How to Tell Your Partner You Have an STD
So you have an STD. Testing positive can be a scary experience. The thought of how to tell your partner you have an STD? That can be even more intimidating.
If you currently have a significant other, you may be afraid of jeopardizing your relationship. If you’re re-entering the dating scene (congrats!), you may worry that laying it all on the table for potential partners could be self-sabotage. “The talk” about STD status can be filled with complicated emotions, but it is crucial to feeling comfortable, safe, and sexy together. So, before you discuss your status with your partner, let’s focus on you first.
Clearing Up Stigma
Being in a good state of mind can help you approach the conversation with a clear head. Let it be loud and clear: you are not your STD. We urge you to state these affirmations to yourself:
- Having an STD does not make me unloveable or dirty.
- I deserve to feel good and have a fulfilling sexual relationship.
Being intimate with an informed partner can be liberating, allowing you to explore each others’ desires in a safe and trusting environment. In fact, your partner may respect you for being upfront, as conversations about sexual health are too often neglected.
Having an STD may seem isolating, but the good news is you are not alone—not even close. Sexually transmitted diseases are very common.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2017 there were more than two million reported cases in the United States. More than one out of every six people between ages 14 to 49 have genital herpes. Also, about half of the adult population has oral herpes, which causes common cold sores. The more you know! These numbers are more than fear-mongering statistics; they’re real people living their lives. And you should too.
Why You Should Tell Your Partner(s)
Your partner (plural or singular, current or future) has every right to make informed decisions about their health. Having a conversation about your status opens the door to informed consent and protective practices to reduce transmission.
If you have tested positive for an STD, encourage your partner(s) and previous partners to test and get treated because:
- Untreated STDs can lead to serious health complications such as fertility issues, organ damage, and potentially death.
- Certain STDs, like gonorrhea, chlamydia, and trichomoniasis, are curable. Many testing resources, like ours, provide expedited partner treatment, meaning that if you tested positive, both you and your partner can be treated without your partner needing to test. This is to prevent reinfection, which can happen if both are not cured.
When and Where You Should Tell Them
It depends on your situation, relationship, and personal approach. There’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to having “the talk.” Like any leap of faith, no circumstance may be just right to guarantee a positive response. When choosing the time and place, consider the urgency of informing your partner, as well as your partner’s feelings and privacy.
If you have tested positive and have a current partner OR if you have past partners that may have been exposed, it is best to talk to them as soon as possible!
Seeing someone new? Some people prefer to get it all out in the open ASAP, so they can proceed confidently or cut things off. Others prefer to wait until the relationship gets more serious or looks like it will go somewhere physical.
Either way, it’s best to speak about your status with clothes on and before you have sex to avoid feelings of regret or deceit. Partners may feel betrayed if they feel you knowingly put them at risk without permission.
Places to Tell Your SO
This conversation should be done face-to-face, somewhere that is private, calm, and neutral. At your SO’s home, they can feel comfortable and react naturally. Another option is a quiet park, where you can walk side-by-side, easing awkwardness without constant direct eye contact.
Places to Avoid
Public places like coffee shops or malls can make the situation tense or make your partner feel trapped. Around bystanders, your SO may not feel free to express their true feelings or ask in-depth questions.
Don’t bring it up for the first time when you’re hot and heavy. A sexual situation can cloud and complicate decision-making. When you’re in the moment, this conversation may confuse or anger your partner.
Revealing your status over text or phone call is generally bad form and can be viewed as a cop-out, unless you are no longer on meeting terms or are unable to meet because of long distance.
If you don’t feel safe speaking directly with past partners, tools such as our Anonymous Notification system are available but should be used as a last resort.
How To Tell Your Partner(s) You Have an STD
Before talking with your partner(s) or prospective bae(s), think about things from their perspective. Consider what you want to say about your health and think about the possible reactions they may have. Prepare yourself with the facts about your STD. Gathering information from your physician and online resources like our website and the CDC can help you navigate through the nitty-gritty of your conversation.
Everyone raises the subject differently. It’s normal to be nervous talking about sex. Set a time when you can meet to have an uninterrupted chat. Consider opening the conversation by talking about safe sex and testing. If they haven’t tested in a while, ask why without judging. This can help dispel fears and stigma.
Practice what you want to say so that the conversation can be smoother. Wondering how to kick things off? Here are a few tips to get the conversation rolling.
Emphasize that you care about them and want to protect them.
At the heart of great sex is respect. Whether you and your partner have been together forever, are friends with benefits, or are just hooking up, respect matters.
