If you are sexually active, there is always a risk that you could get a Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI). STIs are infections that are passed from one person to another through unprotected genital-to-genital contact, exchange of bodily fluids or through skin-to-skin contact.
Although it may seem like a difficult conversation, if you have an STI or think you may have one, it is a good idea to speak to all of your recent sexual partners to let them know.
Why should I tell someone I have an STI?
STIs are passed from one person to another during sexual activity. This means that you cannot get an STI without having it passed on to you by someone else. Sexual activity includes penetrative sex, oral sex, rubbing together and genitals touching together.
Whether you are in a committed relationship or you have more than one sexual partner, it’s important that you reach out to anyone who could have given you this infection so that they can get tested too. Letting them know that they could have an STI is also a matter of respect. There are a number of STIs that have no symptoms for some people, so there is a chance they didn’t realise they had the infection at the time, and they might still be unaware that they have an STI.
Remember, a lot of STIs can be treated with a course of antibiotics. No matter what STI you may get there is treatment available and once on it your symptoms clear up within a few weeks. If someone does not know they have an STI and it goes untreated it can cause complications over time. For this reason, it is important to let your partner/s know if you have an STI so they can also get tested and get treatment if they need it.
During the treatment period, you will need to avoid sexual contact with any partner until the treatment is finished. This is to make sure you don’t accidentally pass on the STI before your treatment is over.
If you have a regular sexual partner, you may need to explain to them why you can’t be sexually intimate during this time.
Finding out you have an STI when you’re in a relationship
Discovering you have an STI when you’re in a committed relationship can be a shock, especially if you have had only one sexual partner for a while. You might be worrying about where it came from and what it might mean for the relationship. You might also be worried about how your partner will react when they find out.
Whether you got the STI while in the relationship or beforehand, the best thing you can do in this situation is to have an open and honest conversation with your partner.
How to tell someone you have an STI
This may seem like a difficult conversation, but the sooner you have it, the better.
In some cases, the STI clinic may carry out ‘contact tracing’, where they will ask for a list of sexual partners you may have come into contact with when you had the STI so that they can contact them and arrange for them to get treatment. However, you may also have the option to tell these people yourself, and in some situations that might be what you prefer to do.
If you don’t know the person well or have little contact with them, then sending a message or an email is a good way of communicating this to them. If you are close with the person, or if you’re in a committed relationship, then you may want to talk in person.
Here are some things to keep in mind:
Picking a time and place
There may be no ‘right time’ to have this conversation, and if you wait for the right time you may never have it. However, do try to talk at a time when both of you are unlikely to be busy or distracted. Pick somewhere quiet where you won’t be disturbed. Some people find it easier to go for a walk to have difficult conversations.
Give them the information they need
Let them know exactly what STI you were diagnosed with and try to provide them with as much information about it as you can. Let them know the symptoms (if any), how it is passed on, and how it is treated.
The nurse or doctor treating you can give you more information on the infection, and they will also be able to tell you how common it is. Let your partner know this information, and direct them to where they can find out more about STIs.
Avoid jumping to conclusions
You may have a lot of questions about where this STI came from, and if you’re in a relationship, then you could possibly be feeling betrayed or hurt. It’s worth remembering that if neither of you had an STI test at the beginning of your relationship, then there is a chance that one of you could have had it before you got together.
Ask your partner to be honest with you about how they think this happened, but try not to accuse them of anything before exploring all of the possibilities.
Let them know what to do next
Now that they know about the STI, it’s important that they go for a check up, especially if you’re not sure who you could have gotten it from. If it wasn’t from them, then you could have passed it to them, and they could need treatment.
Tell them where you went for your STI test, or send them this list of free STI clinics across Ireland.
What to do if they get upset
There is a chance that the person you’re speaking to will get upset or even angry. Remind them that ultimately it can be difficult to know where an infection has come from or how long a person has had it, and blaming each other isn’t necessarily going to help. You are telling them now so that they can get any treatment they might need.
If you are not close to the person, then you can leave it there and let them decide what steps to take next. If this is a regular partner or someone you’re in a relationship with, then it might help to give them some space to calm down, and then you can come back to talk it out.
One of us cheated
Although an STI is not always a sign that one partner was unfaithful to the other, this sometimes can be the case. If you have cheated on your partner, the best thing you can do is to be honest.
If your partner has cheated on you, then you may be feeling a lot of emotions right now. Take time to work out how you feel, and sit down to have an open conversation with your partner.
How to avoid an STI
Remember to get regular STI check ups – find a list of free STI clinics here to find the closest one to you.