Love, Sex

How To Tell Someone You Have A Sexually Transmitted Infection

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So you have an STD or STI... now what? For many women still in the prime of their dating lives, an STI can feel like a huge, blinking road block standing between them and Mr. Right. But it doesn't have to be. Yes, you'll have to tell them about your situation, but it doesn't have to scare them away. Here's how to do it.

(Ed. note: STI stands for sexually transmitted infection; STD stands for sexually transmitted disease. You can be infected and infect others without showing outward characteristics of a disease, so STI is the more accurate term in this case.)

When To Tell A Potential Partner About Your STI

Perhaps the most difficult part about living with an STI like herpes or {{ genital warts is that no matter how safe your sexual activity, there will always remain a risk of transmission. As such, YourTango Expert and relationship counselor Dr. Erica Goodstone urges that, "your only ethical and fair choice is to be open and honest with a partner with whom you want to share sexual intimacy." 

That, however, is the definition of a tricky situation. When it comes to dating with an STI, communicating your status becomes a balancing act of conflicting priorities.

"You certainly don't do yourself any favors if you wear a sign declaring your status before people get to know you," says YourTango Expert and relationship coach Veronica Monet. "And if you wait too long, your potential partner can feel misled and manipulated."

Disclosing early is important. "Just don't make it one of the first conversations you have," Monet cautions. "You don't want to communicate that your STI status is the single most important thing there is to learn about you, because it is not. If you think it is, then you need to readjust your attitude."

You are, after all, more than your STI. So when do you tell?

As a general guideline, Monet recommends you inform your partner before there is any oral-to-genital contact and certainly well before there is any genital-to-genital contact. Some STIs are less easy to contract, so you can kiss on the mouth or manually stimulate the genitals without risk. But even if you know this is the case, your partner might not.

"If your prospective partner is inexperienced and uninformed you will probably need to educate a great deal and it would be best to bring up the topic well before there is any contact of any kind," says Monet. This is the safest option under any circumstances. Keep in mind that even if you've been safe and are sure your partner knows there's been no risk of transmission, she or he might still feel misled. Use your judgment and err on the side of caution.

How to tell a potential partner:

1. Prep and pep yourself for the conversation.

DO work on your own judgments beforehand. "If you judge yourself for having a STI, you will communicate defensiveness, low self-esteem, or both," says Monet.

DO realize that you are not alone. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are roughly 19 million new cases of STIs each year in the U.S. Another shocking statistic? One in two sexually active young adults will get a sexually transmitted disease by age 25, and most won't know it. 

DO know the facts of your diagnosis. What are the symptoms? How is it transmitted from one person to another? What kind of treatments are available? Is there a cure? And if not, is there any way to lessen the severity of symptoms and/or the likelihood of transmission to any future partners? Knowing all the facts will make you more confident, and being able to answer all their questions will go a long way towards reassuring a partner.

DO practice in advance what you plan to tell your partner. Dr. Goodstone suggests that you, "Imagine that the roles are reversed and think about how and what you would like this other person to tell you. If necessary, write down how you want to say it and read it over many times until you are comfortable with the way you are explaining your situation."

2. Select the appropriate time and place.

DON'T initiate the STI talk right before or in the middle of any sexual activity. Even if the hanky-panky is relatively risk-free, this is not the time to broach such a sensitive topic.

DO find a time that's right for you and your partner. For you, this should be a time when you are relaxed, and in a positive and optimistic mood. For your partner, it should be a time when they will be receptive to a serious discussion.

DO find a private, quiet location that's appropriate for the nature of this discussion. For example, at your house when it's just the two or you, a corner booth at a quiet cafe or in a park.

3. Communicate like an adult.

DO remain neutral and approach this topic as if you were discussing diabetes or heart disease. Says Monet, "We rarely shame each others for these diseases even though they can wreak havoc in our lives and the lives of our loved ones. STIs should be no different."

DO allow him or her to respond. "When you have finally shared this difficult news with your partner, allow him or her to respond," says Dr. Goodstone. "The response might be very angry or appear to be indifferent or even cold. Just allow the other person to sit with this news for a while without assuming the worst."
DO encourage your partner to ask questions, making sure to reassure him or her with all the facts.

DON'T be surprised if your partner is upset, has strange-seeming questions or is in any way shocked. If they really like you they'll want to get rid of any doubts, which can lead to unusual reactions.

4. Handling negative responses.

Unfortunately, sometimes you are going to have to deal with rejection. Here's what to do when they say, "no thanks."

DO be proud of yourself for having the courage to tell the truth. Relationships are built on honesty and openess, and remember, "You are the same person inside along with your heart, mind and being," says YourTango Expert and sex/wellness coach Eric Amaranth. "You're honoring them by telling them."

If they would rather not continue on with the relationship, Amaranth suggests thanking them for listening and then bidding them good-bye.

DON'T act annoyed, indignant or defensive—even if you feel those emotions. "STIs are a fact of life and in my professional opinion, are to be dealt with as adults, not as children—and with dignity."

It may seem unromantic to discuss a potentially unsexy part of yourself, but it is ultimately one of the most important discussions you will ever have as a couple. "Love is NOT enough to protect your partner from your STI and you owe it to them, to yourself and to your relationship, to take the proper precautions to ensure that your STI does NOT become 'our STI,'" says Monet. "What IS romantic is being honest and loving and putting the safety and well-being of your partner first.

"Your bottom line must always be to protect others from your STI without exception. Even once you have revealed your status, you have a responsibility to be the voice of reason," says Monet. "A new partner's acceptance of your STI can feel like a huge relief and to some extent that's great, but don't let it dissuade you from taking precautions."