Sex & Dating

How Do I Tell My Partner(s) I Have an STI?

A sex and dating expert breaks it down into 5 steps.

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Contracting a sexually transmitted infection can be extremely anxiety-inducing — especially when your mind wanders to social perceptionsLovehoney‘s scientific advisor and research fellow at the Kinsey Institute, Justin Lehmiller, broke down the process of disclosing into five helpful tips.

Create a safe space.

“There are no “one-size-fits-all” rules for these conversations,” Lehmiller admitted. Everyone is different so “the way you approach it may differ depending on how well you know the other person and how long you’ve been involved — as well as the nature of the STI,” he continued. “However, one helpful way to think about this no matter the situation is to imagine reversing the roles. What kind of scenario would make you feel safe and comfortable receiving similar information? Also, what kinds of questions would you have?” Prepare to hold this space for your partner(s).

how do i tell my partner i have an STI lovehoney justin lehmiller

What do I say?

“Any sexual conversation usually benefits from beginning with a place of validation.” A great example he shared was “start by telling them how much you care.” This solidifies the safe space. “From there, it’s a matter of your comfort level. Some people start by asking a question about their partner’s sexual health history. Some just get right to the point, disclose their status and allow the opportunity for questions.”

What’s unnecessary to share?

Because this is an anxiety-inducing situation, it can be difficult to discern what must be communicated, and what’s an overshare. According to Lehmiller, “Sexual history is something that should be on a ‘need-to-know’ basis.”

“The question here is, what’s actually relevant to your partner’s sexual health,” he continued. “For example, the number of people you have had sex with and the specific sexual activities you’ve engaged in previously aren’t really essential to that.” This is most likely your internalized shame peeking through. Instead, “you can certainly share whatever you feel comfortable sharing beyond your status, but you don’t need to provide a detailed history of things that do not have direct relevance to your partner’s health.”

how do i tell my partner i have an STI lovehoney justin lehmiller

What are green flags?

Green flags rarely get any hype which can make sex and dating seem daunting. Lehmiller shared with Hypebae that green flags are absolutely possible in this case. Here’s what they look like:

“Affirmation, validation or appreciation from a partner is ultimately what people are hoping for when they become vulnerable. It’s possible your partner may not want to get physical, or at least not right away — and that should be respected. But if they express this in a way that appreciates your vulnerability, that’s a positive outcome whether it’s the beginning or end of a sexual relationship. Asking questions — specifically, questions about better understanding this STI and what kinds of protective steps both of you can take — is another green flag. If they want to know how to make this work and are willing to work with you, that’s a positive outcome.”

What are red flags?

“Sharing an STI diagnosis sometimes provokes negative reactions,” he admitted. It’s important to note, however, that “Fear is not necessarily a red flag.”

Lehmiller continues, “It’s common for people to be afraid of STIs in a society where we’re often taught — incorrectly — that its the worst thing that can possibly happen to us. Also, with most chronic STIs, there are various ways to minimize exposure risk. For example, if you have HPV, your partner may be able to get a vaccine for this which can put their mind at ease. In other words, fear can often be addressed with a little bit of sex ed. A red flag response would be judgment or shaming. If your partner starts blaming or shaming you for your status or is otherwise judgmental, that’s not a situation you want to be in.”

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