You and your partner have decided to have sex. You know you should talk about sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) before the action starts, but the thought of having "the talk" makes you completely nervous.
A few super-confident people don't have any trouble bringing up the topic of STDs with their partners. But if you're one of the many people who blush at the idea, welcome to STD Talk 101.
Before You Talk
First, know the facts. It can make it easier to talk if you think of STDs as a medical problem — with serious health consequences. Channel your inner med student and learn everything there is to know about STDs. Knowing the facts gives you confidence and helps you to answer your partner's questions later on.
Know what you want from the conversation. You can't tell if people have STDs by looking or knowing their relationship history. So you'll want to make it clear that both of you need to get tested before you start having sex. You'll also want to be sure that your partner is in agreement about using condoms. Ask if your partner has ever had an STD that he or she knows about. And if you have an STD, you'll need to tell your partner before you have sex.
If you think it will be hard to talk, figure out why. Are you just embarrassed or shy? Or is it something more? Some people worry that partners will assume talking about STDs means they have an STD. Other people may believe that a partner will reject them. The things that can make it hard to talk also offer insight into your relationship. For example, people who would rather break up than wear a condom don't have much respect for you or themselves.
Thinking about your concerns helps you prepare. If you're shy, for example, putting your thoughts in writing and sending them to your partner might be easier for you.
Plan what to say. Difficult conversations benefit from good planning. You can't script your conversation word for word, but you can prepare by writing down the most important points so you don't miss anything. Bring your notes with you in case you forget what you wanted to say. You also can prepare by looking up nearby places to get tested, such as your doctor's office or an STD clinic.
Pick a good time to talk. Find a quiet space where you can chat without being interrupted. Don't wait until you're about to have sex — this conversation is easier to have with your clothes on. Plus, talking about STDs in the heat of things can lead people to make decisions they might regret later.
Start the conversation (someone has to do it!). Bring up the topic in a matter-of-fact way. You could start by saying something like, "We've talked about having sex and I think I'm ready. I want to be able to relax and enjoy it, and I won't unless I know we're protected against STDs."
See how your partner responds. After you introduce the topic, pause to hear what your partner says. (If there's no response, be direct and ask what he/she thinks.) This lets you figure out if you guys are in agreement about things — and if you're not, you can talk about it more. If your partner won't use condoms, for example, you can respond with reasons why you won't have sex without one. If you both agree on condom use, you can go on the next issue — getting tested.
Say you'd like to go together to get tested. Tell your partner about the options you found for where to go.
Listen to your partner's point of view. Being a good listener shows respect and sets the tone for the conversation. Listening also gives you clues to what your partner thinks. What at first might seem like a resistance to getting tested for STDs could turn out to be a worry over what it might cost.
Be calm and present your case in a factual way. Taking a "just the facts" approach can help you avoid sounding like you're judging or accusing.
It's normal to be nervous when you first start talking about something like STDs. But even if you're flustered at first, you'll get past your nerves the more you talk and listen. If you want to feel more comfortable talking about STDs, make an appointment with your doctor before you talk to your partner. Not only will this let you practice having a conversation, your doc also can help you come up with things to say and give you advice on how to get tested.
Having the STD conversation can be awkward at first, but it's a lot less uncomfortable than discovering you have an STD after you have sex — or finding out that you gave one to your partner. It's also a great way to learn more about your partner and your relationship: Is your partner willing to talk about this? Does he or she respect your wishes? Does your partner try to make the conversation easier (by really listening, reacting, and understanding) or harder (by shutting down, acting defensive, or making fun of you)? The right conversation with the right partner can help you feel closer than ever.
Reviewed by: Larissa Hirsch, MD
Date reviewed: September 2009