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Sex Health Blog

STDs and Safe Sex

Feb 23, 2011

New relationships are exciting. It’s fun getting to know a new partner and romance brings out a wide variety of emotions and physical feelings. Eventually, you’ll probably think about taking the relationship to a physically intimate level. You might even plan for it – a weekend getaway, perhaps, or a quiet evening for two with a candlelight dinner.

Don’t forget to talk about sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)!

The idea of having an STD conversation, especially with a new partner, might make you squirm. It sounds unpleasant, unromantic, and certainly takes any spontaneity out of the moment. You might discover things about your partner that you wish you didn’t know.

But it’s important to talk about STDs throughout your relationship. Here are some reasons why:

  • STDs can have serious complications. For example, human papillomavirus (HPV) causes cervical cancer and some head and neck cancers. Other STDs can cause infertility.
  • If your relationship isn’t monogamous, you and/or your partner could be infecting other people, putting their health at risk.
  • In some states, failure to disclose a confirmed STD diagnosis is against the law.

The STD conversation can be awkward for sure. You may think it’s easier to just ignore it and hope for the best.

However, chances are, your partner is thinking about STDs and safe sex, too. He or she might be relieved if you make the first move and introduce the topic. And once the conversation starts, you might find that STDs are easier to talk about than you thought.

Are you ready to have the conversation? Keep the following in mind:

Know your own status.

“Oh, it can’t happen to me,” you might think. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 19 million infections happen every year. So if you are sexually active, it makes sense to be tested on a regular basis.

Your doctor probably doesn’t screen for STDs at every office visit, so make sure you ask for specific tests.

Keep in mind that you can have an STD, such as HPV, and not have any symptoms at all. You can be transmitting the disease to others and not even know it. The only way you’ll know for sure is if you’re tested.

Tests for STDs are routine, so don’t feel embarrassed about asking for them. Regular testing will give you peace of mind so that when you’re with a new partner, you can relax.

If you have an STD – or think you might – say so.

Don’t hold back. If you have even the slightest reason to think you have an STD, tell your partner and get tested before you have sex. You owe it to your partners – and your partners’ partners – to be responsible about this. Also, disclose any STDs to your past sexual partners so that they can be tested and start treatment, if necessary.

Ask your partner questions.

You don’t have to pry or ask for every last detail of your partner’s sexual history. But before you have sex with someone, you have the right to know about possible STD transmission. You might ask:

  • How many sexual partners have you had?
  • How many sexual partners do you have now?
  • Have you ever had an STD? If yes, which one(s)? When were you infected?
  • How were you treated for any STDs?
  • Are you routinely tested?
  • When was the last time you were tested? What were the results?
  • What are your thoughts on safe sex?
  • Do you plan for our relationship to be monogamous?

Remember that STDs can still be transmitted through oral sex.

Many people think that because oral sex is not the same as vaginal or anal sex, it’s safer. That’s not true. Many STDs can be transmitted through oral sex, including HIV, HPV, herpes, gonorrhea, and syphilis. So if you and your partner decide to have oral sex, you should still talk about STDs.

Be prepared to talk about safer sex practices.

There are only two ways to prevent STD transmission for sure: abstinence and sex with a monogamous, uninfected partner. Beyond that, you need to make sure you and your partner are practicing safe sex. Talk about condom use, both male and female. Make sure your partner knows how to use condoms correctly. If you plan to have oral sex, discuss the use of dental dams or cut-open condoms that can provide a barrier between the mouth and genitals or mouth and anus. You might have to try different methods to see which ones work best for you and your partner.

Talking about STDs and safe sex shows that you respect your partner and that you take your relationship – and your health – seriously. The discussion can build a level of trust and make you both more comfortable with each other. It might even enhance your relationship, which could even lead to better sex in the future.