How To Tell A New Partner You Have An STI

According to the Center for Disease Control, one in five Americans has at least one STI. If we break that into actual numbers, that's roughly 68 million people walking around with an STI every day, whether they're aware of it or not. The CDC found that in 2018 alone, 26 million STIs were newly acquired, with the majority of transmitting and contracting being among people between the ages of 15 and 24.


"The burden of STIs is staggering," says director of CDC's National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention Jonathan Mermin, M.D., M.P.H. "At a time when STIs are at an all-time high, they have fallen out of the national conversation. Yet, STIs are a preventable and treatable, [but a] national health threat with substantial personal and economic impact."

With the rise of STIs and more and more people contracting them, for those who do have one, there comes that time when you have to have a conversation in which you tell a new partner that you have an STI. But it doesn't have to be scary or awkward. As long as you're honest and are prepared to educate your new partner, telling them about your STI might be easier than you think.


Tell them in person

When it comes to anything important, you want to do it face to face. Think about it this way: If you were dating someone with an STI and they sent you a text one night that says, "Oh, I should tell you, I have herpes," you would be understandably upset.  Although STIs aren't the end of the world and some are even curable, it's still a topic that needs to be addressed in person.


"In my experience dealing with patients with STDs, most of their partners are totally glad for someone to be upfront and honest, and they are much happier in a relationship where someone has taken a chance and bared their soul," gynecologist and sex counselor Terri Vanderlinde, D.O. tells Men's Health

It's also a good idea to have this conversation in person if you've only just started dating. Not only do they need to know about your STI, but their reaction will let you know whether or not they're worth your time. As Vanderline says, "If they are jumping and running, better to know now. If your partner is putting your STD status above having someone that could love them for the rest of their lives, then their priorities aren't in order."


Remember, you're more than your STI, nor does your STI define you.

Talk about the stigma and give them resources

The biggest problem with STIs is the stigma surrounding them. Popular culture has led many people to believe that anyone who has or has had an STI as dirty and/or promiscuous. This is completely untrue, especially when you consider the fact that the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is so common that pretty much every sexually active person will contract it at some point in their lifetime, according to the CDC.


"The stigma associated with having an STI leads folks to believe that they won't be able to date and that no one will want to have sex with them, but in my experience, that's rarely the case," executive director of the STD Project and spokeswoman for Jenelle Marie Pierce tells CNN. "Sure, some people experience rejection after disclosing to a new partner. But most people find that the stigma itself is far worse than the infection."

Because the stigma is bound to be part of the conversation you have with your partner, it's important that you address it. Talk about it and let them share their thoughts and concerns. Explain what STI you have, as well as how it's treated or if it's curable. The CDC's Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance site and Planned Parenthood are great resources that can put your partner's mind at ease.


Be honest, but prepare to be judged

As mentioned, because the stigma surrounding STIs is often a far bigger deal than the infection itself, you should prepare yourself for being judged. While this is unfair and totally unnecessary, it happens. It's possible that the person you're doing is misinformed, misguided, or simply ignorant. In that case, they may not react well.


"Be open when you have the conversation — and be ready for them to judge you," OB/GYN Oluwatosin Goje, M.D. tells Cleveland Clinic. "Expect them to be confused or to walk away. Many times, whether it's your family or your partner, you can tell them, 'I don't expect you to like anything I say today. It's fine. It's a lot for you to digest. But I respect you enough to tell you what is going on.'"

But sometimes respect doesn't go both ways, and if your new partner can't get over their judgment then, again, they're the one who is missing out on someone great — that someone being you, of course.

Don't play the blame game

If you have an STI and a new partner, then you probably got it from someone you dated or slept with previously. However, does it really matter how you got it or who gave it to you? Whether it was an ex, a one-night stand, or a short-lived fling, the point is that you don't want to start the conversation with your new partner by passing the blame for your STI onto someone else. It's not about how you contracted it; it's about the fact that you have it now and you need to talk about it. 


Instead of immediately starting the chat by pointing the finger at your ex — remember it takes two to tango, after all — phrase things in a more mature and cohesive manner. "A few months ago, my partner and I had chlamydia, we were treated, and I don't have it anymore," is a great example of how to phrase things, OB/GYN Colleen Krajewski tells Cosmopolitan

See? So much better than being accusatory and trying to erase yourself from the equation. Of course, if you're still in the middle of treatment, then you want to share that information too in the same calm, mature manner.

Try to keep your emotions in check

Disclosing such information can be really emotionally overwhelming. It not only feels like you're sharing a dark secret, but it's also a dark secret that, for some partners, can be a dealbreaker. Even before you have the conversation, you want to mentally and emotionally prepare yourself for not just their reactions but for your own. You don't want to fall apart because then you end up making it worse than it is, and having an STI isn't a bad thing!


"From a psychological evolutionary standpoint, our brains are simply wired to react," Doctor of Psychology at Detroit Medical Center Dr. L.A. Barlow, LLP, LPC, tells Bustle. "Often, we as psychologists refer to episodes of overreaction as our brains getting 'hijacked' — whereby you may lose access to the prefrontal cortex, which is the part of the brain responsible for rational and complex thinking. Thus, decision-making can become adversely affected and you might feel thrown off or disoriented. 'Hijacks,' however, can be controlled with practice and persistence."

If you need to practice what you're going to say to your partner a dozen times and think about the possible emotional outcomes, then do that. As Dr. Barlow points out, you can control your reactions to situations if you practice and are persistent in how you plan to handle it all. 


Don't pressure your partner to make a decision in that moment

After you've told your partner about your STI and they begin to digest all the information you've given them, the last thing you want to do is ask them if they're going to end things with you. You've just given them a lot to think about, so demanding answers about your future at that moment is just going to backfire. You're essentially giving them an ultimatum, and those rarely go over well.


"A healthy way to think about ultimatums is that they are the communication of a 'last chance' to one's partner before it's too late," licensed clinical psychologist Adam Haynes-LaMotte tells PsychCentral. "An ultimatum, as its namesake implies, is meant only as a final effort to communicate your needs to your partner ... This can drastically undermine a partner's feeling of safety and security in a relationship, which leads to an unhealthy dynamic."

As much as you may want to know immediately if you should mentally and emotionally prepare to move on, if you truly respect your partner and you want to try to make it work, then give them the space they deserve to figure out how to navigate things. Everyone is entitled to make decisions about their own health and how your STI diagnosis may affect them.


Know it's not the end of the world

Finding out you have an STI, even if it's one that's treatable, is never good news. However, it's also not the end of the world. What's important to realize, in addition to how common (and on the rise) STIs are, is that even with condom use, it doesn't mean you can 100% avoid contracting an STI. Those that are transmitted via skin-to-skin contact like herpes, HPV, trichomoniasis, and syphilis can't be prevented by condoms. Condoms, which are 98% effective when used properly, can lower the chances of contracting STIs that are spread through bodily fluids like HIV, chlamydia, gonorrhea, and hepatitis B to name a few. Still, nothing is completely foolproof. 


Basically, even if you're as careful as one can possibly be, it doesn't mean you'll never come in contact with an STI. So, if you tell your partner you have an STI and they start to freak out, share these facts with them. Then suggest they get an STI test. They might have one too, but they just don't know it yet.