Dating involves many awkward conversations, from the getting-to-know-you small talk to the dreaded “Are you seeing other people?” But telling your partner that you have a sexually transmitted disease (STD) or sexually transmitted infection (STI) definitely takes the cake. 

There’s a lot of misinformation and stigma surrounding sexual health, and most of us were never taught how to talk about sexually transmitted infections with a partner. It’s a conversation no one wants to have, but discussing sexual health is not only important but essential. Most STIs aren't a big deal, but if left untreated, they can lead to more serious health problems, so it's crucial to diagnose and treat them early.

Keep scrolling for some tips on how to tell someone you have an STD and how to normalize the conversation. 

When is the right time to tell someone you have an STD?

If you know you have an STD, the right time to tell someone is before you have sex (including oral sex). However, if you have already had sex with someone and find out you have an STD, it’s important to tell them then too. You don’t have to add it to your Hinge profile (although if you want to, more power to you), but if you feel things are about to get physical with a new partner, try to broach the conversation before getting intimate. It’s always a good idea to ask any new sex partners when they last got tested. If either of you haven’t been tested recently, you can both schedule some time to get tested at a healthcare clinic. It can feel awkward to bring it up, but prevention is the most effective way of stopping the spread of STIs.

Context matters, of course. If you tested positive for something curable like chlamydia or gonorrhea, you don’t have to tell someone you haven’t slept with as long as you complete all of the treatment before you have sex. You can happily abstain from having sex until you’ve been treated and you test negative again. But if you live with an STD like herpes or HIV, which can’t be cured, it’s essential that you be upfront before having any kind of sex with someone. 

How to tell someone you have an STD after you've slept with them

The best time to talk about STIs is before you have sex with someone new, but we know that isn’t always realistic. 

Many STIs don't cause any symptoms, which means you might have one but not know it. Or maybe your last results came back negative, but someone else gave you an STI after. Whatever the reason, shit STIs happen. If you test positive for an STI after you’ve had sex with someone, the same rules apply: let them know ASAP.

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It's natural to feel nervous when disclosing a positive STI status to someone, especially if you’re at the start of a relationship, but try to stay calm. It’s an awkward conversation, but you’re doing the responsible thing in the end. And your partner(s) will appreciate the honesty, regardless of how they react (more on that below). 

It can be as simple as sending a text message that says: “Hey, I recently went for a routine STD check, and my test results came back positive for [insert STI]. It doesn’t always cause symptoms, so you should get tested even if you feel fine. The clinic told me it’s easily treated, though!” 

It’s super important that you both get tested and treated — and complete the whole treatment — before having sex again. Otherwise, you could get the STI again. Having an STI and not getting it treated can lead to long-term health problems, like chronic pelvic pain and infertility. 

If you don’t want to tell your sexual partners that you contracted an STI, sometimes your sexual health clinic does that for you anonymously. If that option isn’t available to you, or you’d prefer to tell them yourself, remember that you're simply disclosing information, not admitting guilt or wrongdoing. You’re not “dirty” or “loose” if you contract an STI, and neither is the person who gave it to you. 

STIs are incredibly common, and it's crucial to remember that when two consenting adults have sex, they're doing so at their own risk (whether that risk is an STI, an unplanned pregnancy, or getting your heart broken down the line). Around 1 in 5 people in the US have an STI on any given day. 

Still, to make the conversation go as well as possible, practice what you will say beforehand. It’s helpful to read up on the subject so you’re ready to answer any questions and reassure them that they can get treated easily. 

Don't worry if you're not an expert on the topic — just do some research and arm yourself with some basic knowledge. STIs are shrouded in misinformation and stigma, so you can approach the conversation more confidently and put your partner’s mind at ease by being well-prepared.

That said, be prepared for some uncomfortable questions about your sexual history or even a bit of judgment. Most of us grew up with inadequate (or non-existent) sex ed, so your partner may be misinformed about STIs. It’s understandable if they get a bit panicked or upset about the news, but try not to get defensive. You probably felt some type of way when you got your test results back, too! There are a lot of emotions that come up when you test positive for an STI, whether it’s shock, disappointment, fear, or denial. Give yourself some time to acknowledge those feelings, and give your partner the grace to feel them, too. 

