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Talking to Your Partner About STDs

You and your partner have decided to have sex. You know you should talk about sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) before the action starts. But what if the thought of having "the talk" makes you nervous?

A few super-confident people don't have any trouble bringing up the topic of STDs with their partners. But if you're one of the many people who blush at the idea, these tips can make that important conversation easier.

Before You Talk

First, know the facts. It can make it easier to talk if you think of STDs as a medical problem — with serious health consequences. Learn everything you can about STDs. Knowing the facts can give you confidence and help you answer your partner's questions.

Learn the basics here: STDs.

Know what you want from the conversation. You can't tell if people have STDs by looking at them. So you'll want to make it clear that both of you need to get tested before you start having sex. You'll also want to be sure that your partner agrees to use condoms. Ask if your partner has ever had an STD. And if you have an STD, you'll need to tell your partner before you have sex.

If you think it will be hard to talk, figure out why. Are you just embarrassed or shy? Or is it something more? Thinking about what makes it hard for you to talk about STDs can help you prepare.

If you're shy, for example, putting your thoughts in writing and sending it to your partner might be easier for you. Some people worry that partners will assume that talking about STDs means you think they have one. Or they'll think that you do. Other people worry that their partner will reject them. But someone who would rather break up than wear a condom doesn't have much respect for you or themselves.

Plan what to say. Good planning can make a hard talk easier. You can't script your conversation word for word, but you can prepare by writing down the most important points so you don't miss anything. Bring your notes with you in case you forget what you wanted to say. You also can prepare by looking up nearby places to get tested, such as your doctor's office or an STD clinic.

The Talk

Pick a good time to talk. Find a quiet space where you can chat without being interrupted. Don't wait until you're about to have sex — this conversation is easier to have with your clothes on. Plus, talking about STDs in the heat of things can lead people to make decisions they might regret later.

Start the conversation (someone has to do it!). Bring up the topic in a matter-of-fact way. You could start by saying something like, "We've talked about having sex and I think I'm ready. I want to be able to relax and enjoy it, and I won't unless I know we're protected against STDs."

See how your partner responds. After you introduce the topic, pause to hear what your partner says. (If there's no response, be direct and ask what they think.) This lets you figure out if you're in agreement about things — and if you're not, you can talk about it more. If your partner won't use condoms, for example, you can respond with reasons why you won't have sex without one. If you both agree on condom use, you can go on the next issue — getting tested.

Say you'd like to go together to get tested. Tell your partner about where you can go to get tested.

Listen to your partner's point of view. Being a good listener shows respect. Listening also gives you clues to what your partner thinks. What at first might seem like a resistance to getting tested for STDs could turn out to be a worry over what it might cost.

Be calm and present your case in a factual way. Taking a "just the facts" approach can help you avoid sounding like you're judging or accusing.

It's normal to be nervous when you first start talking about something like STDs. But you'll get past your nerves the more you talk and listen. If you want to feel more comfortable talking about STDs, make an appointment with your doctor before you talk to your partner. This let you practice having a conversation, and your doc can help you come up with things to say and give you advice on how to get tested.

Having the STD conversation can be awkward at first. But it's a lot less uncomfortable than discovering you have an STD after you have sex — or finding out that you gave one to your partner.

It's also a great way to learn more about your partner and your relationship: Is your partner willing to talk about this? Do they respect your wishes? Does your partner try to make the conversation easier by listening, responding, and understanding? Or do they shut down, act defensive, or make fun of you? An open, honest conversation with your partner can help you feel closer than ever.

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date Reviewed: Oct 1, 2019

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