Openly discussing sexual health is not something we are taught to do, but it’s an important part of caring for ourselves and others. It’s important to break down the unnecessary shame and stigma associated with STIs—this stigma causes increased rates of STI transmission, prevents people from getting treatment, and negatively affects people’s health and sexuality.
If you are able to discuss the situation openly and honestly, this can strengthen relationships and lead to a great foundation for communication around sex and sexual safety. People fear the possibility of rejection but the reality of this is that it rarely happens.
It can be helpful to reassure people that all STIs are treatable, and most are curable. For some STIs, using condoms, dental dams, medications or avoiding sex during outbreaks can limit the risk of STI transmission.
The reality is, most people will want to know if they’re at risk of an STI, so they can prevent passing it back and forth with you and/or passing it on to others. They may not have even realised that they had an infection, as most STIs don’t have symptoms. Once they know, they can get tested and treated, and look after their health.
The key bits of information you need to know if you get diagnosed with a bacterial STI like chlamydia, gonorrhoea or syphilis are:
Notify partners both past and current, how far back to go depends on which STI you have and when you were last tested (eg. chlamydia is 6 months and gonorrhoea is 2 months)
Avoid sexual contact until you have been treated
Wait the full 7 days after treatment to resume sexual contact
Wait the full 7 days until after your partner(s) have had the treatment
This is to prevent passing the infection back and forth. Repeat infections can lead to more serious complications and risks to fertility. Ensuring partners are tested and treated is an important way of controlling the spread of infections in the community as a whole.
For herpes there’s some great information and conversation starters from the New Zealand Herpes Foundation under the heading “herpes and relationships” as telling your partner(s) can often be the most difficult part of a herpes diagnosis.
There are websites with examples of conversations and that allow you to send an SMS or email to your partner(s) directly from the site, either personally or anonymously or if you prefer, you can ask your doctor or nurse to help. You don’t even need to provide your name or contact details to use these free and confidential services.
To appropriate from another campaign: it’s a little bit of awkward telling a partner about an STI ...for A LOT of peace of mind for your sexual health and relationships going forward!