How to tell someone you have herpes or HIV

STDs like genital herpes and HIV can’t be cured, so they can be especially tricky to discuss with a partner. That being said, there are treatments for both HIV and herpes that can help reduce the spread of these infections.

If you can have the conversation before having sex with someone. Pick a safe space and a time when you’ll both have privacy and won’t be interrupted. Disclosing your STI status with a partner is a matter of both public health and basic decency. This way, you give them a chance to decide for themselves whether they’re comfortable having sex, knowing what the risk is. 

Speaking of risk, be ready to give them any information so they know that herpes and HIV aren’t a death sentence. Talk them through what precautions you’re taking, any medication you’re on, and what they can do to keep themselves safe. 

For example, if you have herpes, telling them when your last outbreak was and how long it took to clear up can be helpful. If you have HIV, explain that with effective treatment and safe sex, you can’t pass the virus on to your partner. If you’re exposed to someone with HIV (you have a partner with HIV or you have multiple sex partners per year), it’s a good idea to discuss starting PrEP with your healthcare provider, which if taken regularly prevents you from getting HIV if you have sex with someone that has it. 

Ask your partner if they have any questions. If they do, great! This is an opportunity to bond as a couple, be vulnerable, and smash some misconceptions about STDs. If they need space to digest the information, give it to them. Even though it’s not life-ending news, it can be a bit of a shock — especially if they’ve never had a close call with an STI before.

Dealing with a negative reaction 

It's normal to feel anxious about disclosing STI status to a partner. However, a caring partner will remain calm and understand that anyone sexually active can contract STIs. They might get a bit upset or shocked by the news (totally valid), but it’s never okay to be aggressive or disrespectful.

Sometimes, your partner might freak out or not react as you hoped. If that's the case, just know their response doesn't reflect your worth. The most you can do is answer their questions or point them toward trusted resources (like a healthcare provider where they can get tested and receive treatment). But remember, you're not responsible for how your partner reacts. 

If you're worried that your partner might react negatively when you tell them you have an STD, it might be worth having the conversation over the phone as opposed to face-to-face. 

If things start to go south or you feel unsafe, it's perfectly fine to take a break and return to it when they've had some time to calm down. It's normal for them to need time to process things, but they should never make you feel bad or inadequate. 


Are you required to tell someone you have an STD?

There are no laws that require you to tell someone you have an STD, but it’s the right thing to do. Disclosing your STD status before having sex with someone gives them informed consent and allows them to decide for themselves if they want to take the risk. It’s a difficult conversation to have, but it’s important that you let them know for both their health and yours and to reduce the risk of passing it on. 

How do you react to someone telling you they have an STD?

Feeling upset, surprised, and even angry at the news is understandable, but try not to blame or shame them. STDs are incredibly common, and, for the most part, they’re nothing more than an inconvenience. If someone you’re casually dating (or had a one-night stand with) tells you they have an STD, feel free to ask them follow-up questions and then book yourself an appointment to get tested. And make sure that you both complete all of your treatment (or follow your doctor’s instructions) before sleeping together again. If your long-term, exclusive partner tests positive for an STD, remember that it’s not always a sign of infidelity. Some STDs take months, if not years, to show up on a test. Have an honest conversation with your partner about how to have a safer sex life, and make sure to get tested at least once a year or any time you have a new sex partner. 

Would you forgive someone for giving you an STD?

Whether or not you forgive someone for giving you an STD is your decision to make, and it’s ok if that’s a deal-breaker for you. STDs are no one’s idea of a fun time, but that being said, they’re incredibly common (about 1 in 5 people have an STI on any given day in the US), and there’s no way to protect yourself against them entirely (unless you don’t have sex). Having an STD doesn’t make you “dirty” or unfaithful, and sometimes you can contract one even if you’ve been really careful and used protection.