STIs Are NBD — Really. Here’s How to Talk About It


person looking down at their cell phone

The idea of talking about sexually transmitted infections (STIs) with a partner can be more than enough to get your undies in a bunch.

Like a knotted twisty bunch that thrusts its way up your backside and into the pit of your butterfly-filled belly.

Breathe and repeat after me: It doesn’t have to be a big deal.

Who has them

Spoiler: Everyone, probably. Whether it’s cleared by a run of antibiotics or hanging around for the long haul makes no difference.

Take human papillomavirus (HPV) for example. It’s so common that nearly all sexually active people develop the virus at some point in their lives.

And another mind-boggling little factoid: More than 1 million STIs are acquired everyday worldwide, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Every. Freakin. Day.

Why talking about testing and status matters

These conversations aren’t fun, but they help break the chain of infection.

A talk about testing and status can help prevent the spread of STIs and lead to earlier detection and treatment, which can help avoid complications.

This is especially important with many STIs often being asymptomatic until complications occur, like infertility and certain cancers.

Plus, it’s just the decent thing to do. A partner deserves to know so they can be free to decide how to proceed. Same goes for you when it comes to their status.

How STIs are transmitted

STIs are contracted in more ways than you probably realize!

Penis-in-vagina and penis-in-anus aren’t the only way — oral, manual, and even dry humping sans clothes can transmit STIs.

Some are spread through contact with bodily fluids and some through skin-to-skin contact, whether there are visible signs of an infection or not.

When to get tested

Get tested before you want to fool around with someone, TBH.

Basically, you wanna know before you go — and by go we mean down there, in there, on there, or up there!

What to do with your results

This totally depends on why you were tested in the first place. Was this an FYI check-up for your own peace of mind? Are you testing after a past partner? Before a new one?

If you test positive for an STI, then you’ll need to share your status with any current and past partners that may have been exposed.

If you’re planning to share any kind of sexy time with someone new, you’ll need to share your results first. This goes for kissing, too, since some STIs can be transmitted through smooching, like oral herpes or syphilis.

To text or not to text?

Honestly, neither is necessarily better, but talking about test results face to face could pose safety concerns in some situations.

If you’re scared that your partner may get aggressive or violent, then a text is the safest way to go.

In an ideal world, everyone would be able to sit and have a heart-to-heart that ends with a hug of understanding and gratitude. But since the world isn’t all unicorns and rainbows, a text is better than putting yourself in harm’s way or not telling them at all.

How to talk about your results

This is the hard part, but we’ve got your back.

Here’s how to talk about your results depending on your situation — like with a new, current, or past partner.

General tips and considerations

No matter what the deal is with the person you’re telling, these tips can make things a little easier.

Know all the things

They’re probably going to have questions or concerns, so gather as much info as you can before the talk.

Do your research about the STI so you can be fully confident when telling them how it can be transmitted, and about symptoms and treatment.

Have resources ready

Emotions may be running high, so your partner might not hear or process everything you share. Have tools ready that’ll answer their questions. This way they can process things on their own time.

These should include a link to a credible organization like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or the American Sexual Health Association (ASHA), and a link to any resource you found particularly helpful when learning about your STI.

Pick the right place and time

The right place to disclose your status is wherever you feel safest and most comfortable. It should be someplace private enough that you can talk without worrying about other people interrupting.

As for timing, this isn’t a conversation you should have when you’re drunk — not on booze, love, or sex. That means clothes on and totally sober.

Be prepared that they might get upset

People make a lot of assumptions about the how’s and why’s of STIs. Blame it on less-than-stellar sex ed programs and stigmas that just refuse to die — though we’re working on it.

STIs don’t mean a person’s dirty, and they don’t always mean that someone cheated.

Still, even if they know this, their initial reaction might still be to throw anger and accusations your way. Try not to take it personally.

Try to stay calm

Your delivery is as much a part of your message as your words. And how you come off will set the tone for the convo.

