We know you don’t want to hear it, but: you’ve got to have the hard conversation with each new sexual partner about where your junk has been and what it’s seen. Especially in an age when casual sex is de rigueur, and Tinder is causing STD rates to skyrocket, and almost everyone has or has had something. STIs aren’t anything to be ashamed of — they’re just a part of life we need to acknowledge without judgment. If you want to share your genitals with someone, you’ve got to be prepared to share your sexual history. Just don’t go overboard and share enough information about your exes that your current partner could find extended background information using a person search.
We’re not going to candy-coat it: The talk will be awkward as hell. Though not as awkward as a surprise case of herpes. Just don’t make us pull out the cliche that if you’re comfortable enough to get naked and grind with a new partner then you should be comfortable enough to talk with them about the health aspects of previous grinding sessions, too (sans the salacious details, of course).
Not only will this conversation help everyone make informed decisions, it’s an integral part of intimacy and caring. Which means that, yes, the sex — and your future relationship, should you choose to have one — will be better as a result.
And if that’s not the case — if, for instance, a new potential partner refuses to take a stroll down memory lane with you — then you’ll know to dump their ass right then and there, since they won’t be “looking at your etchings” tonight…or ever.
But assuming they’re evolved sexual beings who are mature, responsible and all ears, here are 10 steps to help get you through the conversation from start to finish:
- You go first. Don’t wait for your would-be partner to bring up sex histories. Assume they won’t. It’s your body — be proactive about protecting it.
- Have the conversation sooner rather than later. We recommend doing it over a glass of wine when it’s clear where the evening is heading; don’t wait until you’re half-naked in bed — that’s way too late! You and your partner need time to mull over the information exchanged, determine how you’d like to proceed, and maybe even go do some research on a particular STI your partner might have mentioned.
- Set the tone: Stay calm and matter-of-fact (even if you’re freaking out inside). Say, “I’m telling you these things because I think it’s important to be honest, and I’d like to hear your side, too. I’m not going to judge you or get mad, I just think it’s good to be informed.”
- Consider sharing your body count. Here’s the dilemma: On the one hand, while a higher body count doesn’t automatically mean a potential partner is an STI warehouse, how many previous sexual partners someone has had does increase their risk of exposure. On the other hand, all it takes is one partner to expose another to an STI. There’s also the awkwardness that can result from a dramatic imbalance in totals. Still, transparency is always better than subterfuge. If you decide to exhange totals, try not to judge — in either direction (i.e. whether their number seems ridiculously high or ridiculously low to you).
- Tell each other about past or current STDs. Some might say you don’t need to bring up past bacterial infections (e.g. gonorrhea, chlamydia, etc) that have been cured with antibiotics, but doing so will not only prove your willingness to be forthright, it will help demystify and de-stigmatize STIs, which are very common and nothing to be ashamed of. If you have a viral infection that’s currently asymptomatic (like genital warts that have been removed), you still definitely need to share that info, since there’s still the small possibility of transmission.
- Talk about when you were last tested and for what. You’ve got to contend with various incubation periods, hookups since the last checkup, and tests that might not have screened for what you or your partner thought they screened. (Yes, sex is all very complicated!) When you go to the doctor, you have to request to be tested for specific infections — they’re not necessarily going to do them all for you automatically. A pap smear ain’t gonna cover everything. Speak with your doctor explicitly about what tests they can do and what their results will rule out or diagnose. Guys, don’t avoid certain tests because you’re afraid of the minor discomfort some testing might involve — ignorance can cause you and your partners a lot more pain down the road.
- Don’t forget to bring up abnormal pap smears. They often indicate HPV, the viral STD that basically everyone has at one point or another (the body can often rid itself of eventually. But that’s no excuse not to be honest about it, because sometimes it can turn into cancer). Indeed, the fact that it’s so prevalent should make you feel pretty comfortable about sharing that info.
- Be encouraging. Even when someone tells you something you’re not that psyched to hear. After all, you’re better off with someone who can be open and honest with you than with someone who’s going to be vague and beat around the bush, as it were.
- Don’t be discouraged. Even if your partner is the one who doesn’t like what they hear. Being honest is the noble, moral, ethical thing to do. It may cost you love in the short term, but an STI doesn’t automatically mean you’ll never find it again (even if it feels that way sometimes). Love, sex, marriage, babies can be all be had with a current or past STD — millions and millions of people prove it every day!
- Insist on condoms and oral sex dams EVERY TIME. They don’t prevent everything all of the time, but when used correctly they do help significantly reduce the risk. Once you’ve been thoroughly tested together for all STIs, trust each other explicitly (not just implicitly). If you have verbally agreed to a committed monogamous relationship, then and only then you can you discuss forgoing the condoms. Just make sure you have another reliable form of birth control!