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Telling Your Partner You Have an STD

What Are STDs?

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are infections spread from person to person during sex (vaginal, oral, or anal) or close intimate contact. STDs are also called sexually transmitted infections, or STIs. Left untreated, STDs can spread and cause serious health problems for you and your sex partners.

A person with an STD may or may not have symptoms. When people feel perfectly fine, they don't know they have an infection that can spread. That's why doctors recommend that people who are having sex (or who have had sex in the past) get tested for STDs.

Why People Need to Tell Their Partners

So what do you do if your test comes back positive? After being treated yourself, it's important to tell your sex partners. Why? Their health is at risk, so they need to know what's going on. It's natural to feel worried, embarrassed, and even scared. But to protect your partner, it's a conversation you need to have.

Need more reasons?

  • STDs can cause serious health problems, especially if they're not found and treated.
  • Some STDs can lower the chances of having babies in the future if not treated early on.
  • Telling a past or current partner gives that person the chance to get checked out and, if needed, treated.
  • Telling a future partner lets that person to make an informed decision about his or her own health.
  • If you're treated for an STD but your partner isn't, you can get re-infected.
  • Not telling a partner about an STD after a confirmed diagnosis may be a criminal offense in some states.

Telling a New Partner About an STD

If you have an active STD, it's normal to be nervous about telling someone new. Everyone raises the subject differently.

Here are some ideas for handling the conversation:

Imagine that your roles are reversed. What would you expect your partner to do and say if he or she were in your shoes? Be proud of your intentions. Your willingness to have this hard conversation shows that you care about the other person and your relationship. We're more likely to trust and respect people who are honest (and brave!) enough to talk about tough topics like STDs.

It's best to be direct. You could start by saying, "Before we have sex, I want us to talk about STDs and protection because I have an STD." Say what type of STD you have and how you got it. You don't have to share every detail of your past relationships, but showing that you're open to talking and answering questions can help your partner feel more comfortable.

It's best to be honest. It's better for your partner to find out because you said something before getting an infection. 

Let the conversation proceed naturally. Listen rather than doing all the talking. Prepare for your partner to be surprised. Each person reacts differently to the news. Some might get panic. Some might be full of questions. Others might just need to time to think.

Don't push your partner to make decisions about sex or your relationship right away. It's normal to want acceptance and reassurance after revealing such personal information. But give the other person some space. Make a suggestion like, "I know you probably want some time to think about this." It shows that you're confident and in control.

Encourage your partner to ask questions. As you talk, give your partner facts about the STD. If you can't answer all of your partner's questions, that's OK. Say you don't know and then go to a health clinic or search online together to learn more.

If you and your partner decide not to have sexual intercourse (vaginal, anal, or oral sex), there are other ways you can be intimate or express your feelings for one another. If you do decide to have intercourse, use condoms and practice safe sex.

Telling a Current Partner About an STD

Being diagnosed with an STD while in a relationship can bring up lots of emotions. You may question your trust in your partner or feel ashamed if you cheated. But keep in mind that some STDs don't always show up right away. It's possible that you or your partner got the STD in a previous relationship without even knowing it.

If you find out that you have an STD while you're in a relationship, talk to your partner as soon as possible. Be honest — even if you haven't been in the past. Your partner may be upset, even angry, and that can be hard to deal with.

The most helpful thing you can do is listen to your partner's concerns and fears and offer information about the STD. Give your partner time to take in the information.

If you and your partner have already had sex, stop having sex until you can both get tested, even if your partner doesn't have any symptoms. You and your partner will probably need treatment. Take any medicine exactly as your doctor prescribes. If you have an STD, like herpes or HIV, treatments can lower the chance of passing the infection to your partner.

If you or your partner have multiple sex partners, it's important they all get tested and treated. If you think you've had an STD for a while, you need to let past sex partners know. They should get tested too.

It may be awkward, but telling partners about STDs is the right thing to do. If you think you have an STD or you have questions about STDs, talk to a doctor, sexual health clinic, or student health center. To help prevent future STDs, use a condom the right way every time you have sex.

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: May 2019