Healthy Relationships

How to Talk About an STI

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By Henry Ford Health System Staff

Sexual intimacy is an important way to express love and affection for that special someone. But such expressions might come at a cost. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more sexually transmitted infections (STIs) were reported last year than ever before. Scary, right? Yet, many people are still more comfortable having sex than talking about it.

Sure, broaching sensitive conversations with a new partner can be a bit uncomfortable. But if you have decided to be sexually active, talking about STIs before getting busy is key — no matter what your age, says Phillis Mims-Gillum, M.D., an OB-GYN physician who specializes in sexual health and sexuality counseling. You don’t necessarily have to talk about the details of your sexual history in terms of who, what, why, where and how, but it’s important to know whether you or your partner have STIs. Your risk of giving or getting a STI should not be dismissed or ignored.

If the thought of discussing STIs still makes you blush, try Mims-Gillum’s go-to-guide for having the talk:

  1. Plan ahead. Don’t try to launch into a heavy discussion when you’re already half naked. Instead, find a quiet space where you can talk uninterrupted. And while you don’t have to write a detailed script, it helps to develop specific talking points (including which diseases and infections concern you), so you don’t forget anything you want to address.
  1. Focus on facts. It can be easier to talk about STIs if you view them as a medical problem with solutions, not a gateway to discussing previous relationships. Do some basic research about how diseases are transmitted (did you know many infections can still be transmitted even without penetration and despite the use of condoms?) Approach the conversation from the position of gaining health information. This “just the facts” approach can help you avoid sounding like you are judging your partner or fishing for unnecessary information.
  1. Be direct. Don’t beat around the bush, ask direct questions. Something like, “I think we’re both ready to have sex, but I want to make sure we’re being safe.” Discuss when each of you was last tested for STIs and whether you should consider getting tested together for multiple infections. You’ll also want to be sure that you and your partner are on the same page when it comes to condom use.
  1. Get tested. You can’t tell if your partner has an STI by outward appearances. In fact, you might even have an STI you’re unaware of. Getting tested with your partner before you start an intimate relationship will allow you both to know where you stand.
  1. Come clean. If you have an STI, tell your partner long before you plan to become intimate. Tell your partner about your status and how you manage it, especially if you have an STI like herpes, which can have periodic flare-ups. Then, practice safe sex. Being diagnosed with an STI does not mean that you are dirty, unclean, unworthy or unlovable. It just means you need to care for yourself and safeguard your partner.

While having a conversation about STIs can be awkward, it’s much less uncomfortable than facing an STI diagnosis — or discovering you contracted or transmitted a disease. It’s also a great litmus test for your relationship. If your partner isn’t willing to discuss STIs, consider testing, or respect your requests, you may not be in the best relationship. On the flip side, a positive, productive conversation about STIs with the right partner is a healthy step in the right direction.

Still feeling flustered? Make an appointment with your doctor before you talk to your partner. Not only will a physician visit allow you to practice your script, your doctor can also offer advice about when and how to get tested and can also help answer questions that you and your partner may have about sexual health.

Concerned you may have an STI? To find a primary care provider or make an appointment online, visit henryford.com. Or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936).

Dr. Phillis Mims-Gillum is an OB/GYN who specializes in sexual health and sexuality counseling, and sees patients for these conditions at Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital. Call (248) 661-6425 to schedule an appointment.