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October 6, 2020

How to Talk to A Partner About Safer Sex: Getting Tested

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I was recently interviewed about how to talk to your partner about getting tested and I’ve shared the Q&A below.

If you haven’t been tested, you don’t know if you have an STI. In many cases, STIs (e.g. chlamydia) are asymptomatic, so the most common symptom can be no symptom at all. Regular testing, therefore, is essential to safer sex practices and long term health; though an STI may be asymptomatic for some time, untreated, it can lead to health issues including pelvic inflammatory disease, reactive arthritis, ectopic pregnancy, and infertility.

1. If someone is going home with someone they met at a bar, party or some other social engagement, how might they instigate the “have you been tested” question?

The stigma that surrounds STIs is one of the greatest barriers to safer sex, as it inhibits testing and talking about our statuses. Many people avoid the conversation, as they feel embarrassed, but if you’re willing to strip down and get physically intimate, shouldn’t you be able to ask a simple question?

If you’ve just met and you’re hooking up, you might combine the testing question with the discussion about safer sex. For example:

Do you have a condom or lube preference? I have these, but if you prefer another, let me know. And when were you last tested? I was tested two months ago.

2. What about if they’re in a consistent hook-up/friends with benefits situation?

Similarly, you can simply ask about their testing regimen as you share your own.

I’m going to get tested next week. Do you want to join me or were you tested more recently?

3. What if they’re casually dating or already in a long-term romantic relationship?

I don’t think the approach is that different once you’re in a relationship. Some guidelines suggest that you should be tested annually and if you have multiple partners (and they have multiple partners), guidelines suggest you get tested every 3-6 months.

If you’re in a long-term relationship, it’s likely that you support one another with regard to overall health (e.g. reminders of your annual checkup or dental cleanings), so you can integrate STI testing into your overall approach to health.

4. What happens if someone says they haven’t been tested? What do you do next?

You might suggest that you get tested together. You can visit a clinic or order an at-home test from LetsGetChecked.com.

You can test from home (provide a sample), mail it in and receive results in a few days. If you receive a positive result, you can talk to one of their physicians over the phone.

5. What if someone avoids the question or changes the subject?

Some people might suggest that this is a red flag and they might be right. If they’re not comfortable talking about safer sex, what are the chances that they’re practicing it with other partners? However, it’s also possible that the conversation itself simply makes them nervous and their avoidance is related to the conversation as opposed to the practice.

No matter how uncomfortable you may be, however, you do need to discuss safer sex and testing is a part of this.

When you ask about their status and testing, you’re also looking out for their own health — it’s not just about protecting yourself. Getting tested is essential to seeking treatment and the long term effects of leaving some STIs untreated include pelvic pain and infertility. It’s much simpler to get tested, treated and come up with a management plan if it’s a viral STI than to avoid testing and deal with the potential long term consequences.

I want to emphasize that STIs are not a death-sentence and quality of life can be top-notch regardless of status. Many STIs are treatable and all are manageable, but only if you get tested so that you can seek treatment and management care. Let’s ditch the STI stigma!

6. How should the discussion of safer sex change in monogamous vs non-monogamous relationships?

Data suggests that STI rates are similar for those in monogamous and consensually non-monogamous (CNM) relationships. This is because many supposedly monogamous relationships are not monogamous in practice. Those who have extra-relational sex may be less likely to practice safer sex and those who are in CNM may be more likely to practice safer sex.

Talk to your health practitioner about a testing schedule if you have multiple and/or new partners. You’ll also need to talk to each of your partners about their testing practices.

7. What if you’ve already had sex and feel awkward bringing it up now?

This may often be the case. Though it’s ideal to talk about safer sex and getting tested in advance, many of us wait until after we’ve had sex. Sometimes we do so because we opt to stop using barrier methods (e.g. condoms) and sometimes it’s because we start to worry about STI transmission.

If you feel awkward bringing it up, remind yourself that your lips have probably touched, licked, sucked and kiss the hole through which they pee. You’ve sweat against one another’s naked bodies and you’ve let your guard down and made animalistic sounds as your bodies jerk and spasm in pleasure. If you’ve enjoyed these activities, you’ve already overcome awkwardness and you’ll overcome the awkwardness of a conversation.

Remind yourself how much you enjoy sex with this person and how much more you’ll enjoy it knowing that you’ve been tested. Once you normalize testing as a prerequisite to sex, you’ll likely find that talking about it comes more naturally.

Best of luck and keep the conversation going. Like sex, talking about sex isn’t a one-shot deal.

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