How to talk to your partner about STIs?


Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) continue to rise in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cases of STIs are up for the fourth year in a row. Here’s a snapshot:

  • Chlamydia: 1.7 million cases, 22% increase since 2013
  • Gonorrhea: 55,608 cases, 67% increase since 2013
  • Syphilis: 30,644 cases, 76% increase since 2013

Left untreated, STIs can lead to an increased risk of contracting HIV and can cause serious complications such as abdominal and pelvic pain, pregnancy complications and infertility. STIs may not show any symptoms, and if you do develop symptoms, they’re often mild. That’s why it’s important to get tested if you’re sexually active, practice safe sex and to talk with your partner about STIs.

Having a conversation about your sexual history may not come easy for you, but the key thing is to remove emotion and focus on the facts.

1. Get tested.

If you’re thinking about engaging in a sexual relationship, you have to be ready to talk about STIs. The first thing you and your partner should do is get tested. Share the results with each other. Here are some general STI testing recommendations from the CDC:

  • Sexually active women under 29 and women 25 and older with risk factors such as new or multiple sex partners should be tested for chlamydia and gonorrhea every year. 
  • All pregnant women should be tested for syphilis.
  • Sexually active gay and bisexual men should be tested at least once a year for chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis.

2. Use protection.

Protective barriers help prevent infections from happening. Practice safe sex by correctly using a condom during every sexual encounter. There are numerous types of barriers. I always recommend people walk down the aisle where they sell feminine hygiene supplies and condoms to see the new products there that you can use.

3. Consider practicing mutual monogamy.

Once you’ve both been tested and you’re in a mutually monogamous relationship where you’re only going to have sex with each other, then and only then, can you consider not using protection.

4. Share your results and get treated.

If your test is positive for a STI, get treated and use protection next time. Share your test results with every sexual partner you’ve had within the past 60 days. To encourage my patients, I tell them they’re actually being a hero by stepping up and preventing this from happening to somebody else. If you were in their shoes, wouldn’t you want to be informed so you can get tested and treated? You don’t want to be the reason for somebody’s infertility or chronic pain.

5. Get help from a neutral party.

Talk to your doctor about your sexual health. We can help facilitate the conversation. If you don’t feel comfortable doing that, local health departments provide confidential counseling and free or low-cost testing. If you’re in a committed relationship, you may want to consider family or relationship counseling.

Sondos Al Sad is a family medicine physician at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center who places a strong emphasis on preventive health, women’s health and pediatrics.