Dating and Relationship Advice

Dear iris,

How do you discuss STDs and STIs with a woman without destroying the mood, sexual vibe, and sexual tension between you and her?

Mr. Better Safe Than Sorry

Dear Mr. Better Safe Than Sorry,

Many people struggle with the same dilemma. It doesn’t matter who you're dating — the STI talk is intimidating and awkward for most to bring up.

First, let me commend you for caring enough about this to ask. When I was younger, I'd often avoid bringing up the STI conversation during the first few dates, or I’d forget about it entirely. Luckily, nothing concerning ever resulted from my negligence, but I am one of the lucky ones. Each year, there are about 376 million new infections involving 1 of 4 of the major STIs: chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis and trichomoniasis.

That’s not to scare or shame anyone, though. There’s plenty of stigma surrounding STIs, which isn’t fair to the person infected. Let’s be clear: having an STI does not make you a bad person and, yes, it’s possible to have a thriving romantic life with one. You just need to be honest.

Each person’s sexual health is their own and something they’re entitled to discuss with partners. You want to always prioritize it over the worry that you’ll kill the vibe you have going on. Of course, there are ways to lessen that impact. So let’s talk about that.

If you don't want to make things weird, you should bring up the conversation before you even start making out. When you’re grabbing dinner or walking back to their place, ask them whether they've ever gotten tested. That way your hormones and emotions don't impact your judgment as much.

If you’ve never had sex with the person, you might worry you’ll come off creepy, like you’re presuming your date will sleep with you. But remember that many STIs are spread by sexual acts other than penetrative intercourse. Saying something like, “Hey, in case this goes anywhere, where do you stand in terms of being tested for STIs?” can help you get the answers you need. It’s better to just be straightforward than beat around the bush. You don't want to leave room for misinterpretation.

You could also make them feel more at ease by leading with the fact you’ve been recently tested. “Just to let you know, wherever this night goes, I was tested at my doctor’s two weeks ago, and I’m clean.” Chances are, they’ll reply by telling you their own bill of health. If they don’t, that’s a cause for concern and a reason to ask point-blank about their health.

There’s a chance the person will be offended. In that case, explain it’s not a question you’re asking because of who they are but rather, your concern for your safety and theirs. On the other hand, if they push back, explaining that they’re probably fine and it’s not a big deal, then you have an issue. Telling someone that getting checked is a non-negotiable for you, and they’re still weird about it, means you might want to reconsider having sex with them. Being nonchalant about their sexual health isn’t a good sign.

Unfortunately, there’s no sexy way to talk about STIs because they’re a serious concern. But talking about things in a straightforward way, before things escalate, will put you both at ease and able to enjoy your time together more fully.

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