Leading your talk about sexual health with respect shows that you are considerate. A few ways to start the conversation include:
Current or past partners
- “I care about you and your health. I’ve tested positive for an STD and think you should get tested to see if you’re okay.”
- “I’ve really enjoyed getting to know you so far. Before we have sex, I wanted to have a discussion about STDs and protection because I have an STD.”
- “Before we go further, I’d like to talk to you about safe sex so we can both enjoy it more. Do you know if you have any STDs? When’s the last time you had an STD test?”
Frame it in a positive light and be informative.
Many may struggle with regret and shame. While expressing your anxiety is totally normal, approaching the topic as if your STD is life-ruining and embarrassing may cause your partner to react negatively. Whether your STD is curable or incurable, if you frame your STD as the worst thing ever, your partner will likely pick up on this and think it is too! It’s helpful imagining that you are the one hearing the news.
Rather than treating your STD as a sin or dark secret, be calm, direct, and matter-of-fact about what it means for your health and sex life.
If it is a curable STD, speak to current and past partners about the medication you take and where they can go to get prescribed. Wait until you have completely finished the prescribed treatment before having sex with new partners.
If you have a lifelong STD such as herpes or HIV, explain what medication you are on to treat it and how it protects the people you are intimate with, as well as the value of protection like condoms and dental dams.
Listen to what your partner says.
Everyone reacts differently.
Some people take it in stride and are happy you were brave to share (“That’s it? I was worried. This doesn’t change how I feel.”) Others may react more emotionally with disbelief (“I can’t believe it!”), alarm (“What will happen to us?”), or criticism (“I bet you slept around.”). Their reactions can be a learning experience for your future together. Plus, jerks don’t deserve to be near your genitals anyway!
Respond to any questions they have and be mindful of their concerns and fears. Offer support and resources and reassure them that you are committed to a healthy lifestyle that minimizes risk through treatment, regular testing, and protection.
Give them space if they need it.
Baring your soul can make you feel vulnerable. It can be tempting to seek immediate reassurance from your partner or love interest. However, avoid pressuring them to make a quick decision about their future.
Say what you need to say, hear what they have to say, and then leave.
Let them know it’s okay if they want some time to think about this. You can tell them something like, “I don’t need an answer right now. I’ll give you a chance to think and decide what is right for you. Wherever you want to go from here, I’ll respect it. Let me know if any other questions come up.” This communicates confidence and leaves the dialogue open.
The What Ifs
Current partner: What if they assume I cheated?
It can be hard to know when and from whom you may have gotten an STD, especially if you and your partner have the same STD.
Before trust is questioned or blame is cast, resist jumping to conclusions. Many people can get an STD from a previous relationship and not know it.
Someone with an STD may be unaware for weeks, months, or years after infection because STDs can have mild symptoms or none at all. Getting tested is the only way to know for sure if you have an STD or not, so people may find out they are positive while in the middle of a relationship. If you did not have an affair and if your partner insists they didn’t either, trust your hearts and let that guide you toward your future.
In the event that cheating was involved, this is the time to be honest. If you regularly get tested and come up with a sudden positive, you may want to hide the truth so your significant other isn’t hurt. But this can prevent them from getting the treatment they need. Caring for your partner’s well being is much more important than your fear of losing them.
New partner: What if I get rejected?
Here’s the hard part. Yes, your transparency may not work out the way you hope. Your partner or love interest may freak out or call things off. Getting turned down is never fun and heartbreak sucks. But it’s better for you both to know now, early on, rather than later.
If your SO says, “Thanks but no thanks,” respect their decision and take this experience as a dating red flag. It is their loss, and their reaction doesn’t indicate how future discussions will go for you. Take the time you need to recover from rejection and reach out to a friend or loved one for support.
Know that there are people who want to love and accept you as you are. Someone who is compatible will accept your status. This will give you the opportunity to grow closer, be intimate, and potentially have the love of your life.
Opening up about your status to someone can be tough (especially at first), but the worst way for them to find out is later, after you’ve said nothing at all. Share the facts, talk about transmission and protection, and don’t take their final decision on your relationship personally. Whatever the outcome, be proud that you had the conversation! Talking, testing, and treating are important to protecting your health, as well as your partner’s. Whether you and your SO decide it’s time to dissolve things or you go forward with a partnership strengthened by communication and acceptance, everything will work out.
Taysha has been with the company since 2018 and is an advocate for sex positivity, which includes regular, accessible testing, destigmatization, and content and communications that people understand. She has an eclectic background which spans marketing, editing, social media, copywriting, and education. From her childhood with abstinence-only sex ed and her experience assisting patients, she recognized the pressing questions many people had and their need for helpful, straightforward information. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and a minor in Education from Southern Methodist University.