There’s a lot of stigma that surrounds STDs. Jokes about STDs are often used to belittle someone who is sexually active or has had multiple partners, when the reality of the situation is that STDs and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are very common amongst all adults who are sexually active (with about 110 million sexually transmitted infections in the U.S.) and are just as easily contracted by someone who has had many sexual partners as someone who has had very few. It only takes one sexual encounter to contract an STD or STI, and it’s also possible to be safe and avoid contraction throughout numerous encounters.
With any luck, the discussion of STDs and STIs and the people who have them is shifting. You can help shift the conversation about STDs and relationships by being proactive with your partner(s) regarding your sexual health history and encouraging them to do the same. It can be a stress-inducing conversation, but it’s still an important one to have. Avoiding the topic with your partner, whether you have an STD or not, doesn’t get either of you anywhere. In the end, you’ll both be better for talking about it, and it’s still possible to have a happy, healthy relationship, whether you’re someone or with someone who has or has had an STD or STI.
Why You Should Talk to Your Partner About STDs and Relationships Before Being Sexually Active
If you were about to enter into a sexual relationship with someone who had an STD or STI, you’d want them to tell you, wouldn’t you? You don’t have to disclose it on the first date, but before you are sexually active with someone, you should have a conversation about STDs and the very real possibility one or both of you has contracted one.
If you have an STD, whether it’s treatable or not, you should disclose that information with your partner. Not only is it the right thing to do, in some states, not telling a partner about a confirmed STD diagnosis is a criminal offense. You also have no way of knowing how the STD might affect their health; don’t assume their symptoms will be mild, or that they won’t show symptoms, based on how the STD manifests in your own body. It’s always better to be open and honest with your partner and let them make informed decisions about their own sexual health.
If you have a curable STD or STI, regardless of whether or not you’re currently undergoing treatment for it, you should discuss that with your prospective partners. Even if you’ve begun treatment and your symptoms (if they were present) have subsided, if you haven’t completed the course of treatment, the STD or STI could still be communicable to a partner. If you’ve recently completed treatment, you should get tested again to ensure the treatment effectively rid you of the infection before being sexually active again.
While, again, STDs and relationships might not be the best subject to raise on a first date, you don’t want to wait too long, either. Timing the conversation right can be an obstacle for many. You don’t want to be presumptuous about when—or if—you and your new partner are going to have sex, but you don’t want to wait until it’s happening (or afterward) to ask them about their history of sexually transmitted infections or disclose yours.
Again, if you have an incurable STD or are currently undergoing treatment for a curable STD, you should disclose that information with your partner before you are sexually active, but, at the same time, don’t expect your new partner to disclose that information to you without being prompted. It can be a scary subject to introduce regardless of which side you’re coming from, but it should be a conversation between the both of you. If it’s not a subject you feel comfortable talking about with your partner, you may need to consider why and if you’re actually ready to begin a sexual relationship with this person.
You also can’t expect your partner to disclose their sexual health status to you, because you can’t expect your partner to know for sure whether they have an STD or not. Not everyone gets tested regularly, and not everyone gets tested for everything. You can’t rely on them to be honest with you about whether they have an STD or not if they’re not even sure themselves.
The best course of action, especially if either of you aren’t sure if you have any STDs, or if you haven’t been tested since ending your most recent sexual relationships, you should both get tested before you begin a new one. Not only is getting tested regularly an important part of being a sexually active adult, it’s important for both of you to know what you’re agreeing to by entering into a sexual relationship. It’s also important to consider when you were both sexually active. Every STD has what’s referred to as an “incubation period” during which the person has contracted the STD, but it hasn’t developed enough to cause a positive test result. Every STD and every infection differs, but generally it’s advised that you get tested three months after your last sexual encounter to ensure the most accurate results.
How to Tell Your Partner You Have an STD
If you already have an incurable STD, you should know that it’s still possible to have a happy, healthy relationship with someone—and it’s important that your partner understands that, too. They should also understand the risks and necessary precautions you need to take if you both decide to be sexually active, which is why you should be open about your status with them before that happens. It’s best to be as honest with them as possible. Make sure that you’re informed and prepared to answer any questions they might have about your STD.
After telling your partner you have an STD, recognize that they might not react well at first, but that you’ve done the right thing by disclosing that information, and they ultimately get to decide what choices they make regarding their body and sexual health. They may overreact, be shocked or surprised, or act completely nonplussed. They might even be grateful—maybe they have an STD and were waiting for the right time to tell you, too. They could react negatively, and that is in no way a reflection of you, nor are you at fault for disclosing the information. You’re not responsible for how they react to the information, but you are responsible for divulging it.
Understand that your partner might not know how to react at first, and they may need time to come to a decision on whether or not they’re still interested in pursuing a sexual relationship. With most incurable STDs, there are still ways to practice safer sex, and if your partner isn’t comfortable with that, there are still other ways you can be intimate with each other. The most important thing is that you’ve told them, and you can both decide if and how you’re going to move forward.
If you have an incurable STD and are worried about facing difficulty finding a sexual partner who is accepting of you and your health status, or would feel more comfortable being in a relationship with someone who is also STD positive, there are several dating sites and groups, both online and offline, that cater to people with STDs and relationships. Many organize mixers and event nights for members where you can meet other people who are STD positive. These communities can help you and other people with STDs feel more comfortable knowing you’re not alone in your sexual health status and how commonly people find themselves in the same position.
