OK, so you have an STD. And while it’s entirely fair for that news to freak you out at first, the good news is these days it’s often not that big of a deal. With modern medicine and increasing open mindedness, living with a sexually transmitted disease is not the end of the world. Not to mention the fact that more than half of all people will have an STD at some point in their lifetime, according to the American Sexual Health Association. So the odds are that your partner might have one, or has had one, as well.
That said, coming to terms with having an STD yourself and sharing it with the person you want to become intimate with are two entirely different beasts. And while you have all the knowledge that this is an entirely manageable situation, your potential partner might not. Stigmas, as incorrect as they might be, do still exist. So how do you break the news?
Do you really have to tell your partner?
If you are currently testing positive for anything communicable, it is morally, not to mention legally, your responsibility to tell your partner before having sex with him or her, says sex educator Laura Jean McGuire. Keep in mind that some of these diseases, namely herpes or HIV, while completely manageable, are with you for life. And knowingly transmitting it to another person, or putting them at potential risk, is making a decision for them that is not yours to make.
Now, some STDs don’t show any outward signs, so it’s possible that you’re carrying something without knowing it.
To clear up some so-called gray areas: Yes, you need to tell your partner that you have an STD even if you are taking measures to reduce the risk of transmission, like using a condom or taking Valtrex (which reduces your risk of giving someone herpes) or PrEP (which reduces your risk for contracting HIV). Remember, it’s your partner’s decision whether he or she wants to take on a risk, even if that risk is minimized.
When it comes to herpes: Yes, you can still give someone the virus even if you’re not having an outbreak, so you always need to tell your partner that you’re a carrier, says Terri Vanderlinde, D.O., a gynecologist and sex counselor.
And a note about HPV: These viruses can cause cervical cancer in women if left untreated, but men do not know if they are carriers. There is no test for that, according to the CDC. But if you know that one of your previous partners had HPV, then you’ve been exposed. In which case, you should tell your partner.
With respect to STDs like chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis, all of which are treatable, if you have had these STDs in the past and your doctor has given you a clean bill of health, there’s no reason to share that with your partner, unless you want to. But from a moral and legal standpoint, if you’re clean, then you’re clean.
When should you tell your partner that you have an STD?
Once you’ve determined whether or not you need to tell your partner (to summarize: positive, tell; negative, don’t tell), the next step is figuring out the right time. You needn’t waste precious characters in your Tinder profile to disclose your information, nor do you need to introduce your STD status as an afterthought to “Hi, nice to meet you.”
But once the conversation starts to turn towards being physical, with the clear implication that things are headed between the sheets, it then becomes the time to have real talk, says McGuire. You want to give your partner enough time to digest the information and decide what feels right to them.
How to tell your partner you have an STD
You don’t need to break the news as though you’re admitting that you killed a kitten.
“A lot of times people view their positive status as that they are a bad person, and that it’s something terrible,” says McGuire. “They feel that that’s how they have to approach it—like they’re confessing a sin or a problem. Debunking that is the first thing.”
Coming at the situation calmly, comfortable, and matter-of-factly shows that you are in control and that you’ve put in the leg work to understand and communicate with your partner. That speaks volumes.
Explaining to your partner that you have an STD and that you are on the prescribed medicine will show that you take care of yourself and this person that you want to become intimate with. Explain the value of condoms and that you have taken all the precautions to reduce the transmission rate.
“In my experience dealing with patients with STDs, most of their partners are totally glad for someone to be upfront and honest, and they are much happier in a relationship where someone has taken a chance and bared their soul,” says Dr. Vanderlinde.
Still, it’s understandable that sharing something personal can be difficult, especially when there are so many other things in relationships that we tend to feel vulnerable about. Remember—there are lots of other ways to be intimate and get off that don’t include actual intercourse. In fact, many women don’t reach orgasm from sex alone, so if your partner is a woman she’ll probably be down, and excited, to try other things.
“A lot of times it will feel like you’re sharing a deep, dark secret,” continues Dr. Vanderline. “Can it backfire? Can your partner freak out? Yes, absolutely. But my opinion is that you are sharing this information early on, and if they are jumping and running, better to know now. If your partner is putting your STD status above having someone that could love them for the rest of their lives, then their priorities aren’t in order.”