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How to Tell Someone They Gave You an STD

Nobody wants to receive a positive result from a sexually transmitted infection (STI) or sexually transmitted disease (STD) screening. It’s natural to feel confused, upset, or even angry — sometimes all at once. You may harbor some of these feelings toward your partner, who may be the person who passed the sexually transmitted infection to you. To help you navigate this topic, check out our guide on how to tell someone they gave you an STD.

First, let’s talk about why you need to discuss STIs with your partner (or partners). The primary reason is that it shows you care about them and their health.

The best time to talk about STIs is before you start having sex. It can feel awkward to bring up, but your partner may appreciate your ability to be proactive.

Since STIs are spread through sexual contact, it’s important to discuss the subject before getting intimate with your partner to prevent either of you unknowingly transmitting an STI.

Remember: getting tested for STIs isn’t about not trusting your partner or thinking they might have cheated on you. People can have an STI for years without knowing it since many don’t have symptoms. An STI screening is the only way to know for sure whether you or your partner have one.

Believe it or not, STIs are quite common. According to the American Sexual Health Association, there are approximately 20 million new cases of STIs each year in the United States, and about half of those occur in women ages 15–24. In 2018, 1,758,668 cases of chlamydia were reported among females in the United States, and 97.4 percent of those were among women aged 15–44 years old.

According to the American Sexual Health Association, there are approximately 20 million new cases of STIs each year in the United States, and about half of those occur in women ages 15–44.

Every couple entering into a relationship, whether it’s serious and long-term or more casual, needs to have a conversation about STIs if they want to protect their own health and the well-being of their partner or partners.

Again, the best time to have a conversation about STIs is before you become intimate. This is especially true if either or both of you have had multiple partners in the past since STIs are most often spread through contact with bodily fluids, such as blood, semen, or vaginal fluids.

Other things you may want to discuss include:

  • Both of your sexual histories, including what kind of protection you’ve used in the past when sexually active
  • Individual risk factors, such as whether either of you has had sex without a condom or used drugs with needles

If you receive a positive test result for an STI, such as chlamydia or syphilis, and you’re fairly certain you got it from your partner, then it’s important to talk with them about it as soon as possible. Don’t wait or put it off — the longer you wait, the harder it may be to tell them about it later.

When discussing STIs with your partner, it’s important that you maintain an open, approachable attitude. This requires doing your best to stay calm and avoid being accusatory. Remember that millions of people have STIs, and plenty of them are in relationships. Testing positive for an STI is simply a health issue, and it doesn’t say anything negative about you as a person.

Likewise, it may be better to avoid blaming your partner for your positive test results. Many STIs are symptomless, so people are often unaware that they even have an STI unless they get tested.

Prepare for the conversation

To prepare yourself for the conversation with your partner to let them know they may have an STI, do some research on the subject. There are a lot of myths and misconceptions about STIs out there, so it’s important to read up on the topic and be ready to answer your partner’s questions.

But that doesn’t mean you have to become an expert on the topic — there may be questions you both have, and in those cases, you can do your research together.

Pick the right tone

Approach the conversation in a straightforward manner without being angry, frustrated, or upset. Pick a time when you won’t be interrupted and a place where you can have a private conversation with your partner without others overhearing.

Remember that millions of people have STIs, and plenty of them are in relationships. Testing positive for an STI is simply a health issue, and it doesn’t say anything negative about you as a person.

If you’re nervous about how to approach it, practice talking about it out loud to yourself or a friend you trust. It may feel awkward to do this, but rehearsing what you want to say first can help you sort out your thoughts and think about exactly what you want to say.

Put yourself in your partner’s shoes

Try not to play the blame game when you talk to your partner. Getting a positive test result during a relationship doesn’t necessarily mean that someone cheated because STIs often take a while to show up on a test, and many people don’t have symptoms.

If you put yourself in your partner’s shoes, imagine how you would feel if they came to you and said, “I tested positive for an STI.” How would you want them to react? What would you do? Thinking about how you would react can help you think about how to approach the conversation and what to say. Here are some ideas:

  • “I got some test results back, and I tested positive for _____. Can we talk about how to move forward? I may have passed it on to you, or I may have gotten it from you, but I’m not sure. I just want us to both be healthy so we can continue to have a relationship. Here’s what I’ve found out about it.” Then you can share some facts.

As you start expressing your concerns and relaying what you know, remember to let your partner talk too, so you can find out what they’re thinking as they process the information. In these types of situations, listening is just as important as talking openly.

Make an appointment

After the conversation, be sure to make an appointment with your gynecologist or primary care physician to let them know about your test results and discuss treatment options for managing it, if you haven’t already. Your partner may want to attend this appointment with you. Whether or not they come along, they need to get tested too.

Maintain a healthy perspective  

The negative connotations surrounding STIs and STDs can make it difficult for people to talk about them with their partners for fear of being judged. However, millions of people in the United States are diagnosed with STIs every year. And half of all Americans will get one at some point in their lives.

When you have to tell someone that they may have given you an STI, being honest, open, and direct might be helpful. Stick to the facts and try to be understanding and supportive, and you and your partner can hopefully find a way to work on this health issue together.

“STD Testing: Conversation Starters.” STD Testing: Conversation Starters - MyHealthfinder | Health.gov, healthfinder.gov/HealthTopics/Category/health-conditions-and-diseases/hiv-and-other-stds/std-testing-conversation-starters.

STDs A to Z, American Sexual Health Association, 18 July 2020, www.ashasexualhealth.org/stds_a_to_z/.

Division of STD Prevention. Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance 2018. Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2019, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, www.cdc.gov/std/stats18/STDSurveillance2018-full-report.pdf.
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