How to talk about sexual health with a partner

Knowing how to talk about sexual health will help protect you and your sexual partners from sexually transmitted infections (STIs), make sex more enjoyable and prevent unwanted pregnancy.

This can help if:

  • you’re thinking about having sex with a new partner

  • you’re thinking about having sex for the first time

  • you have an STI and you need to tell the person you’re having sex with.

Girl talks to counsellor about STIs

What does ‘talking about sexual health’ mean?

Talking about sexual health with a partner involves asking and sharing information about sexual health. It’s important to know the following about your sexual partner:

  • whether they’ve had a sexual health check, and how long ago it was

  • whether they’ve had an STI, and whether it’s been treated

  • their preferences in terms of safe sex practices (contraception/protection)

  • what they like and don’t like. This can mean establishing boundaries, and making sure you’re both comfortable with what you’re about to do. It’s not okay to spring new sexual experiences on someone without their consent.

What doesn’t it mean?

When talking with your partner about sexual health matters, it’s not the time to:

  • try to find out how many sexual partners they’ve had. They’ll share this info with you when – and if – they feel ready.

  • feel stressed or pressured. This should be an open chat that makes you both feel more comfortable.

  • make judgements. Respect that your partner is being open with you, and don’t make them feel bad about their past experiences or decisions.

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

How do I approach the conversation?

A chat about you and your potential partner’s sexual health won’t be the easiest conversation you’ll ever have, but it doesn’t have to be horrible. Here are some ways you can help things go smoothly:

  • Do it in private.

  • Try to have the conversation ahead of time and not when you’re already aroused and wanting sex. Safe sex takes a bit of planning.

  • Set it up as an exchange of important health info, not a personal inquisition.

  • Tell them you want to have a conversation about sexual health, and reassure them that you’ll respect their privacy.

Telling someone you have an STI

Having an STI is nothing to be ashamed of. There are some simple things you can do to make it easier to break this news to your sexual partners:

  • Have the chat in private, when you’re both in a good mood. Pick a form of communication that’s going to work for you both. If it can’t be in person, make sure it’s via a private message that no one else will see.

  • Get all the facts first! Talk to a doctor or health professional and understand the symptoms and treatment options.

  • Make sure you know the safest way to manage the STI so that you don’t pass it on.

  • Encourage the other person to get an STI check as soon as possible, even if they don’t have any symptoms.

  • Encourage them to tell any other sexual partners to get an STI check as well.

Things to keep in mind

Talking about sexual health can make people feel:

  • awkward and embarrassed

  • ashamed

  • jealous

  • angry or confronted

  • worried or anxious.

Be kind, considerate and honest in this conversation, to help your partner feel comfortable. Remind them that whatever has happened in the past has already happened, and try to help them understand the benefits of having this talk. A bit of awkwardness now is much better than an unwanted STI later.

Need extra help?

If you’re still stressed about talking about your sexual health with someone you fancy, have a chat with a sexual health nurse or doctor about it. If you like, you can even do a joint session with the other person, so that there is someone to help explain things and reassure you both.

What can I do now?

  • Read about improving your communication skills.

  • Locate a sexual health service near you.

  • Learn more about STIs.


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