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How Do I Talk With My Partner About Sexually Transmitted Infections?

By KSU Counseling Services Staff

Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) are infections passed from one person to another during sexual activity. STIs can be serious, painful and may have long term effects, especially if left undetected and untreated. They infect your sexual and reproductive organs. The most common STIs on college campuses identified in young adults include: chlamydia, genital herpes and genital warts (HPV). Bacterial STIs, like gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis, are relatively easy to cure with antibiotics if detected and treated early. Genital herpes, genital warts, Hepatitis B and HIV are viral infections that cannot be cured, but the symptoms can be treated. Sometimes you can have an STI with no signs or symptoms. Other times, the symptoms spontaneously go away, but you still have the infection.

How Are STIs Spread?

STIs can be spread during vaginal, oral and anal sexual contact with an infected person.

How Do I Talk to My Partner About STIs?

Before I become infected:

The key to prevention is to limit your risk. It can be difficult to bring up the topic with a prospective sexual partner. Keep in mind that if your partner cares about you and you about him/her, you will want to keep each other safe from any diseases. Below are some tips to help communication before you have sex.

  • Think about how you will bring up condom use with your sexual partners. Develop statements that you feel comfortable with to introduce the topic.
  • Bring up the topic of sex, sexual histories and STI testing outside of the bedroom - during dinner, on a walk, etc. This helps both you and your partner stay focused and not get lost in the moment of passion.
  • Suggest that BOTH of you get tested for STI's, including HIV. Remember, being tested does not mean you are worried that either you or your partner is infected. Make testing something you do together, for each other.
  • Let each dimension of your relationship develop at the same pace. Allowing the intellectual, mental, spiritual and emotional aspects grow, along with the physical, usually results in more open communication, healthier relationships and increased levels of trust because you and your partner have gotten to know each other better. Many people find that allowing a relationship to develop in this way makes sex better!

After I am diagnosed with an STI

It can be scary and shocking to be diagnosed with an STI, especially if it is viral and not curable (like herpes or HPV). However, many couples face these diagnoses together and learn ways to enjoy a fully satisfying sexual life. If you're not currently in a relationship, you can still enjoy dating and sexual activities with a new partner, as long as precautions are taken to reduce the likelihood of transmission.

  • Tell your partner you have been diagnosed. It may be recommended that he or she get tested also.
  • Discuss the information you have received from your health care provider with your partner - he or she will have questions too. Seek more information (books, videos, Web sites), if needed.
  • Remember that your partner may feel angry and defensive and have the same questions and thoughts you do. Allow your partner time to absorb the information and to process their reactions. In order to work through a diagnosis, repeated discussions may be necessary, as trust needs to be rebuilt into the relationship (if you decide to stay in the relationship).
  • Make an appointment together to talk with a counselor or the sexual health educator at McKinley to discuss ways to alter your sex life to decrease possible exposure, or for tips on how to talk to your partner.
  • People with STIs often feel angry and isolated. Keeping those feelings inside can do more harm than good. Consider sharing your feelings with someone you trust: a friend, family member or counselor. Remember you're not alone.

Adapted from a pamphlet by McKinley Health Center, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

© All staff articles are used by permission of the respective author(s). Copyright belongs to the University Life Café. No part of this may be used without authorization.

How Do I Talk With My Partner About Sexually Transmitted Infections? (pdf)