Learning that you have an STI can go along with a lot of emotions. There’s everything that relates to how you feel about it – and then there’s the knowledge that you’ll have to disclose your STI to any current and recent sexual partners and, depending on whether or not it’s treatable, any future sexual partners, too.
Lots of people get STIs and go on to have mind-blowing sex lives. Doing so just requires honesty, transparency, and holding space for both yourself and for your sexual partners. Here’s how to start the conversation.
Our sex education system is not rooted in science and pleasure, and so many queer women are not as informed as they could be around STIs. While it is not your job to challenge someone else’s misinformation or lack of understanding, you should be generally informed about what you have and what it means. Being able to clearly discuss the situation and answer basic questions can also help the conversation go more smoothly. You should know what you have, the date of your recent test, what safer sex measures you can take if any, and how to manage or treat it if possible. Some folks find statistics on transmission reassuring, while some don’t. Some folks might want to know where you got it, and some won’t. Decide for yourself what details you’re comfortable sharing around your personal history, but do prepare to share the surface facts.
Set Up The Conversation
Like any conversation about something sexual and high stakes, telling a partner that you have an STI should take place somewhere private, far away from the bedroom and outside the context of being about to have sex. To the best of your ability, make sure you’re in a calm and grounded headspace to have what could be a difficult conversation, and ideally that your partner is the same.
Be Direct and Open
With an existing or recent sexual partner, “Hey, it might be a good idea to get an STI test” isn’t direct enough. Try something like, “I found out I have [the specific STI] after I got tested last week, and since we’ve slept together you might have been exposed. Here’s what you need to know” is a better approach.
With a future sexual partner, you can say something like, “I’m really enjoying getting to know you. Before we get physical, I’d like to share that I have [the specific STI]. Here’s what you need to know.”
In either scenario, follow up your disclosure with where or when you likely got it, what your safer sex practices look like, and a little information about how it’s transmitted. Be sincere, not defensive. Because you’re the one initiating the disclosure, you have the chance to set the tone by staying calm and open, even if it feels vulnerable to do so.
After you share your information directly and transparently, listen. You can’t predict someone’s response, but you can make space for it. Some people might react with concerns, questions, or asking for space. Some might want more information from you, and some might not. Answer sincerely, and give them space if they ask for it.
There’s a chance they might react with fear, judgment, anger, or concern. There’s also a chance they might react with acceptance, appreciation of your honesty and transparency, or a counter-disclosure. You can’t know until you talk. Just as the conversation is an opportunity for your partner to learn about you, it’s also an opportunity for you to learn about them. It can hurt to be rejected over an STI – but if someone is going to reject you over an STI, or react with anger or lashing out, then you probably don’t want to have them in your sex life.
I Don’t Want to Tell Anyone that I Have an STI. Do I Really Have To?
Yes. It can be uncomfortable, awkward, or embarrassing to share that you have an STI, whether with someone you’ve already had sex with or with someone you want to have sex with. But it can be even more uncomfortable, awkward, or embarrassing to face criminal charges for knowingly transmitting an STI, as is possible in several states. And whether or not that’s the case where you live, sharing your STI status is a required part of your partner consenting to have sex with you. Some STIs can be no big deal, but they can still have short- and long-term health impacts, fertility impacts, and consequences for any partner’s other partners (including for you; if you seek treatment and they don’t know they need to, you might end up reinfected). Even if there were no consequences, telling your sexual partners about your STI is the right thing to do. And it only gets easier with practice.