If you cringed at the headline—I get it. Talking about sexual health is hard, and conversations about STIs, or sexually transmitted infections, are no different. But if you’re having, or thinking about having, sex, then it’s important to discuss your sexual health with your partner—no matter how awkward the conversation.
As if you needed any more motivation to get tested, one in two sexually active people will get an STI by the age of 25, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Protection. Here are some tips and tricks on how to start talking about STIs with your partner:
1. Don’t be embarrassed.
Bringing up STIs can be nerve-wracking—“What if my partner tells our friends that we’re getting tested? What will they think? What if they think this means I have an STI? How can I walk around campus if people think I’m the person with the STI?” Relax. Talking to your partner about sexually transmitted infections does not mean that you have an STI. It means that you and your partner are mature enough to care about your sexual health. With great sex comes great responsibility, so be proud that you and your partner are responsible, honest and close enough to have an open discussion about STIs. If you’re still worried, mention that to your partner. He or she might feel a little embarrassed as well, and you two can agree to keep the conversation between yourselves.
2. Know why you’re having the conversation.
Is it because you are worried you have an STI? Is it because you would like to switch to a different form of birth control that does not include STI protection? Is it because you want to get tested before having sex with your partner for the first time? Having a reason for the conversation will make it easier to talk about and will make your partner more likely to listen to you.
3. Pick the right time.
This is a conversation to have in private. Plan it for a quiet night in, when you both have time to dedicate to the discussion. Don’t try to talk about such a serious topic while your partner is stressing out over finals and can’t devote full attention. And despite the appeal of sending a casual text about it, this is really a conversation that needs to be had face-to-face.
4. Plan to get tested together.
If your partner is wary of getting tested, he or she might be more enthusiastic if you do it together. Make sure to discuss where you would like to get tested, as well. Many college campuses offer free or discounted STI testing in their health centers. You can also find local testing centers on gytnow.org.
5. How the conversation might go…
You and your partner are spending a relaxing evening catching up on “Orange is the New Black.” Toward the end of the night, say, “Hey, did you know that students can get tested for STIs for free on campus? We’ve been seeing each other for a while, so I thought maybe we should go one day. I would really appreciate it if we could get tested together—just so we can know our health status for sure.” Then, listen to what your partner has to say. Plus, this is a great time to discuss any other concerns you might have about sex, whether you’ve already been intimate or whether you are still waiting.
Next week, we’ll talk about what comes after the conversation—the actual STI test.