It’s sometimes hard not to clam up when it comes to talking honestly about sexual topics with your partner. It’s even harder when it comes to things like sexually transmissible infections (STIs) or your sexual history.
Understandably, there’s often a fear about how they might react to the conversation. The result is many of us shy away from talking about things that are important to our personal health. However, sweeping these topics under the bed, so to speak, can be more detrimental for you and your partner in the long term and it’s likely you will need to talk about it eventually.
These conversations will not only help keep you safe, they’re also an important part of developing and maintaining a healthy and satisfying sex-life – and sexual relationship should you choose to have one.
To help reduce the #awkward in these conversations, we asked young people for their thoughts and compiled some tips for you to use.
Bite the bullet
Don’t wait or assume your partner will bring up STIs or their sexual history. Start the conversation first and be proactive about protecting your body.
“I’m not gonna lie, it can be pretty awkward, but I figure surprise herpes could be a tad more awkward.” Ryan, 23
Talk sooner rather than later and definitely before you have sex
Don’t wait until you’re between the sheets to bring it up. Drop the conversation in when you’re doing something casual and non-sexual. If it’s an unexpected hook-up or one night stand scenario, just be open and ask ASAP – when you’re leaving the bar, in the cab, or walking home – and always make sure you use a condom.
“It’s hard to talk about it in the heat of the moment; I feel like people just say what they think you want to hear at that point. It’s much easier to talk about it with your clothes on, before things get steamy.” Kate, 25
If you want your partner to be honest with you, you need to be open and honest with them. The more straightforward and confident you are when talking about STIs and STI testing, the easier it is for your partner to be mature and serious about it. It’s also a good idea to set the tone and let them know you’re not going to judge or get mad at them, that you just think it’s good to be informed.
“There’s a sexiness to someone who’s confident about their health and not afraid to just be frank about it.” Carly, 25
Begin by talking about yourself
If you start by telling your partner about yourself, it seems less like an accusation or grilling of their past, and more like a casual conversation. For example, you could say “FYI, I got tested for STIs last month and I didn’t have anything. When was the last time you got tested?”.
“My girlfriend brought up STI testing early on in our relationship and I remember thinking ‘this chick has her head on right’ – she wasn’t afraid to stand up for her health and made me get an STI test before we had sex. It was worth the wait.” James, 26
Be honest if you have or have had an STI
STIs are common and it’s important to be honest about if you have or have had one. If you’re open about having had an STI in the past (such as chlamydia or gonorrhoea) and had it treated, it shows your partner that you’re not ashamed of it and you’re responsible – it also helps de-stigmatise STIs.
If you’re living with a viral STI (like genital herpes or warts) it’s important that you tell your partner and discuss ways you can help minimise passing it on. If you have HIV, you are legally required in some states to disclose your HIV status to sexual partners. You may want to have some basic information about the STI handy or suggest where your partner can find out more about it. It may take your partner time to process the news and it may need to be discussed again, however, if they still don’t take it well, they may not be someone you want to be with anyway.
“My partner told me at the start of our relationship that they had an STI. I was pretty shocked, but it also made me respect them so much more for caring about my health and wanting to make sure I didn’t get it too.” Lisa, 30
Be prepared if your partner has an STI
Think about how you might feel and react in this situation. Remember, you want them to be honest and if they are, and they tell you they have an STI, your response is really important – revealing this information to someone isn’t an easy thing to do. It’s important to show them compassion and thank them for being honest. Also, there’s no need to run for the hills just because someone has an STI – it doesn’t mean the end of your sex life together. Many STIs are curable, and those that aren’t curable can be treated and managed effectively to minimise symptoms and reduce the risk of transmission to partners.
“Once you have information about STIs they really aren’t that scary. I soon realised that my partner and I could still have a great sex-life even though he has genital herpes.” Jesse, 27
Still use a condom
So if you’ve had the STI chat, you’ve both been tested recently and neither of you has an STI, does this means you don’t need to use condoms? No. It’s still a good idea to use condoms for vaginal, anal or oral sex, especially for casual or new relationships.
Once you’ve both been thoroughly tested for all STIs, know and trust each other and have agreed on a committed monogamous relationship (only having sex with each other), you can consider not using condoms. But remember, if you’re in a girl/guy relationship find another reliable form of contraception to prevent unplanned pregnancy.
“I’m glad we still used condoms, as when we both got tested together, it turned out that she had chlamydia. The treatment was easy, she got the all clear and we’re still in a really good relationship.” Taylor, 27
*names throughout have been changed