I sure hope you agree that sex of all kinds is supposed to be fun — fulfilling, pleasurable, playful and (always) consensual. But there’s one essential part of sex that most people see as anything but fun: Talking about STIs and STI testing.
I get that raising the topic of STIs can seem challenging, but I want you to feel more confident about doing something that’s really a sign of maturity and sexual confidence. Great sexual partners are those that take care of their partners, as well as themselves. Knowing your status, treating any STI you might have, and sharing pertinent information with partners are all signs of a responsible partner. Just as importantly, you can both be more fully engaged in sex and pleasure once you’ve had the conversation and feel good about the results.
The STI testing conversation should come up no matter what your “relationship status” — maybe you are consensually non-monogamous and want to know a partner’s status, maybe you tested positive and want to disclose to your partner, maybe you have decided to be monogamous and want to be tested before putting the condoms away.
If You’re Sure You’re Ready To Stop Using Condoms
Look, I’m a sexuality educator so it’s going to take a lot to get me to tell you to stop using condoms for STI prevention; however, I’m a realist, and there may come a time when you and a partner decide to be monogamous and stop using them. If you’re going to forego the condoms, you and your partner should be tested for STIs — and lucky for you, STIs tests can be done in the privacy of your own home, free from embarrassment or shame (not that a doctor should ever make you feel that way!). But keep in mind that if you were also using condoms as contraception, you are going to want to make sure that you choose another method of birth control, too. And of course, it is really important to make sure that you and your partner are honest about whether or not you are going to be monogamous. Monogamy isn’t for everyone, and if you do have multiple partners, condoms should still be part of your sexual health playbook. (And if you are on PrEP, remember that it only decreases the risk of contracting HIV, but not other STIs.)
How to Start the Conversation
If you are struggling with how to bring up the topic of STI testing, try these conversation starters:
- “I’m thinking that it might be time to change up our safer sex routine. How would you feel about the two of us getting tested for STIs?”
- “Have you ever been tested? It’s time for me to do it and I was hoping we could do it together.”
- “I’d like to take this to the next level, but before we stop using condoms, I’d like us to be tested for STIs.”
- “I got my STI test back, and I want to talk through the results with you.”
- “This charming sex educator on the Nurx website said I should talk to you about getting tested. . ” 🙂
Breaking the Stigma Around STIs
I know that even with a smooth conversation starter on your tongue it might feel awkward — so let’s think about why that is. There’s a lingering undercurrent of judgment in the discussion, but that judgment is a holdover from the bad old days when people were shamed for enjoying sex outside of society’s very strict definition of what was acceptable (marriage, usually, especially for women).
Even though American society as a whole is more sex-positive than it was even a decade or two ago, people still use ridiculous words to describe STI results. “Are you clean?” Please, this isn’t about being “clean,” because people are not clean nor dirty. People either test positive or negative. It’s that simple and your results are not a reflection of your character. Getting an infection from sex really isn’t different from getting any other kind of infection, and it doesn’t say anything about who you are.
I want to take the stigma out of testing. The old adage is true: knowledge is power. It’s really the only way for us to accurately take care of our sexual health. And let me just say this: if a partner is unwilling to be tested for STIs, I think that tells you all you need to know about them. (Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.)
What to Say About a Positive Result
That being said, if your test comes back positive, and it could, be honest about it. Let your partner express their feelings, too; they may be upset, nervous, uncomfortable, or just silent. These are realistic responses and everyone deserves the right to process this type of information. Your partner should be tested too, and in some cases you might be able to get a prescription treatment for your partner as well as yourself (Nurx prescribes partner treatment for certain STIs if patients test positive through their STI Home Test Kits).
Talking about sexual health and STI testing doesn’t have to be uncomfortable. It’s all about changing your mindset. Having the conversation without shame, in a way that shows that you care about your body and your partner’s too, may even be a turn-on and make your relationship stronger.
About the Author
An internationally recognized expert on sexuality and relationships, Dr. Logan Levkoff is an author and educator dedicated to perpetuating healthy and positive messages about sexuality and relationships and encouraging honest conversation about sexuality and the role it plays in our culture. As a thought leader in the field of human sexuality and personal relationships, Logan frequently appears on television including Good Morning America, The Today Show, and CNN. Logan is an AASECT Certified Sex Educator and Sex Educator Supervisor and served on the AASECT Board of Directors. She received her Ph.D. in Human Sexuality, Marriage, and Family Life Education from New York University and holds an M.S. in Human Sexuality Education.
This blog provides information about telemedicine, health and related subjects. The blog content and any linked materials herein are not intended to be, and should not be construed as a substitute for, medical or healthcare advice, diagnosis or treatment. Any reader or person with a medical concern should consult with an appropriately-licensed physician or other healthcare provider. This blog is provided purely for informational purposes. The views expressed herein are not sponsored by and do not represent the opinions of Nurx™.