How To Tell Your Partner You Have An STI

Photographed by Alexandra Gaville.
Yesterday, we marveled at the story of an unidentified woman who not only wrote a letter to the University of Michigan football team's star safety, Jabrill Peppers, claiming that he gave her chlamydia, but also printed 5,000 copies and plastered them across campus. (Was she drawing inspiration from Sex and the City's Samantha Jones' very public revenge on her ex Richard?) In the letter, the woman alleges that Peppers wheedled her into condom-free sex despite his full knowledge (and failure to tell her) that he had chlamydia; over the same period and unbeknownst to her, the woman says, Peppers was also having sex with another partner. While Peppers has deflected the allegation by tweeting that the "slander is crazy... People love bringing someone down," let's pause for a moment to look at how a healthy conversation on STIs between sex partners could go.

Jenelle Davis
, founder and executive director of The STD Project, a web-based organization that aims to eradicate stigma about sexually transmitted infections, shared with us her tips for telling a partner you have an STI — and for telling a partner you think he or she may have given you an STI.
Where & When To Have The Talk
"It's important that someone who has an STI tells a potential partner before engaging in sexual activities with them and putting them at risk," Davis begins, "but from there, it's up to them whether they would like to tell them right away or after they have established some trust and interest." While no one is obligated to divulge STI status over the first drink, many are embracing openness: Davis reports that she's seen more and more people include their statuses in their dating profiles. If you have an STI and have decided that you're ready to share that information (keeping in mind that if intimacy is imminent, you must), setting is key. "No singing telegrams or crowded bars!" Davis says. "Tell them in person, while in a calm and quiet environment; their home could be a good choice."

How To Tell A Potential Partner
Once you've picked a setting, go into the conversation prepared — and as calm as possible. "Be honest about your experiences, be positive about yourself and your STI. Let them ask questions, share the facts and figures, and point out some good resources," Davis advises. While you can control what you say, you can't know how the other person will react, and if his or her reaction is less than ideal, try to view it as a reflection of his or her mindset rather than of you. "Give the person space, and make sure they know you respect their decision (regardless of what it is). Most people will want some alone time to do their own research and to decide how they would like to proceed," Davis says. "Don’t take their decision personally. If someone is not willing to take the risk, it just wasn't meant to be with them right now."

How To Tell A Current Partner
As for telling your partner you think you contracted an STI from him or her, Davis advocates for the direct approach. "Contact the person via phone (text or call)," she says. "Let them know you were recently tested and positive...and that they might also have the infection. [Talk about] whether or not they will need to be treated and how you would like to move forward with the relationship (if at all)." And remember that when it comes to the thorny question of who got what from whom, there's room for doubt. "It's really hard to know for sure who gave you an infection," Davis points out. "Most infections don't get tested for in a 'full' panel, and most people are entirely unaware they have an infection, because they don't have symptoms. Even if you're getting tested before and after each new partner, you have to consider testing windows and false negatives."

How To Tell Past Partners
Bonus question: Should you inform past partners when you find out you've contracted an STI, and if so, how? "The most ethical thing to do is to let them know that they may have been exposed," Davis says. "However, I can also appreciate how terrifying that conversation can be, and sometimes, there's a safety component that one needs to consider." If you feel too embarrassed to tell a partner about your STI yourself (or are worried about your safety after doing so), you can alert ex-parters anonymously via the websites Don't Spread It, InSPOT, or So They Can Know.

Life, After
If you've recently been diagnosed with an STI and aren't in a committed relationship, dating can sound pretty terrifying. Davis recommends STI-positive dating sites, including PositiveSingles, as supportive communities through which you can jump back into the dating world. "While I definitely don't think people have to only date someone with the same STI," she says, "often, that's a nice place to start dating again."

Click through to The STD Project for more information and resources on STI-positive living.

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