How and when to talk to your partner about STIs
Ah, the age old question: “When was your last STI test?” We’ve been asking each other since the dawn of time (okay, since the dawn of regularly available STI testing).
A question this personal might feel awkward for a new hookup, the early stages of dating, or even between loved ones. However, if you’re considering having unprotected sex with someone it really is mandatory.
We’ve been there ourselves and have a few tips for turning this seemingly sticky question into an effortless exchange between two adults.
Before we get into it, we want to make one thing clear: STIs are nothing to be ashamed of, and they’re quite common! In fact, most people don’t realize how truly common they are. About 20% of US adults have had an STI, according to a 2018 CDC study. So if 1 in 5 of us have been there, it should really be NBD to talk about.
Okay, so you’ve made it this far which means you probably have a hookup in your near future (exciting!) and you want some tools for having the talk. Let’s break it down.
When to bring up STIs with a new partner
The true answer? The safest time to bring this up is before you start having sex with them. In reality, though, most people don’t bring up STIs before the first time. To that I say: this can be your chance to break through social norms, practice communication, and build trust with a new partner.
If you’re wincing at even the thought of it, don’t fret — you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to. If you’re not willing to discuss STI status with a new partner, you should definitely be using condoms. Condoms are 98% effective at protecting against most STIs, so you’re likely safe with consistent and proper condom use.
Still, nothing strengthens a bond like a vulnerable, open, and honest conversation between two adults. So I recommend practicing what we all preach and having *the talk.*
And remember: interrupting a makeout when things are getting hot and heavy to discuss STIs is totally okay! The conversation doesn’t need to be some formal sit down or feel like a business meeting. The more comfortable and secure you feel, the better the conversation will go. You can even do it playfully — but we’ll get into tips on what to say below.
If you take away anything from this article, let it be these two things:
- You should never have unprotected sex with someone before you discuss STI status.
- If you want to have unprotected sex at any point, you must discuss STI status and have reliable birth control (assuming you both don’t want a baby).
How to ask your partner if they have an STI
Hell yeah, I’m so glad you asked. Confidence is key here. There’s nothing more attractive than caring for yourself and others and one way to do that is by practicing safe sex.
Before you ask your partner their STI status, I really recommend you know yours. If you’ve had any new partners since your last test, then it’s time to get a new one. STI tests are surprisingly easy to come by — simply give “STI tests near me” a google and do your thing.
Okay, back to having the talk. There is no right way to bring up asking someone if they have an STI, but there is language that can help you and your partner feel more comfortable and safe. Like we talked about earlier, this conversation doesn’t have to be stuffy and serious. You can be playful with it!
Here are some suggestions:
- “I really want to have sex with you but before we go any further, can we talk about STIs?”
- “Before this goes any further, when was your last STI test? Mine was a few weeks ago and I want to put everything out in the open.”
- “So I got an STI test a few weeks ago and was wondering if you’ve been tested recently?”
- “This feels a little awkward to bring up, but when was your last STI test?”
What to do if your partner tells you they have an STI
Remember, 20% of US adults have had an STI. Your partner might be one of them! And that’s totally okay. STIs are normal and most can be successfully treated. And oftentimes, they’re truly no big deal. However, like any good conversation, there’s some nuance here:
If your partner tells you they have an STI *before* you have sex for the first time:
First of all, A+ for awesome communication. Now you can ask them about their status of the STI, their treatment plan, and really just listen. They’re likely feeling vulnerable at this moment and the most supportive thing you can do is listen without judgment. Thank them for their honesty and willingness to have a tough conversation. They should follow instructions from their primary care provider on how to treat and prevent their STI. Do not have unprotected sex with your partner if they have an STI that is not being managed.
If your partner tells you they have an STI *after* you have sex:
Okay, it’s good that they told you. Now you know. Did you use a condom the entire time? If so, awesome. You should keep using condoms. Did you not use a condom? If not, you should get an STI test STAT and have an open and honest talk about this with your partner. Either way, we recommend getting an STI test to be safe.
What to do if you have an STI
1 in 5 adults have had an STI so you are *very normal.* Remember, most STIs are totally treatable.The most important thing to do here is see a medical professional for a treatment plan, next steps, and information. However, this news can still be upsetting and there’s no shame in that.
You should also contact any sexual partners you’ve been with since your last STI test. If you’d like to stay anonymous and let them know they need to get tested, there are organizations like Tell Your Partner who facilitate anonymous text messages with information.
If you have a current partner you need to tell, it’s best to tell them quickly, openly, and honestly. You’ll be doing them a favor. The best thing to do is to come armed with the information you have at hand: do you have a treatment plan? What does this mean for them? What do they need to know to feel safe?
We recommend getting tested before sleeping with a new partner — it’s the safest way to avoid this situation.
All in all, talking about and dealing with STIs is no fun, but it’s one of the most important things you can do to keep yourself and your partner safe. STIs left untreated can have long term effects on your health and even your fertility. So there’s no time like the present to get a test and chat with your new hookup so you can have all the sex you want, safely!