Being diagnosed with an STD is scary. Although they’re mostly treatable, it’s a pretty stark reminder that you have to be careful with your body. So, not only are you possibly itching or burning down there, it’s normal to feel a little shame, even though you totally shouldn’t. But the stigma around having any STD can make it really hard to figure out how to tell someone that you have an STD.
In our culture, people are really insensitive about STDs.
There are jokes about being “dirty” or “easy,” which is one thing you have to learn how to process. And there are people out there who will decide they won’t be intimate with you even before they know the facts about your issue, like that genital herpes and HIV can be contained with daily treatment and rendered all but non-transmittable. The worst thing about all this stigma is that it prevents some people from being honest about their STDS or skirting around whether you have to disclose or not anyway.
Spoiler alert: It’s always better to disclose your STDs.
If someone doesn’t want to sleep with you because you had a genital wart once or you take valacyclovir every morning, they aren’t worth your time anyway. Here’s how to approach the awkward talk.
1Do it before you’re naked.
You should not be in the heat of the moment and then go, “Oh yea, one thing…” That’s not the time anyone is thinking clearly. It could also blow back up in your face if you tell them, they shrug it off because they must have you right now, and then come back at you later with a litany of complaints and guilt trips. Blegh. If you an work it into conversation somehow — talking about sex is a great first date topic — that’s ideal. So is anytime before you’ve both made the decision to get it on.
2Do it in a place where you feel safe.
Some people are really ignorant, even the kinds of people you peg for Smart Enough. Because of urban legends about STDs and the lack of proper education about them pretty much everywhere, there are a lot of people who don’t understand antivirals or know what the words “suppression” or “undetectable” means when it comes to a virus. There are people out there who will react cruelly to you — whether it’s threatening you because they’re scared or starting a Facebook group so that everyone on campus knows your beeswax. (This happens more often than you might think.) It’s not stupid to be extra careful about who you disclose to and where you do it.
3Explain the facts.
Tell them why you’re telling them, and explain how you take care of yourself. Then tell them how you plan on keeping both of you safe if you decide to get it on.
4Be prepared for some questions.
Don’t be put off if someone starts asking you questions — it’s literally totally possible that they have no idea what having your particular STD really means. If you’re having trouble, pass them a link to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website about it or to another resource you might have found useful when you were diagnosed. Knowledge is power!
5Ask them back!
Uh, yea, hold on a second here. You have every right to ask them if they have anything they’d like to tell you or whether or not they’ve been getting tested regularly. Remember that knowing your status means you are healthier than the person who’s been walking around with no idea about their health. You’ve been responsible and are taking care of your situation — that’s admirable. A lot of people are too scared to find out.
6Respect their reaction…up to a limit.
Give a person a minute to let something sink in. If they decide not to sleep with you, so be it. But remember that you did nothing wrong and are fabulous and pretty brave for being vulnerable. (See #5) On the other hand, if you guys do start having sex, they don’t get some special cupcake or trophy for banging the chick with an STD, like they’re some of hero. That’s emotional abuse.
7Just in case…
If you’ve already been sleeping with someone and have held back from disclosing and need to finally do it — we get it. When you’ve already slept with someone, it’s going to be a little tougher, so definitely make sure you’re in a safe place and explain things clearly. Offer them a list of places to go get tested if they’re freaking out — though you don’t have to hold their hand if you don’t want to. Be ready to accept that they might not like you anymore because you lied to them, not because of your STD. You’ll do better next time.
Disclosing an STD is not easy — so kudos to you for being open about your sexual history and taking steps to keep yourself and others healthy.