What We Talk About When We Talk About STIs

How much of what we say when we talk about sex revolves around well-being? Probably not as much as necessary. Feeling sexy and intertwining with someone else beneath the bed sheets is only a fragment of what goes into the act, and yet, it is still incredibly difficult for many of us (understandably so) to talk about STIs. 

A lot of that has to do with the stigma surrounding sexually transmitted infections as well as a lack of accurate information at an appropriate age. Think of Coach Carr in Mean Girls spouting fear mongering facts about safe sex in front of a blackboard. The first point (aggressively highlighted, mind you) being “abstinence”. A spot on satirical take on how sex education can often be treated in school, arguably affecting the way we view it for the rest of our lives. 

Let’s be clear, though—STIs are incredibly common (with more than 1 million cases being transmitted a day) and, no, having one doesn’t mean you are “dirty” or “careless”. However, whether you choose to talk about it or not can affect the well-being of yourself and partners. That’s not to say it isn’t scary to do so; fear of rejection and disrespect is normal and can be quite debilitating. On the other hand, hearing from a partner that they have an STI can be just as intimidating and confusing. 

There’s no right way to go about having ‘the talk’, but here are a few ways to support yourself through it:

Telling A Partner You Have An STI

Whether you prefer to do it face-to-face or from the other end of a phone, taking that initial step is something you should be proud of regardless of the outcome. There’s nothing braver than coming to terms with your truth and allowing your sexual partner to be a part of it. A few of the basics to consider during this process are:

  • Getting tested so that you can be sure of the kind of STI and the treatment (or lack thereof) it entails
  • Being respectful and telling partners your results before any sexual acts occur  
  • Supporting yourself by picking a time and place you feel comfortable with as well as preparing for any possible reactions

Emotions are a funny thing and can often be misleading when in the heat of the moment or after unexpected news. The important thing for yourself and for partners is that you broach the topic in a way that will allow both of you to feel comfortable and safe to express those emotions. 

Hearing A Sexual Partner Tell You They Have An STI

As nerve-wracking as it can be to share that you have an STI, it can be just as difficult to be on the receiving end of that conversation. Firstly, the fact that your sexual partner feels comfortable telling you about their diagnosis is something to be appreciated, despite how initially disorienting it might be. Secondly, the way you approach this conversation, whether you were prepared for it or not, can determine your relationship going forward. If you are unsure of how to respond, here are a few simple tips:

  • Let them speak their truth and be willing to listen without judgment or interjection
  • Get yourself tested to avoid any confusion or misinformation
  • Understand that having an STI has nothing to do with who you or your partners are, but rather just a fragment of your lives, whether you’re handling it together or separately

Knowing what to say in response to a partner sharing something so personal doesn’t come naturally. Emotions may take over in the heat of the moment, but compassion and understanding go a long way even in the most trying of times. 


Katerina Eleftheriou is a Toronto-based content writer who runs her own freelance business. She also manages her personal lifestyle blog and writes flash fiction in her free time.