If you have an STI, it’s best to tell your partner before having sex. But there’s a bunch of reasons people find that hard to do. So if you want to know about your partner’s health, you should step up and start that chat. But how do you actually do it? Just asking “do you have an STI?” isn’t really enough.
Your partner may not feel safe telling you they have an STI.
There is a ton of shame around sex and STIs, and people with STIs are often unfairly portrayed as dirty and promiscuous. STIs can also be unfairly associated with sex workers and the LGBTQ community, two groups that face additional marginalization.
People who disclose that they have an STI can face stigma and discrimination, sometimes even violence. And if a private disclosure gets repeated publicly, it can cause social and professional repercussions as well. Particularly if you’ve just met someone or are in a new relationship, your partner may not know what kind of reaction to expect from you. So if you want them to be honest, it’s kind of on you to prove that you’re trustworthy.
As much as you have a right to make informed decisions about your sexual health, your partner also has a right to keep their health information private. This can be kind of tricky to balance.
Ideally, you should express your boundaries around STIs and sex, reassuring your partner that you’ll be respectful and discreet if they disclose an STI. You should also make it easy for them to choose not to have sex with you without discussing their status at all, so that it’s possible for them to respect your boundaries while keeping their privacy.
That means you probably need to start this conversation before you’re naked and in bed together. And if you find this hard to do, you shouldn’t be too surprised that someone else might find it hard to be honest with you.
Your partner might also not know they have an STI.
STIs don’t alway show signs or symptoms, and not everyone will recognize them, so it’s possible to get an STI and pass it along to someone else without knowing you have it. Even if you get tested for STIs regularly, the tests are not perfectly accurate, they don’t test for everything, and new infections might not show up. To fully gauge the chance that someone has an STI, you need a lot more information about sexual behavior, previous partners, and other risk factors.
If you don’t have reason to think you have an STI, you don’t really have to talk about all this. As long as you’re not going to be upset that you’re partner didn’t bring it up either.
If you don’t want to bring up STIs, or you aren’t sure about the answers you get, then you should assume your partner could have an STI. It’s your call from there what level of risk you’re willing to take and what safer sex practices you want to use.