Even if you believe you contracted the STI from them, try not to play the blame game and lose your cool. It won’t change your results and will only make the conversation even harder.

Telling a previous partner

Telling an ex you have an STI is about as comfortable as a festering hemorrhoid, but it’s the responsible thing to do. Yes, even if your last contact with them was sticking a pin in a voodoo doll.

You’ll want to keep the convo on topic, which means resisting the urge to rehash any old arguments.

Stuck on what to say? Here are a couple examples. Feel free to use them as a script, or copy and paste them into a text or email:

  • “I was just diagnosed with [INSERT STI] and my doctor recommended that my previous partners get tested for this. It doesn’t always cause symptoms, so even if you don’t have any, you should still be tested to be safe.”
  • “I went in for a routine screening and found out I have [INSERT STI]. The doctor thinks it’s important that my previous partners get tested to protect their health. I didn’t show any symptoms and you might not either, but you should get tested anyway.”

Telling a current partner

It’s totally understandable to start questioning your trust in a partner if you’re diagnosed with an STI while you’re in a relationship.

Did they know they had it and just not tell you? Did they cheat? Depending on the circumstances, they may be feeling the same.

Keep in mind that a lot of STIs only cause mild symptoms, if any at all, and some don’t show up right away. It’s totally possible that you or your partner contracted it before you were together without knowing it.

Ideally your partner is already in the loop about your testing or plans to test, so a talk about your results won’t be a total surprise.

Regardless of your results, full transparency is key — so have your results ready to show them.

You’ll also want to be forthcoming about what the results mean for them. For instance:

  • Do they need to be treated, too?
  • Do you need to start using barrier protection?
  • Do you need to refrain from sex altogether and for how long?

If you’re stuck for words, here’s what to say (depending on your results):

  • “I got my test results back and tested positive for [INSERT STI]. It’s totally treatable and the doctor prescribed a medication for me to take for [INSERT NUMBER OF DAYS]. I’ll be tested again in [INSERT NUMBER OF DAYS] to make sure it’s gone. You probably have questions, so ask away.”
  • “My results came back positive for [INSERT STI]. I care about you, so I got all the information I could about my treatment, what this means for our sex life, and any precautions we have to take. What do you want to know first?”
  • “My STI results are negative, but we both need to stay on top of regular testing and do what we can to stay safe. Here’s what the doctor recommended…”

With a new partner

If you’re trying to woo someone new with your best moves, STIs were probably not part of your game. But sharing your status with a new or potential partner is really NBD, especially if it’s just a hookup anyway.

The best approach here is to let ‘er rip like a bandage and just say it or text it.

If you do decide to have the talk in person, choose a safe setting — preferably with an exit nearby in case things get uncomfortable and you want to GTFO.

Here are some examples of what you can say:

  • “Before we hook up, we should talk status. I’ll go first. My last STI screen was [INSERT DATE] and I’m [POSITIVE/NEGATIVE] for [INSERT STI(s)]. How about you?”
  • “I have [INSERT STI]. I’m taking medication to manage/treat it. I thought it’s something you need to know before we take things further. I’m sure you have questions, so fire away.”

If you have results to share but want to remain anonymous

What a wonderful time to be alive! You can be a decent human and notify partners that they should get tested, but without having to make the dreaded chlamydia courtesy call yourself.

In some states, healthcare providers offer the Partner Notification Services program and will contact your previous partner to let them know they’ve been exposed and offer testing and referrals.

If that’s not an option or you’d rather not have your healthcare provider do it, there are online tools that let you text or email previous partners anonymously. They’re free, easy to use, and don’t require sharing any of your personal information.

Here are a few options:

  • TellYourPartner
  • inSPOT
  • DontSpreadIt

How to bring up testing

The best way to bring up testing really depends on relationship status.

Let’s look at some tips that can make it easier depending on your current sitch.

