By Ella Dawson
After getting diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection (STI), it’s normal to be nervous about telling new partners. Few of us learned how to talk about STIs in sex education, and as a result, most of us have no idea how to start a conversation about our sexual health. But disclosing your STI doesn’t have to be anxiety-provoking or awkward—instead, it can be an opportunity to build trust with a potential partner and to get to know each other better. Here’s what you should know about disclosing your STI status.
Get into the right mindset
No matter how you decide to tell someone that you’re STI-positive, it’s important to go into that conversation with a good attitude. While sharing your status can feel stressful and vulnerable, disclosing it shows that you’re a kind and trustworthy partner. Having an STI is nothing to be ashamed of, and you have nothing to apologize for.
“I remind myself that I just have to tell this person I have herpes. That’s it,” says Erica Spera, co-host of the Shooters Gotta Shoot podcast about herpes and dating. “I don’t have to convince them to sleep with me, or continue dating me, or that I’m worthy of their affection. It’s just my duty to let them know. I think of it like inviting them to a party. ‘Hey I’m having this party, here’s the info. Let me know if you want to come.’”
Pick your moment and keep it simple
It’s up to you to decide when you want to talk about sexual health with a new partner. But informing your partner about your STI status is a crucial part of obtaining their informed consent, and you must disclose before having a sexual encounter where transmission is possible.
Instead of approaching disclosure as a frightening potential dealbreaker, look at it as just another necessary health conversation you have with someone you care about. You don’t need to apologize, or share the backstory about how you got your STI, or even position it as an embarrassing confession. If anything, you’re giving a potential partner good news: you’re interested in moving the relationship forward. Need ideas for exactly what to say? Try: “I’m into you, and before things go any further, I’d like to talk about safe sex. My last STI screening was on this date, and I have [insert your STI]. There are a bunch of ways that we can lessen the risk of transmission, like using condoms and dental dams. Do you have any questions for me?”
And don’t forget that the onus isn’t only on the STI-positive person to ensure a pleasurable, responsible sexual experience for the both of you. Be sure to ask your partner about the date of their last STI test, what they have been tested for, and what measures they take to have safe sex, too.
Mention your status in your dating profile
Another way to disclose is by listing your STI on your Bumble profile. Including “herpes+” or “HPV+” in the About Me section makes it clear that you’re not ashamed of your STI, and that you’re open to talking about safe sex.
This radical approach to disclosure isn’t for everyone, and you aren’t obligated to share your STI status as soon as you interact with a potential partner. But adding your STI to your dating profile is an easy way to weed out folks for whom your status might be a dealbreaker. It can also help you find partners who are interested in up-front conversations about boundaries, expectations, and sexual health. (And if you receive any disrespectful messages, you can—and Bumble encourages you to—report them using Bumble’s Block and Report feature.)
Ten months after getting diagnosed with herpes, Ashley, 25, decided to try adding, “I have HSV 2! Ask me anything,” to her Bumble profile. “One night, a guy I was talking to for a while on the app randomly messaged me to say that he saw my status and really respected me for putting myself out there,” she says. “He said he’d done his research to help a friend who was recently diagnosed, and he was totally cool with it. We ended up going out, and now we’re in love and live together.”
Remember: If you hit it off with someone you connect with on Bumble, even if your STI is listed on your profile, you still need to have a direct conversation about it before you become intimate. Not everyone will know how to have safe sex with an STI-positive person, and some folks swipe right without reading every detail of your profile.
Disclose over text message
If the idea of talking about sexual health in person stresses you out, you can have these conversations over text. Texting allows you to set a comfortable and warm tone when you disclose your STI, as well as to revise your delivery until you know exactly how much you want to share. You have the option to send links to resources where they can learn more about your STI, such as Planned Parenthood’s website.
An upside of texting about sexual health is that it gives both of you the freedom to react to the conversation in private—and them the ability to do their own research before responding. When you talk about your status via text, “you offer the person you’re disclosing to the safety of space,” says Courtney Brame, the founder of Something Positive for Positive People, a mental health nonprofit. “They can have their visceral response, think about how they want to respond, and do so objectively without any internalized stigma being projected onto you.”
Turn it into a bigger conversation about sex
Don’t be surprised if after you share your STI status, your partner feels more comfortable talking to you about sex in general. An STI disclosure opens up space for other vulnerable conversations about intimacy, desire, and our bodies. You might learn that they’re an assault survivor with specific triggers to consider, or that they’re interested in kink. Or they might admit that they’re not even ready to have sex. While your STI status may feel like a big deal to you, your partner may have something personal to share, too. Having these kinds of open and honest conversations is an important part of bringing your full self to a new relationship and building a healthy connection.