Telling your partner you have an STD ranks right up there with getting a tooth pulled, right? There’s the awkwardness, the concern that he or she will think less of you and perhaps even physical pain – I’ve known of more than a few people who have gotten physically nauseous over the idea.
There are lots of different STDs out there — the curable and the not so curable. Telling your partner you have either type is high up on the fun scale. At least with the curable you can take the prescribed meds and move on. But please don’t assume you can just take meds without telling your partner and the whole thing will go away because (men especially) can be asymptomatic for many STDs. You could just keep passing it back and forth. Yes, it truly is the gift that just keeps on giving.
Let’s deal more with the lifetime impact of an STD that is not curable. These are the viruses (HIV, HPV, infectious hepatitis and herpes). Yes, all of these diseases can now be managed medically but it is going to be an issue that you will want to broach with a new partner early on. I actually argue that the process of telling a new partner about an STD status can be a good litmus for whether or not you should be with that person and it can help establish a healthy, honest base to your relationship. It can even deepen your emotional intimacy right from the get go.
It’s estimated that over 80% of the population has had a diagnosis of a viral STD. Many people go for years with no symptoms. HPV for instance, is spread through skin to skin contact and therefore if the affected areas are outside of the range of a condom like the base or top of the penis or the outer lips of the vulva technically it can “rub off” on your partner. Some people do have a natural resistance to some viruses and not to others.
Herpes usually involves an initial outbreak but can then lay dormant; HIV can obviously go for years with no symptoms – just like infectious hepatitis. It’s almost impossible for most people to pin point when and who they picked it up from. Luckily, if caught early all of these diseases are highly treatable through a variety of procedures.
Breaking the News
So, what to do when it comes to having to tell your partner? Plan a time to talk that is not right before or after you have sex. Seriously, you should both be fully clothed so you can pay attention. You will need to be prepared to educate him or her about the disease and its transmission. And yes, this means you gay boys out there. Just because your partner is gay doesn’t mean they know what it is to have one of these diseases. I have unfortunately seen many couples get into the blame game about who got it from whom and there really seems no point to the route of discussion. Hopefully, both of you would be honest enough to discuss any sexual activity outside of your relationship in a mature manner.
The important part is how to manage the relationship and this new variable that has been introduced to it. Some long term couples just assume the risk of eventual transmission and decide to engage in unprotected sex anyway. I can’t advocate that, because each disease is unique to each individual. I think maintaining the health of both partners through protected sex is paramount. So, you’ll want to discuss how you can incorporate barrier methods into sex. You can experiment with a variety of condom types, lube flavors and fun ways to put them on.
Handling a Bad Reaction
If your partner has a bad reaction to the information, give them a little time and send them to either a good website on STIs or refer them to a local Planned Parenthood where they can talk to someone in person. They may just need time to assimilate the information. Ultimately, we are talking about your health and your partners needs to support your health with love and care. If they can’t get over it, well – consider that information you needed about the relationship. Sometimes partners that wouldn’t be so great in the future need an excuse to opt out earlier so you can move on to the right partner.
Dr. Kat is the resident sexologist at Adam & Eve and also runs a private practice and media consulting business. She has a Doctorate from the Institute for the Advanced Study of Human Sexuality. Her professional affiliations include AASECT, SSSS, and the American Board of Sexologists. She also has a Master’s degree in Counseling Psychology and completed a postgraduate degree in Marriage, Family and Addictions Recovery Therapy.
© Copyright Dr. Kathleen Van Kirk