Asking a partner or potential partner about when they were last tested for sexually transmitted infections can be intimidating, especially if you don’t know each other well.
People can get defensive when you pop the question, or grumpy when you interrupt them right when things are getting hot and heavy. Sometimes it feels like the right time just never comes around. Sometimes it feels easier to assume the best and take a risk than it does to be vulnerable and honest with your sexual partners. And unfortunately, sometimes these excuses can lead to people getting sick or jeopardizing the wellbeing of others.
This attitude towards sexual health and wellness is incredibly harmful, but common. Many adults still feel nervous about bringing it up, and it’s not your fault if you feel that way; for a long time, we have lived in a society that both idolizes and stigmatizes sex. Having an STI is still heavily stigmatized, and many people wrongfully conflate it with being promiscuous or low-class. This line of thinking is not only ignorant, but wildly hurtful to those struggling with a genuine health issue, and in the long run, it only leads to more people getting sick.
Contracting an STI can be as easy as getting a cold, and certain infections, like herpes, can be spread through sharing drinks or giving kisses. Some are imperceptible in certain immune systems and not in others; your partner may not even know they have an STI until they get tested, as the symptoms might affect you but not them. Just because you feel well doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get checked out.
For some folks, having a conversation about sexual health before sleeping with somebody will mean talking about the STIs they already have. Prepare yourself to hear that, and to be sensitive and respectful to who you’re with.
To be clear, if their response is that they do have an STI, you can absolutely still sleep with them if that is something you’re both comfortable with. Many STIs are non-transferable if you’re using the right forms of protection, and as long as both of you feel safe and aware of the situation, you should feel free to move forward however you’d like. Plus, you can do so knowing that you can trust each other, and that’s a great feeling.
Having this chat successfully can also mean offering up information about the last time you went to a clinic without your partner having to ask you for it. Of course, this necessitates you actually going to a doctor to get tested—and it requires that you be honest about your results (seriously, please never lie about health concerns)—but many youth and walk-in clinics around Metro Vancouver offer these services for free. Give it a Google to find one near you, and call them before you go in to make sure you’re prepared and don’t need to make an appointment in advance.
I’ve found making the first move to be the most efficient and delicate way of bringing up sexual health before actually having sex. If you come forward to divulge your health information first in an honest and genuine way, it softens the blow for anyone who might be hesitant to do the same.
If you have to directly ask your sweetheart about the last time they got tested, you might as well open up the door to anything else they might want to tell you. Before I sleep with someone for the first time, I always ask them, “Is there anything you think we should talk about before we keep going?”
This not only provides them with the chance to tell you about their health, but also about their preferences and triggers. That way, you can be confident that you’re both having a good time when you get started, but don’t forget to continuously check in with your partner during physical intimacy of any kind. Communication can be really sexy if you open yourself up to giving and receiving it regularly.
If more people saw talking about getting tested as an integral element of consensual sex, the world would be a safer and happier place. You can make the decision to be a part of the movement towards making that a reality. It might start in private bedrooms, but eventually, those practices will help us change social expectations and toxic thinking in our society.