There are a lot of nerve wracking things about dating and sex. But one of the hardest is telling a current, or future, sex partner that you have an STD. That's because we live in a world where there is still a lot of fear, shame and stigma about sexually transmitted infections, and the result is that a lot of people take a lot of risks rather than fess up to their infection.
Though individuals need to take responsibility for their actions and decisions, it is also critical to understand that we are living in pretty sex-negative times. Many people receive life-long messages about the disastrous consequences of sex outside of a heterosexual marriage and for GLBT teens this can mean an increase in risk taking, and as a result the exposure to STDs.
Additionally, few people are taught how to talk about sex, and many otherwise chatty folks simply clam up when the need to talk about sex with a partner arises.
Combine these issues with the challenge of trying to obtain accurate information about sexual health, and the result is that safe sex often gets put on the back burner.
So what should you do you if you have an STD and are in a sexual relationship or are considering one? First, try to think of it like any other, non-sex related infection. If you had strep, you probably wouldn't want to expose your partner by getting into a hot and heavy make out session. Yet so many of us just cross our fingers and hope for the best when it comes to STDs. Keeping things in perspective can really help. Below are some additional tips.
At the start of a new relationship:
- If you know you have an infection when you begin a new sexual relationship, don't wait until after having sex to tell someone. That's true even if you use condoms. Yes, it is possible that a potential partner won't want to have sex with you if he or she knows, but that is their right. And, finding out later that someone withheld this crucial information is pretty much a deal breaker for a whole lot of people.
- Arm yourself with a few key facts about your infection. Is it something that can be cleared up with antibiotics, like chlamydia or gonorrhea? Is it a chronic life long condition like HIV? Is it something that can go away but reoccur, like herpes. The more you know the better you'll able to answer a partner's questions and make smart choices.
- Practice having a discussion with your partner. Make a list of what you want to say and all the possible things your partner could say in response.
If you have already had sex with a partner:
- Take a deep breath. Be as honest as you can about the situation and explain why you waited to tell them. (Did you just find out? Were you scared or embarrassed to tell them? Did you think using condoms or a dental dam was enough protection?)
- Remember, most people have more than one sex partner throughout their lifetime. Having an STD is not an automatic sign that you cheated, are ‘dirty,’ or have a questionable past.
- Be aware that STDs often lie dormant for years without any symptoms and that it is possible to bring an infection into a relationship without ever knowing you had one in the first place. It is also possible for one person to have an infection without exhibiting symptoms and to pass that infection on to a partner who will develop symptoms.
- Encourage your partner to get tested.
Talking about STDs is really hard. But not talking about them is just plain dangerous.
Still there is one more option if you think you might have exposed a partner to an STD--having that person told anonymously.
In a lot of places, organizations will send an email or a letter to a person saying something along the lines of, "Someone you had sex with has an STD. Get tested." Some groups are more clinical about the notification. Others can take a playful approach.
One good group that does this is the San Francisco based, inSPOT which offers people a variety of e-cards that can range from serious to humorous and will be emailed to a partner.STD's can be tough, but often what makes them even tougher is simply not dealing with them!