Communicating sexual history

Sexual history isn’t exactly something you want to shout about from the rooftops. But sharing your sexual history with your partner can actually have many benefits if it is done in the right way. Get some tips on how to talk about it and some common reactions.

You might find this useful if:

  • You are thinking about having sex with a new partner
  • You are thinking about having sex for the first time
  • You want to understand why it’s important to share your sexual history
  • You want to learn the best way to communicate your sexual history

What does “sexual history” mean?

Someone’s sexual history includes any information about their sexual health and sexual experiences that they have had in the past. This could include how many times they’ve had sex, how many different people they have had sex with, or any diagnosis of an STI in the past and whether or not it was treated. Have a read all about sexual health for more info.

Can’t the past just stay in the past?

The short answer? No, it can’t.

Communicating your sexual history to a new partner might be one of the more uncomfortable things you do, but it can be extremely beneficial to the both of you. If you want to have sex with someone new it’s really important to find if they've had a sexual health check. 

Even barrier methods of contraception (including condoms and diaphragms) only minimize the risk of contracting a sexually transmitted infection (STI) and it’s possible to be carrying one without even knowing about it. Many STI’s can lead to serious complications if left untreated. Check out our fact sheet on contraception for more info about barrier contraception. 

Talking about your sexual history can also really help you and your partner set expectations for how best to look after each other throughout your sexual relationship.  Being upfront about what you’re not comfortable with and what you are can help ensure everyone has a positive experience.

What information should I share?

You need to talk to your partner to find out how open you want to be when discussing your sexual past. Set up some boundaries so that neither of you end up getting hurt. For example, you might only want to know about the things that are going to affect your own sexual health. Some of the things you might like to talk about are:

  • Whether or not you’ve had sex before
  • Whether or not you’ve had a sexual health check with a healthcare professional (and if so, how long ago) For more info on what exactly this involves, check out our fact sheet about sexual health
  • Whether or not you’ve had unprotected sex in the past
  • Which contraception you have used in the past and works for you
  • What you have enjoyed from your past sexual partners
Keep in mind that your current partner may compare themselves to your past partners. So, try not to go on about how great they were and instead use it as an opportunity to share with your current partner the things that you enjoy in a sexual relationship. 

If, following your discussion, either of you have any concerns about your sexual health, it’s a good idea that you both head to a sexual health clinic to get a check-up before you start your sexual relationship. 

How do I approach the conversation?

So, we’ve established that it’s not an easy conversation to have.  But there are some things that might help:

  • Do it in private
  • Keep in mind how important the conversation is and this could motivate you
  • Remember that you’re not the first people on the planet to have this conversation

What can I expect?

Jealousy

Sometimes when you’re hearing about your partner having sex with someone else, jealousy will rear its ugly head. Just try to remember – that was then and this is now.

Feeling hurt and cheated

It is not surprising that it’s difficult to hear about someone you care about being in a sexual relationship with someone else. Keep in mind that they weren’t committed to you when it happened and just focus on being with them in the present.

Embarrassed

Some people tell fibs about the number of people they’ve had sex with because they think it’s either too little or too many. There is no right number of people to have slept with, so just be honest about it.

What can I do now?

  • Have a look at some tips for communicating.
  • Think about how much you want to know about your partner’s past before having the conversation.
  • Learn about different kinds of contraception to avoid getting an STI.

Last reviewed: 09 May, 2016
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