Megan and Josh have been friends since middle school, and somehow they always knew they'd end up as a couple. But although they shared all kinds of personal secrets over the years, Megan dreaded telling Josh about her STD. After she summoned the nerve to talk about it, she was surprised when Josh said he had the same STD — and was wondering how he would tell her.
First, Get Tested
Sexually transmitted diseases — or STDs — affect the body, but living with one can be a strain on a person's emotions as well. If you have an STD, you might feel alone — but you're not. STDs (also called sexually transmitted infections, or STIs) are incredibly common. Luckily, many can be cured. And those that can't (like herpes or HIV/AIDS) can still be treated to help with symptoms, although the infection can still spread to other people.
The trouble happens when people feel perfectly fine and show no signs of having an STD. Since they don't know, they don't get treated. That causes bigger problems because STDs don't just go away on their own. Without treatment, the infection stays in the body and could cause permanent health problems or spread to other people. That's why doctors recommend that people who are having sex (or who have had sex in the past) get tested regularly for STDs.
Why People Need to Tell Their Partners
So what do you do if your test comes back positive? One of the first steps is to tell any sexual partners — past, present, and future. Why? Their health is at risk, so they need to know what's going on. It's natural to feel apprehensive, even scared, at the thought of discussing your disease. You may worry about rejection and rumors. But to protect your partner (and avoid any future embarrassment or misunderstanding), it's a conversation you need to have.
Need more reasons?
- Not telling a partner about an STD after a confirmed diagnosis may be a criminal offense in some states.
- Some STDs can affect fertility later in life if they're not treated early on.
- Some STDs can cause life-threatening infections, especially if they're not recognized and treated.
- If you're treated for a curable STD but your partner hasn't been, you can get reinfected.
- Telling a future partner allows that person to make an informed decision about his or her own health — such as taking precautions to prevent the spread of disease.
- Telling a past or current partner gives that person the opportunity to get checked out and, if necessary, treated.
Telling a New Partner About an STD
If you have an STD, it's normal to be nervous about telling someone new. Everyone raises the subject differently. Here are some ideas for handling the conversation:
Try imagining that your roles are reversed. What would you expect your partner to do and say if he or she were in your shoes?
Be proud of your intentions. Your willingness to have this difficult conversation shows that you care about the other person and your relationship. We're all more likely to trust and respect people who are honest (and brave!) enough to talk about tough topics like STDs.
It's best to be direct. You could start by saying, "Before we have sex, I want us to talk about STDs and protection. Because I have an STD." Mention the type of STD you have and how you got it. You don't have to share every detail of your past relationships, but showing that you're open to talking and answering questions can help your partner feel more comfortable too.
It's best to be honest. You may worry about rumors spreading — but isn't it better for your partner to find out because you said something rather than wake up one day with an infection? People are more likely to respect someone's privacy if they feel that person has also respected them.
Allow the conversation to proceed naturally. Listen rather than doing all the talking. Prepare for your partner to be surprised. Each person reacts differently to the news. Some might panic. Some might be full of questions. Others might just need to time to think.
Don't push your partner to make decisions about sex or your relationship right away. It's normal to want acceptance and reassurance after revealing such personal information. But give the other person some space. Making a suggestion like "I know you probably want some time to think about this" shows that you're confident and in control.
Encourage your partner to ask questions. During the conversation, offer information and facts about the STD and its symptoms, such as whether it can be treated or cured. You may want to bring an article or booklet about your STD to give to your partner. If you can't answer all of your partner's questions, that's OK. Say you don't know and then go online together to learn more.
If you and your partner decide not to have sexual intercourse (vaginal, anal, or oral sex), there are other ways you can be intimate or express your feelings for one another. If you do decide to have intercourse, use condoms and practice safe sex techniques.
Telling a Current Partner About an STD
Being diagnosed with an STD while in a relationship can provoke many emotions. You may even begin to question your trust in your partner. Before you blame your partner for infidelity, though, keep in mind that some STDs don't always cause symptoms right away. It is possible that you or your partner contracted the STD in a previous relationship without even knowing it.
These feelings can be hard to confront. But the most important thing to remember is that you and your partner both need to receive medical care as soon as possible.
If you find out that you have an STD while you are in a relationship, talk to your partner as soon as possible. Be honest and straightforward — even if you haven't been in the past. Remember that your partner may be upset and possibly angry, so try to be sensitive.
The most helpful thing you can do is listen to your partner's concerns and fears and offer information about the STD and its symptoms. Give your partner time to absorb this information.
If you and your partner have already had sex, stop until you can both get tested. Talk to a doctor. If you have a curable STD, you will probably need to take medicine as part of your treatment. Take all of your medication exactly as your doctor prescribes and schedule a follow-up exam to make sure the STD is completely gone.
You also might need to take medication if you have an STD, like herpes, that can't be cured. A doctor or a health clinic can give advice on how to avoid passing the infection to your sexual partner.
If you're diagnosed with an STD and you think you've had it for a while, you need to let past sexual partners know. They should get tested, too.
It may be emotionally uncomfortable, but telling partners about STDs is the right thing to do. If you think you have an STD or you have questions about STDs, talk to a doctor, sexual health clinic, or student health center.
Reviewed by: D'Arcy Lyness, PhD
Date reviewed: October 2012