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Talking to Your Partner About STDs

If you and your partner have decided to have sex, you should first talk about sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

If you're nervous about having the talk, here are some tips that can make it a little easier.

Things to Do Before Talking About STDs

Learn about STDs. These infections spread from person to person during vaginal, oral, or anal sex; using fingers ("fingering"); or other sexual contact. It can make it easier to talk if you think of them as a medical problem that can affect your health in serious ways. Learning the facts can give you confidence and help you answer questions your partner may have.

Know what you want from the talk. You can't tell if people have STDs by looking at them. So make it clear that you and your partner need to get tested before you start having sex. You can suggest getting tested together. Be sure that you two agree to use protection like condoms, finger condoms, or dental dams. Ask if your partner has ever had an STD. And if you have one, tell your partner before you have sex.

If you think it will be hard to talk, figure out why. If you're shy, write down your thoughts and give them to your partner. Maybe you’re concerned that just by talking about STDs your partner will think you have one, or that you think they do. Some people worry that their partner will reject or not trust them. But using protection isn’t about trust — it’s about safety and respect. 

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 key points so you don't miss anything. Bring your notes with you in case you forget what you want to say. 

Visit your doctor. It can help to see your doctor before you talk with your partner. Your doctor can give you advice on what to say and where to get tested for STDs.

What Can Make Talking About STDs Easier?

Pick a good time to talk. Find a quiet, private space where you won’t be bothered. Don't wait until you're about to have sex. It's easier to have this conversation with your clothes on. Plus, talking about STDs in the heat of things can lead people to make choices they might regret later. For example, your partner may have an STD and not know it, so could pass it to you.

Start the conversation. 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 pregnancy and 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 the person thinks.) This lets you see if you agree about things. If you don’t, you can talk about it some more. For example, if your partner won't use condoms, you can give 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 where you both can get tested for STDs. If they don’t want to get tested for STDs, ask if cost is a concern. Planned Parenthood has information about where you can get tested, sometimes for free or at a reduced cost.

Listen to your partner's point of view. Being a good listener shows respect. It also gives offers clues about what your partner thinks.

Be calm and give just the facts. This can help you avoid sounding like you're judging or accusing. Your partner should also be calm, understanding, and willing to talk about STDs. If the person makes fun of you, acts defensive, or shuts down, you may not be in a healthy relationship.

What Else Should I Know?

Having sex can sometimes lead to accidental pregnancy, of course. If you or your partner can get pregnant, make sure to also talk about using birth control in addition to condoms. 

Having an STD conversation can be awkward at first. But you'll get past it the more you talk and listen. And an open, honest conversation with your partner can help you feel closer than ever.

Reviewed by: Lonna P. Gordon, MD
Date Reviewed: Jan 1, 2024

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