Somewhere along the line, you caught something nasty. How can you tell a new partner – or an old one – without making everything awkward? Lady Friday is here to help.
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First things first: STDs happen.
No, really, they do. As many as one in four non-virgin adults has herpes – which is a phenomenal number. Every year, 14 million people in North America alone get an STD – and that’s just the ones who report it, see a doctor or are willing to talk about it in surveys. You aren’t alone.
Before you tell anybody, get all the facts. What exactly do you have – and how did you get it? The array of STDs is quite staggering. Some can lie dormant in the system for ages before showing symptoms, so you’ll never quite know where they came from. Others are immediately apparent. And the symptoms can be wildly different depending on the illness, so make sure you get a proper diagnosis.
Now, before you move on to having The Discussion, confront your own feelings. How are you feeling about the diagnosis? Do you feel it makes you less attractive or ‘ruined’? Do you fear nobody will want to sleep with you? Are you ashamed about it?
These are all pretty common reactions – without any real basis at all. The stigma around STDs is outdated, and even though condoms and other protection guarantees a certain amount of safety, even they aren’t 100% useful all the time.
If you’re really feeling upset about the diagnosis, see a sexual health counsellor who can help you sort through your reactions. Most clinics have one on staff for precisely this reason.
If you’re in an established relationship and suddenly have an STD, the key issue on the table, depending on the STD, may be trust. If it’s a particular strain which can lie dormant and suddenly flare up several partners later, then it’s less worrisome. If, however, it is immediate and you haven’t strayed, your partner might have to answer questions which go beyond the purview of this column.
Telling new partners about an STD which will be with you for life is a difficult prospect. If you have a pretty good handle about how you’re feeling about the situation, that’s a good start. However, STDs have to be discussed before any sexual contact – you can’t put them in a position of ignorance.
Be mature about it – not aggressive, not miserable. Bring it up at a point where you aren’t actually flinging their hands away from your trousers, if possible – that just makes it awkward. Prepare a little to help your nerves – rehearse some sentences.
Explain that you need to be honest and don’t want either of you to be in the dark about it. Be prepared for a wide variety of reactions, even if the initial one isn’t pleasant. Many people are poorly educated about STDs and will make assumptions which you should disprove. Don’t hand them a leaflet or anything, but have all the information on hand.
Crucial things to know: how it’s transferred; what signs there are; how to get tested; what the impact is on fertility; common myths and the truth behind them. You’re under no obligation to tell any new partner where you got it. You also have the right to ask them to keep it a secret.
If they’re confused, angry or worried, try to coach them through and keep the conversation calm. If you find yourself getting upset, take a moment to breathe and remember that it’s just medicine, not the end of the world.
Don’t downplay or overstate. Just be realistic about what it is. All you can do is talk about it rationally and provide every medical piece of information they need – the rest is up to them.
Unfortunately, there are some idiots in the world who’ll walk away – but that’s the fault of their ignorance, so don’t let it depress or upset you. Be brave and take a chance, and it might all work out for the best.
Lady Friday xx
Taking the pillow talk out of the bedroom, every Friday…
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