When it comes to talking about STDs, many people find themselves at a loss for words.
These are what people have told us during our research interviews we did recently:
"I am worried that it will affect our relationship"
"This might offend the partner and has a high risk of breakup"
"Fear of judgment / Shameful"
We know it, having this conversation is difficult so it's super normal to feel awkward and nervous. Reasons to why people are so afraid of bringing it up is clear: having sex is much easier than talking about it, let alone when it's about an issue with so much stigma.
Nevertheless, having this conversation is so important to ensure your health and your partner's health! In this blog post, we'll provide tips on how to have these difficult discussions in a way that is respectful and open, and give you some conversation starters!
Don't wait until the last minute to bring up STDs
The best time to have a conversation about STDs with your partner is BEFORE you start having sex (including oral sex) - and this holds even if it is a casual hookup.
You can bring up STDs and testing during a casual, non-sexy moment. For example, when you're together but not doing much. Not right before having sex or in the middle of having sex. Waiting until the last minute would be even harder for you to have the conversation because your brain is in a different state.
In the setting of a casual hookup, just ask ASAP! When you are leaving the bar/club, in a taxi, or on the walk home whenever is easier for you.
If you are wondering how to bring it up, here are some conversation starters:
"I know this may not be the easiest conversation. But I know it's important for our health. How do you feel about getting an STD test done before we have sex?"
"I enjoy spending time with you, and before we continue to the next level of our relationship. I want to talk about getting tested for STDs together."
Tips for talking about STDs with your partner
Many people find it difficult and awkward to start conversations about STDs with their partner(s) for different reasons. Whatever it is, here are some dos and don'ts to help you navigate this difficult conversation and for it to go as smoothly as possible.
Before the conversation
Know the facts Learning more about STDs could make talking about it with your partner(s) a little easier, as it's more likely that you think of it as a medical problem. With all the stigma and misconceptions around STDs, it's important that you know the facts and clarify any questions before starting the conversation.
Prepare for the conversation (a) Knowing what you want to get out of the conversation and plan for what you want to say accordingly. It's normal to feel embarrassed, but taking a step toward planning for it would help. (b) If you decide to meet face-to-face to have the conversation, choose a place where both of you can feel safe and comfortable talking. If you are worried about how your partner(s) could respond (especially when they don't take it well), sit next to an exit where you can leave the place if ever you feel unsafe.
Get tested It is possible that you have an STD but don't know about it! Because many people with STDs can have no symptoms or very mild symptoms. So it's good to get tested before you get into the next sexual relationship.
During the conversation
Start by talking about your most recent STD status A good way to start the conversation is by telling your partner(s) your most recent STD status. By talking about yourself first makes it a little less like you're trying to interrogate, you have trust issues, or cheating suspicions. You can try starting the conversations with: "Hey, when was the last time you got tested for STD, because I got tested last month, and my results were negative. Just felt that it would be good for you to know." "FYI, I got tested for STDs last month and I didn’t have anything. Have you ever been tested? I want us to make sure we’re taking care of each other."
Show that you care It's critical to approach the topic with mutual respect and show that you truly care for your partner's health. “I really care about you. I want to make sure we're both healthy. Can we get tested for STDs together?” "This is hard for me to talk about, but I care about you and I think it's important. How do you feel about going to get tested for STDs together?"
Be open and establish a safe space “Establishing a safe space within which you can delineate boundaries, negotiate with your partner(s) and speak about these issues honestly is paramount to ensuring good sexual health,” said Dr. Rayner. Show empathy and holding a non-judgmental space can allow for better conversations.
Share the facts (if the partner doesn't know) With many misconceptions about STDs out there, it is best to read up on the facts so that you will be ready to answer some of your partner's questions or worries. Some areas you can focus on can be what are STDs, ways of transmission, how to get tested, symptoms, and treatments. "Most STDs are easy to treat. And when treated early, STDs are less likely to cause long-term health problems." "If you don't feel comfortable talking about STDs with your regular doctor, you can get tested at other clinics instead."
The bottom line
Just know that, if your partner is telling you about this, they care about you.
If your partner is sharing their concerns about STDs, they are trying to protect your health too. If they are sharing that they had an STD, they're going to try to do anything they can to protect both of you. Showing some compassion for them by validating their emotions and thanking them for their courage in bringing this sensitive topic up would really make them feel a lot better.
“Thank you for being so brave by bringing this topic up. Let's get tested together.”
Don't open the conversation with blame or anger Speaking about STDs to your partner might rile up some unpleasant emotions either in one or both of you. Going into this conversation with blame or anger, or with an accusation vibe is definitely the last thing you want to do. Keep in mind that it's not about trust issues or cheating suspicions, but focusing on what's important at that moment, which is both you and your partner's health.
Don't pressure your partner Don't pressure your partner on getting an STD test. Instead, find out why they are not willing to do so. If it's due to the stigma, it would be helpful to gather some basic STD testing information and help them understand that STD testing is not that intimidating! With that said, it does not mean that you should forgo the testing just because your partner(s) are not keen on it.
Don't cross the boundary Asking or answering questions that feel invasive during these awkward conversations might affect the direction and mood of it, it can be an overwhelming conversation that require time to process. It's important to remain calm and see how your partner responds to the topic, and remember to reassure and check in on each other in the midst of the conversation!
When having difficult conversations like STDs or STD testing, it is completely normal to worry about your partner’s reaction. But no matter what happens, remember to stay calm and be open. If needed, give your partner(s) the time and space they need to process the situation. Lastly, you should be proud of yourself for taking this step forward!