Tips For Honesty & Sexual History Disclosure
When you’re in that exciting stage of a new relationship where things are about to get intimate, the last thing on either of your minds is usually that awkward and uncomfortable conversation: “So… let’s talk about our sexual histories…”
It’s uncomfortable, but it’s also important.
Firstly, the freedom in our culture to enjoy sexual closeness with whomever you choose, whenever you choose, brings the responsibility of taking care of yourself and those who are close to you.
Secondly, shame and embarrassment are two of the greatest enemies of a loving relationship — having “the talk” is a huge step forward in establishing trust right from the beginning.
How to Bring up the Topic
Right before you hop into bed probably isn’t the best time to start a heavy conversation about sexual history. You’re also unlikely to get a pleasant response if you interrupt your partner’s favorite TV show to bring it up.
The best time to talk is usually when things are going well and you’re both relaxed. Making a time every day or every week to talk about anything and everything is a great way to open up honest communication on a range of topics, and will make talking about sexual history a lot less difficult.
Be willing to share your own sexual history first. This could include how many people you’ve slept with, who they were, how long the relationship lasted, whether or not you used protection, and whether you were tested for STDs in the following months. When it’s your partner’s turn, ask open, non-judgmental questions, listen attentively, and be supportive, understanding that everyone has a past and that’s how they became the person you know and love today.
When to Get Tested
Sharing your history as far as you are aware is fantastic, but it’s even more effective if you know for sure where you stand in terms of having any STDs. It’s easy to become infected, and it’s possible either of you could have contracted one and not have any symptoms at all.
Here’s a bit more information about STDs to help you work out whether it’s time to be tested again, and what to test for. That way, you’ll be prepared when it comes to the all-important conversation with your partner.
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) often have no symptoms and some can lead to permanent damage. You can even be a carrier of an STD and be spreading it to your partner(s) without even knowing. To give you an idea, more than 1 in 6 Americans between 14 and 49 have a form of herpes called HSV-2, and 1 in 7 people living with HIV are not aware that they have the virus.
Some STDs are transmitted primarily by blood, whereas others can be transmitted via other bodily fluids and even saliva (kissing!). It’s possible to get an STD from sharing injecting equipment, and also from having an open wound come into contact with someone else’s bodily fluids, even if you haven’t had sex.
The CDC recommends everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 get tested for HIV at least once in their lifetime, and it’s a good idea to have a full STD panel done if you’ve had unprotected sex or shared needles in the past year. STD testing is also recommended in the case of pregnancy (to avoid passing on infections to the unborn baby).
Those particularly at risk should be tested for HIV, as well as preferably chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C every year. You can also get tested for herpes, but results aren´t as reliable as for other STDs. You´re at a higher risk for STDs if you have regular, unprotected sex, sleep with multiple partners, exchange sexual services for money, or share needles or injecting rooms with others. The CDC recommends that men with any of the above risk factors who also have sex with men can benefit from testing for HIV every three to six months. HIV can take up to 12 weeks to show up on a test, so you can only really be sure of results three months after you were last sexually active.
If you realize you´re due for another trip to the lab, this is a great opportunity to broach the subject with your partner and even go and get tested together. It usually only takes around 15 minutes to give your samples (typically blood and/or saliva), the process is confidential, and your results should be available within 72 hours.
If You or Your Partner Has an STD
If your test results come back positive for an STD or you were already aware that you had one, be prepared to experience rejection from your partner. It’s scary for them to think that they could be affected too, that you might have a lowered or shortened life expectancy, or that any future children may contract the infection or disease—especially if they are not aware of the treatment options available. The same goes if you discover your partner is or has been infected. Find out about the STD and treatment options together, and formulate a plan to protect both of you from harm.
What if My Partner Doesn’t Want to Disclose their Sexual History
In some cases, your partner might not want to disclose their sexual history, you might not want to, or not sharing might be a decision you make together. Be aware that in many states of the US, you are actually mandated by law to tell potential sexual partners if you are HIV positive, as part of a campaign to raise awareness and slow or stop the spread of HIV and other STDs.
However, if this is not the case and you or your partner decides not to share, you’ll have to decide as a couple whether to practice safe sex every single time (with condoms and dental dams), or whether to break off the relationship. The same goes if either you or your partner refuses to be tested. It’s simply not worth the risk of putting yourself or your partner in harm’s way when the damage could well be permanent. And if the two of you have more of a “friends with benefits” arrangement where either of you can also sleep with other partners, you both really need to use protection every single time, keep communication open, and be tested for STDs regularly.
Have the Talk Today for a Stronger Future
It’s scary, it’s uncomfortable, but having the talk with your partner will benefit both of you. Deal with the past now so you can both enjoy good health and a solid relationship into the future. For more information, consult the National Coalition for Sexual Health website.
Author Bio: Larry Hayman is a freelance writer for STD labs, a company offering local STD testing. His mission is to raise awareness about the importance of early HIV detection through laboratory testing. In his free time, Larry volunteers in AIDS education and counseling in the US and abroad.