How to Tell Someone You Have an STI
Every day, more than one million STIs are contracted globally.
Contracting an STI can lead to feelings of low self-worth, anxiety around love and relationships, depression, and feelings of sexual trauma.
Here’s the thing, viruses happen. STIs and STDs are a natural part of biology on this planet, but that doesn’t make them any less painful to deal with. If you have an STI, you have not done anything wrong, you are not dirty, you are not less-than.
Telling new or current sexual partners about your status can bring up anxiety, and trigger any preexisting feelings you had around being diagnosed.
How to Tell a Current Partner You Were Just Diagnosed
If you are diagnosed with an STI after you’ve already slept with someone, it’s important to tell them as soon as possible.
While many of the most common ones are treatable when detected early, left untreated they can lead to long term health issues and problems with infertility.
This is not an easy conversation to have – we understand. If you are in a monogamous relationship it may even bring up questions around infidelity. If this comes up, you can remind your partner that sometimes STIs can take time to show symptoms, especially if you weren’t tested before you two began having sex together.
Remember that if you both are diagnosed, you’ll have to finish treatment before resuming sex again, to avoid retransmission.
How To Tell a New Partner
Of the eight most common STIs, four of them are incurable. For people who have one of these four infections – herpes, HIV, HPV, or Hepatitis B – navigating sex with other people can be a difficult part of their healing journey.
Having this hanging over your head when you’re talking to a new person may prevent you from feeling totally present or confident. When you choose to tell a new partner is totally up to you, but the longer you wait, the more time you have for stress to build.
Which is why we suggest doing it sooner than later – like when you’re first getting to know someone.
When having this discussion, be prepared to answer any questions that may come up. Do your research, if you haven’t already, and be as honest and upfront with them as possible.
Questions That May Come Up
You’ll want to have science-backed information on the logistics of having sex with an STI.
Here are some of the most important topics to cover:
- The basics of your STI. How exactly does it work in the body? What does it do to you? How does it affect your life? And other information like that herpes and HIV can be dormant for the most part, and be managed to help lower the chance of transmission.
- What precautions you can take. Barrier methods, like condoms, although these are not 100% effective.
- What their chances of transmission are, and factors that may influence that like if you’re having an outbreak, or common comorbidities. Or that for someone who is HIV+, when taking a treatment that fully suppresses their viral load, risk of transmission is virtually zero.
- Are there sexual acts that are inherently more “risky”? For example, HIV transmission is more common in anal sex because of rectum’s sensitive tissue is more likely to cause microtears with friction.
- How you navigated experiences with prior sexual partners. It may be helpful and for them to hear what has worked for you in the past. This can be a sexy talk too!
If you have an incurable STI and are dating, here is one practice you can try. To help you get used to disclosing your status, try casually dropping it when you are chatting with a new match on a dating app. Even if this is someone you have no intention of dating, it can help to build momentum, so that you can get used to having these discussions candidly.
You may find that a lot less people care than you may have otherwise thought. It also means that anyone who is not worthy of your love and affection will be weeded out based on their response.
For some people who are dating with an STI, they find that one of the benefits is the need for transparency, clear communication, and honesty right off the bat.
The more we talk about STIs, the less stigmatized they become. We can do this by avoiding terms like “clean”, which implies that someone with an STI is dirty, and talking about them like we would any other infection – with clear medical terminology and an understanding that they are normal, and do not need to be a source of shame.
If you are navigating sex, dating, and love with an STI, please know that you are absolutely, one hundred percent worthy of unconditional love. You are worthy of, and will have an incredibly fulfilling sex life based on trust, intimacy, and honesty.
Natasha (she/her) is a full-spectrum doula and health+wellness copywriter. Her work focuses on deconstructing the shame, stigma, and barriers people carry around birth, sex, health, and beyond, to help people navigate through their lives with more education and empowerment. You can connect with Natasha on IG @natasha.s.weiss.