ago, said she usually tells new partners what she has, what the symptoms are, and then offers more info. “I say, ‘Hey, if you want more information, I’ve got some,’ or I say they can go to their doctor and get more facts,” she explains. “I don’t try to hype it up like this big, scary thing. Just, ‘Here’s what I’ve gotta live with; if you wanna live with me, then you gotta deal with it too.'”
5. Don’t open a conversation disclosing an STI with blame.
Dr. Krajewski warns against disclosing an STI status by saying something like, “My ex gave me this.” The last thing you want to do is start this conversation from a place of blame or anger. It’s not about who “gave” you an STI, it’s about actively taking measures to keep yourself and your partners healthy. Dr. Krajewski suggests phrasing this more like, “A few months ago, my partner and I had chlamydia, we were treated, I don’t have it anymore.” That way, it sounds more neutral and doesn’t place blame on anyone for “giving” anything to someone else.
6. If your partner is telling you about an STI, don’t just immediately ask if you’re at risk.
I know, I know — everyone has look out for their own health. But Dr. Krajewski said a lot of people react to a partner disclosing they have or have had an STI by immediately asking, BUT HOW DOES THIS AFFECT ME?! “That really doesn’t show any compassion,” she said. “I think the first thing that might be nice is just to say, ‘Thanks for your honesty, I really appreciate it.'” Understand that revealing to someone you have an STI isn’t an easy thing to do.
7. Respond with follow-up questions and compassion.
In any sort of relationship, people tell each other stories from their past. Treat a conversation about disclosing an STI exactly the same way. “At the end of the day, this story’s not about you,” Dr. Krajewski said. “Sometimes it’s nice to ask a little bit more about the STI. Follow-up questions show that you understand that your partner’s sharing something personal with you that might have been hard to go through.”
8. And understand that, if your partner is telling you about this, they care about you.
Everyone is different but Tris said finding out she has genital herpes made her a bit more discerning about her partners. She seeks out people she feels will be compassionate and won’t be judgmental. “If your partner’s sharing this with you, they’re going to try to do anything they can to protect both of you from sharing it,” she said.
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