Not only are these outlets sources of support, they offer opportunities for friendship and romance with others who understand your infection and the possible judgement you’ve faced from friends or other romantic prospects. This can especially be an important resource if you’ve recently been diagnosed with an incurable STD or STI. No matter the severity of your infection or disease, these sites and groups can provide you with the opportunity to talk with others who have lived with the infection for longer and can share valuable perspective and advice for dealing with STDs and relationships, including dating someone who is or isn’t STD positive.
When Your Partner Has an STD
If you have yet to be sexually active with your partner and they reveal they have an STD, the most important thing is to not judge them or base your decision as to whether you want to proceed with your relationship solely on their sexual health status. As we mentioned, STDs and STIs are extremely common amongst sexually active adults, and having an STD or STI is in no way indicative of them as a person or sexual partner.
Finding out your partner has a sexually transmitted disease or infection can be difficult—especially if you’re in an established relationship with them when it happens. Again, if you find out your partner has an STD while you are currently in a relationship with them, it’s important to not judge or jump to any conclusions about where they could have contracted the infection. It’s even possible that you might have given them the infection—maybe the STD was asymptomatic in you, but the presentation of related symptoms in your partner caused them to question their STD infection status. Regardless of how they, or you, contracted the STD, the important takeaway is to work through the situation with your partner without making rash accusations.
If you find out that your partner has an STD after you’ve begun a sexual relationship, the first thing you should do is get tested and develop the best course of action from there. Getting tested lets you know for sure whether you’ve contracted the infection. You should both know the facts about your infection so you can best decide how to move forward after that.
Is It Possible to Get an STD in a Monogamous Relationship?
If you discover that you have an STD while you’re already in a committed, monogamous relationship, don’t automatically assume that your partner has cheated on you—and they shouldn’t assume the same for you. It’s possible that one of you contracted the STD before you were in the relationship, especially if either you or your partner weren’t tested before you became sexually active with each other. It’s possible also that they got tested, but weren’t screened for the specific infection they have. And, with so many STDs and STIs being asymptomatic, it’s possible they didn’t think they had an infection or needed to get tested before becoming sexually active with someone, especially if you didn’t have a conversation about STDs and STIs or getting tested before you were sexually active with each other.
Sometimes different people can have different ideas about what acts define a sexual relationship, so even if your partner considers their relationship with you to be the first sexual relationship they’ve had, it doesn’t mean they couldn’t have contracted an STD though some other kind of sexual activity (for example, oral sex or other forms of outercourse) before beginning a relationship with you.
Even if you and/or your partner were tested before being sexually active with each other, it’s possible that the test didn’t include the specific STD you’ve contracted, as most people only get tested for a few of the most common STDs, or that the test returned a false negative result, depending on when the testing occurred in relation to exposure to the STD.
However, despite these contingencies, if you contracted an STD and have reason to suspect it could be the result of your own infidelity, you should be honest with your partner(s) about that, too. Even if you contract a curable STD while in a relationship, you should still tell your partner so that you can both be tested and treated for it. If not, you risk reinfection after you’ve completed treatment. The most important thing is that you’re honest with your partner and you can both seek treatment as soon as possible.
Should You Still Use Protection in a Relationship?
Using a condom, whether it’s external or internal, helps keep you protected from a variety of STDs. However, for any number of reasons, a couple might decide to discontinue, occasionally or permanently, their use of condoms. Not using a condom has traditionally been thought of as a way to feel closer with your partner, whether it’s emotionally, physically, or both. It can demonstrate trust between partners. And, sometimes, it’s just not convenient to use a condom. Regardless of your reasons, if you decide to stop using condoms, there are some precautions to take first.
If you’re a person who is at risk of and trying to prevent pregnancy and you’ve been relying on condoms as your only form of contraception, you’ll want to explore other forms of birth control before you stop using condoms. Regardless of what form of alternative contraception you choose, it’s important to take time to weigh your options and decide which is best for you. You should also be aware that some forms of contraception—like the pill—aren’t effective immediately, so you shouldn’t stop using condoms until you know your other form of contraception is fully functional.
If you are going to discontinue condom use with your partner, it’s also a good idea to be in a committed, monogamous relationship with them first in order to diminish the chance of either of you contracting an STD from an outside partner. If you’re not in a monogamous relationship, make sure that you and your primary partner are clear about your sexual practices with any outside partners. Understand, especially if you’re not in a monogamous relationship, that a condom or dental dam does not prevent exposure to every STD. There are several STDs that can be transmitted from one person to another regardless of condom use, including syphilis, HPV, herpes and trichomoniasis, among others.
If you haven’t been tested recently, you might want to both get tested again before you stop using condoms, just to be sure of both of your statuses. Even if you were tested before you entered into the relationship, as stated above, it’s possible you weren’t tested for everything, or that your test returned a false negative result for some reason. The best way to avoid future confusion or accusations is to know everything you both do or do not have.
Lastly, if you and your partner are going to stop using condoms, make sure it’s a mutual decision. It’s a decision that affects both of you, so make sure it’s a decision you both want to make. Don’t let your partner pressure you into discontinuing the use of protection. It’s there to protect both of you.
At Priority STD Testing, we encourage everyone who is sexually active to make the right choices for their sexual health and the health of others. For more information about STD testing, including couples testing options, contact Priority STD Testing today.