I’m thinking about having sex with someone new. Should I tell them if I have an STI?
Great question! Talking about STIs (sexually transmitted infections, sometimes called STDs or sexually transmitted diseases) can be hard, but if you have one it’s really important to let your partner know. Even though the choice is ultimately yours, telling your partner lets them make an informed decision about whether they want to have sex, or what kinds of sex they want to have. If you don’t tell your partner that you have an STI, your partner may not get tested and may have an undiagnosed STI that they pass on to others. In some cases (especially with HIV) there are even legal consequences if you don’t tell your partner that you have an STI and then they get it.
Keep in mind that many STIs are curable, including syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia. If you have one of these, you can wait to have sex until you finish treatment and your doctor says that it is ok to have sex. If you do this, you don’t need to tell your partner about the STI unless you want to.
In some states, New York included, your partner could sue you if you know you have an STI, don’t tell them, and pass it on. In other states such as California, knowingly or purposefully passing on an STI is a criminal charge. It’s important to be aware of the law where you live so you understand the possible consequences of your decision. Laws about disclosing whether you have HIV may be different than laws about other STIs.
Talking about STIs can feel awkward or even scary. Remember that having an STI says nothing about who you are as a person—anyone can get one!
Here are some tips to help you have a calm, confident conversation:
- Have you had difficult conversations before? Think about what worked in those conversations.
- Educate yourself about the STI (and how to prevent spreading it!) beforehand. Find a pamphlet or website to give to your partner.
- Think about what you’re going to say in advance.
- Normalize the conversation. If possible, bring it up in related discussions about general health or sex. STIs are really common, and there’s no reason to make it a bigger deal than it is.
- Be calm and direct.
- Let your partner ask questions and give them time to think if they need it.
- Remember that you don’t need to give them personal details about your life. They are not entitled to know how you got the STI, or from who.
Your partner may need some time to think, and that’s ok. However, it is NOT ok for them to make you feel bad about yourself or call you names. If your partner does any of these things, think about what that says about them and your relationship. Remember: you deserve respect. Having an STI says nothing about who you are as a person or whether you’re attractive or loveable.
Talking about STIs isn’t all bad though—it’s actually a good idea every time you have sex, even when you don’t have an STI! We talk more about having these conversations here. Having one STI actually makes you MORE susceptible to other infections, so it’s extra important that you practice safer sex for both you and your partner’s health. Use condoms or other barrier methods the right way every time you have sex and get regularly tested for STIs.
Keep in mind that some STIs, like herpes, can be spread even when you use a condom, and many STIs can be spread through oral sex (blow job, giving head, going down on, eating out, rimming) or genital contact (like with fingering, hand jobs, or any direct genital-to-genital contact).
If you’re 10-22 years old and live in NYC, you and your partner can stop by the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center for free, confidential health care, including STI testing & treatment. Our health educators can also give you lube, (internal and external) condoms and other barrier methods, and talk to you about how to have safer sex and communicate effectively with your partner!
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This column is not intended to provide medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion, treatment or services to you or to any other individual, only general information for education purposes only.
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