Are you thinking about having sex with your partner? If sex is crossing your mind, it’s time to talk to them about preventing sexually transmitted infections (STIs), also known as sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Getting tested and having safe sex are the best ways to prevent STIs. This topic may feel nerve racking or even embarrassing, but that doesn’t mean you should avoid it.
Talk with Your Partner Before You Have Sex
Talking with your partner before having sex plays a huge role in having an honest and healthy relationship. Being nervous is normal; but, having this tough conversation is important for your health. This conversation may even teach you more about your relationship. Is your partner respectful of your wishes? Are you respectful of theirs? Discussing this topic allows you to be an advocate for your own reproductive health.
STIs are often highly contagious and may cause other health problems if not treated properly or early. If you have previous sex partners, getting tested before you have sex with a new partner is important for your safety and theirs. Testing can reduce the risk of contracting and spreading STIs. Knowing the facts and common myths about STIs may make your conversation easier, especially if one of you tests positive for an STI.
While STIs can affect any sexually active individual, they are more prevalent in younger people. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that persons ages 15-24 make up just over one quarter of the sexually active population, but account for half of the 20 million new sexually transmitted infections in the United States each year. Some people may go years without noticing symptoms, or never having symptoms, which means testing is important even if you and your partner both think you do not have an STI.
How to Spark the STI Conversation
You may have decided to have a conversation about STIs but you aren’t sure how to bring the topic up with your partner, or know what to say or ask during the conversation. Knowing what to expect at an STI screening may also help, so you may want to research it beforehand, as well as the facts about STIs.
Here are some conversation starters:
- “I’ve been thinking about taking the next step in our relationship. But before we do, I want to get tested for STIs. Will you get tested with me?”
- “Getting tested before having sex with you is important to me.”
- “I was reading that STIs can go unnoticed for years without regular testing… have you ever been tested?”
Though you may feel embarrassed or worried, you have a responsibility to be honest with your sexual partners. Leaving STIs untreated may result in long-term health problems and the progression of an often easily treatable infection.
Safe Sex Practices
When talking with your partner about sex, find out if you are on the same page. Maybe your partner doesn’t like condoms or refuses to wear them. Think about how you would respond to that. Using protection, as well as taking and using other forms of birth control, are important in ensuring that you don’t end up with an unintended pregnancy or a harmful STI. Your partner may not know that condoms can be up to 98 percent effective in preventing STIs and pregnancy.
Not all forms of birth control offer STI protection. Knowing the limitations of each method are helpful in deciding which form of protection will be most effective for your type of relationship.
Get Tested Together
Be open and honest about your sexual health by disclosing any suspicion or history of STIs before having sex. Even if you don’t think you have an STI, it is important you still get tested before sex. You may feel scared and lonely getting tested on your own. If so, getting tested with your partner may calm your fears and provide comfort for both of you.
Before you get tested, decide how you will proceed if one or both of you ends up testing positive for an STI. Think about how you will handle your feelings as well as your partner’s feelings toward any results. You may want to end the relationship, or you may be focused on helping each other get back in good health. You may be confused at first or want to blame your partner. Try to remain calm and talk to your partner. You or your partner may need time to emotionally process the test results, and that is okay.
Regardless of the outcome, you both will be better for knowing because you can be treated right away and possibly stop future complications.
Sex education is the responsibility of everyone who is sexually active. New Jersey Family Planning League is dedicated to providing access to sex education and sexual health services for all who need them. If you have questions about safe sex or sexual health, contact your nearest NJFPL-supported health center.
* If you don’t feel safe talking to your partner about your sexual health, if you are a victim of domestic abuse, or experienced sexual violence, you are not alone and there are resources available to you. The New Jersey Domestic Violence Hotline is accessible 24/7 at 1 (800) 572-SAFE (7233). They offer lifesaving tools and immediate support to empower victims and survivors to find safety and live free of abuse. Your safety comes first, so all calls are totally confidential. You can also call New Jersey’s 24-hour Statewide Hotline at 1-800-601-7200. If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, call 9-1-1. The New Jersey Coalition to End Domestic Violence has a long list of other resources as well. NJ Coalition Against Sexual Assault (NJCASA) has additional resources, including a listing of county-based programs where you can find help.