It may be one of the more difficult conversations you’ll have in your life, but covering the topic of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) with your partner – especially if you have one – is critical.
Firstly, stay calm. These days, up to 50% of people will be affected by an STI at some point in their lives. Combine that with advances in medicine and greater open-mindedness in general, and it’s possible that your partner will take the news better than you expect. In fact, she or he may have one too, or may have had one in the past.
That doesn’t mean it’s an easy thing to talk about, or to come to terms with. But the bottom line is that you can’t keep it from your partner, even if you’re not experiencing STI symptoms.
Do I have to tell my partner I have an STI?
Yes, yes and YES again. Not only are you morally obliged to divulge this info to your partner, but there may be legal implications too. Regardless of whether you’re showing any STI symptoms or not, you simply must tell your partner the truth. Yes, there’s a chance they’ll decide to terminate the relationship, but it is their human right to be empowered with knowledge, and to make decisions that are right for them.
Moreover, if they find out the truth later (which they almost definitely will) the outcome is unlikely to be good, particularly if they feel you were dishonest. Remember:
- You can still transmit an STI to your partner if you’re using protection
- You can still infect your partner even if you’re not showing any symptoms
- You can still infect your partner if you’re in remission or not having an outbreak (in the case of herpes, for example)
When, where and how do I start the STI conversation?
It’s best to bring up the topic as soon as it becomes clear that your interaction may become sexual. If this has already happened, don’t wait any longer to tell them the truth. The longer you wait, the more distressed or betrayed your partner may feel.
Sit your partner down somewhere private – and definitely outside of the bedroom – and don’t beat around the bush. Get straight to the point and give them all the information they need to make a decision, including the name of the STI, whether it’s permanent, whether you’re being treated, and if they should get tested. Any and all information should be shared, but remember that your partner may take a while to process it all.
Some people find it easier to have the conversation at their doctor’s office, or at a sexual health clinic, where a neutral third party can help to deliver the information in a clear and unemotional way.
Keep in mind that an STI diagnosis doesn’t have to mean the end of a relationship. Many STIs are manageable and couples are able to have healthy, fulfilling sex lives as long as they’re honest and always practise safe sex.
Need help telling your partner you have an STI? We’re here to support you
At Marie Stopes, we offer STI and HIV screening and treatment, as well as counselling. If you’d like our support as you embark on this challenging discussion with your partner, we can help. You can rely on us for clear, confidential advice and non-judgemental support.