General tips and considerations

The most important thing to remember is that STI testing is a matter of health and keeping you both safe. It’s not about shaming, accusing, or implying anything, so mind your tone and keep it respectful.

The same general considerations for sharing your status apply when it comes to bringing up testing, too:

  • Pick the right place and time so you can speak freely and openly.
  • Have information on hand to offer in case they have questions about testing.
  • Be prepared that they might not be as open to talking about STIs as you are.

With a current partner

Even if you’ve already had sex, you need to talk about testing. This applies whether you had sex without a barrier in the heat of the moment or if you’ve been together a while and are considering ditching barrier protection altogether.

Here are some ways to bring it up:

  • “I know we already had sex without a barrier, but if we’re going to keep doing it, we really should get tested.”
  • “If we’re going to stop using dental dams/condoms, we need to get tested. Just to be safe.”
  • “I’m having my routine STI screening soon. Why don’t we both get tested together?”
  • “I have/had [INSERT STI] so it’s a good idea for you to get tested, too, even if we’ve been careful.”

With a new partner

Don’t let new lust-induced butterflies get in the way of talking about testing with a new or potential partner.

Ideally, you want to bring it up before your pants are off and in a nonsexual context so that you’re both thinking clearly. That said, if you do happen to get caught pants-down when it occurs to you, it’s still totally cool to bring it up.

Here’s what to say either way:

  • “I feel like sex might be in the cards for us soon, so we should probably talk about getting tested for STIs.”
  • “I always get tested before having sex with someone new. When was your last test?”
  • “Since we haven’t been tested together yet, we should definitely use protection.”

How often to test

Yearly STI testing is recommended for anyone who’s sexually active. It’s especially important to get tested if:

  • you’re about to start having sex with someone new
  • you have multiple partners
  • your partner has multiple partners or has cheated on you
  • you and your partner are thinking about ditching barrier protection
  • you or your partner have symptoms of an STI

You may want to get tested more frequently for the above reasons, especially if you have symptoms.

If you’re in a long-term monogamous relationship, you might not need to get tested as often — think once a year, minimum — as long as you were both tested before entering the relationship.

If you weren’t, then it’s possible that one or both of you has had an undiagnosed infection for years. Get tested to be safe.

How to minimize transmission

Safer sex practices begin before you even drop trou’ and start having the sex.

Here are some things you can do before getting busy that can help reduce the risk of contracting or transmitting STIs:

  • Have an honest talk with potential partners about your sexual histories.
  • Don’t have sex when you’re drunk or high.
  • Get the HPV and hepatitis B (HBV) vaccines.

When actually getting down to it, use a latex or polyurethane barrier for all types of sex.

This includes:

  • using external or internal condoms during penetrative vaginal or anal sex
  • using condoms or dental dams for oral sex
  • using gloves for manual penetration

There are things you can do after sex, too, to help keep you safe.

Rinse off after sex to remove any infectious material from your skin and urinate after sex to reduce the risk of urinary tract infections (UTIs).

When to see a doctor

Some STIs are asymptomatic or cause mild symptoms that can go unnoticed, but knowing what signs and symptoms to look for is important.

Any of these — no matter how mild — should trigger a visit with a doctor:

  • unusual discharge from the vagina, penis, or anus
  • burning or itching in the genital region
  • changes in urination
  • abnormal vaginal bleeding
  • pain during sex
  • pelvic or lower abdominal pain
  • bumps and sores

The bottom line

Talking to a partner about STIs doesn’t have to be a cringe-worthy affair. Sex is normal, STIs are more common than ever, and there’s no shame in wanting to protect yourself or your partner.

Arm yourself with information and resources before you have the talk and take a deep breath. And remember that there’s always texting.

Adrienne Santos-Longhurst is a freelance writer and author who has written extensively on all things health and lifestyle for more than a decade. When she’s not holed up in her writing shed researching an article or off interviewing health professionals, she can be found frolicking around her beach town with husband and dogs in tow, or splashing about the lake trying to master the stand-up paddleboard.

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