How To Navigate Your STI Diagnosis With Potential Partners

One of the most anxiety-inducing things about an STI diagnosis is the prospect of telling new partners about it. Uncomfortable or not, though, it is a conversation that needs to be had — and going into it prepared might just make it a little easier.

As scary as it may be, opening up about a positive STI result with sexual or romantic partners is non-negotiable. For starters, in some places, there may be a legal requirement to disclose.  However, even where not legally obliged, simply put, it's the kindest, most ethical way to deal with a not-so-great situation. As Planned Parenthood's Dr. Sara C. Flowers told PsychCentral, "Sex is only truly consensual if everyone is fully informed about the risks involved." 

Even so, knowing you should speak up doesn't necessarily make doing it any easier — largely because, as psychologist and sexuality expert Dr. David J. Ley told Well+Good, " ... [P]eople often don't know how to discuss these issues, because most sex education is around 'Don't do it, or you'll get STI and be tainted forever.'" The truth is, talking about an STI will likely be awkward — both for the person disclosing and for the person hearing it. But, going into the conversation with the right approach can make all the difference. So, just what does that approach look like?

Go in knowing as much as possible

When it comes to talking about an STI with potential partners, most experts agree that the key to making the conversation run smoothly lies in preparation. Go in with as much knowledge as possible, and be willing to answer the questions that come up. 

Knowing what symptoms might look like, what treatment entails, and if there's anything that needs to be avoided are all crucial details. However, thinking about anything that might come up as a question is also a great starting point for preparation. And, on top of all that, it's great to be able to point out websites, healthcare centers, or any other resource with expertise in the space. 

Another topic of discussion to keep in mind while preparing: What comes next? While consent is required from everyone involved, if that is the case, it is still possible to continue a safe sexual relationship when one partner has an STI. But, should all parties opt to continue the relationship, it's imperative to know how to go about things safely — and what that looks like is often specific to the infection in question. As Mayo Clinic's Dr. Stacey A. Rizza pointed out to Men's Health, in some instances, preventing infection might mean using a condom. In others, however, it may require some holding off altogether during treatment or a breakout. Once again, knowing all the infection-specific details is the key.

Be sure to protect yourself, too

We've said it before, and we'll say it again: Navigating a conversation about STIs can be downright uncomfortable for everyone involved. For that reason, many resources suggest having the conversation in a safe, and private, space. That said, even with all the planning involved, there is a chance the conversation could go left — and it's important to go in knowing that. 

Speaking to Cleveland Clinic, Dr. Oluwatosin Goje pointed out, "Be open when you have the conversation — and be ready for them to judge you. Expect them to be confused or to walk away." That's not to say those on the receiving end won't come around eventually, but understand that they might not. Above all, Dr. Goje urged, " ... [T]his is something that you shouldn't keep blaming yourself for." As Refinery29's Lexi Inks wrote of her own herpes diagnosis and experience with telling partners, "How others feel about my condition isn't a reflection on me or my worth, whatsoever ... ."

Unfortunately, some disclosure reactions are worse than others, and in the case of intimate partner violence survivors, opening up can often come with added fears. Dr. Goje suggests, "Go to a safe space or a very public place." Alternatively, there are options that allow healthcare providers to send an anonymous alert, like Ultimately, disclosing an STI is about empowering both partners to make a choice about their own sexual health — and everyone involved should feel safe while doing so.