Dating someone new comes with all kinds of exciting discoveries — like finding out you both have an affinity for Shark Week, or that you share the same appreciation for old-school hip hop. Exchanging information and learning new things about each other is the fun part — except, arguably, when it comes to sharing that you have a sexually transmitted infection. Figuring out when and how to talk about your STI status on dates is no easy feat. Is it better to get the convo out of the way or wait until you know each other better? While there's no one-size-fits-all approach to this convo, experts say there are ways to ease your stress while informing your date about your status.
First of all, let's get one thing straight: You're not alone. In fact, there's a decent chance your date has had an STI at some point, because an estimated 1 in 2 sexually active Americans will contract an STD by the time they turn 25, according to the American Sexual Health Association. Unfortunately, it may still feel awk to bring up your status — and that's because of the persistent stigma around these infections.
Let's be real. Dating is already confusing and overwhelming enough without having to add in the stress of disclosing your STI. But experts agree there are plenty of ways to have this conversation with your self-confidence and integrity intact. Here's some guidance that hopefully, will help you to figure out when and how to share your status in a way that feels most authentic and comfortable to you.
When to Bring It Up
According to Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, OB/GYN at Yale-New Haven Hospital and clinical professor at Yale University School of Medicine, when you opt to disclose your status may depend on which STI you have.
"If you had chlamydia or gonorrhea and were appropriately treated, you should be cured, and it should not be an issue," she explains.
However, Dr. Minkin notes that with herpes and HPV, there are no cures for the viruses themselves — which means you're still able to pass them on, even if you’re not experiencing an outbreak or any other symptoms at the moment. That's why it's important to let your date know about your status before getting intimate.
Dr. Minkin adds that since genital herpes can be transmitted via oral sex, and vice versa, it doesn't really matter where you're having an outbreak. Additionally, since HPV can be transmitted orally, you'll want to disclose that to a partner before they go down on you. If you've already been intimate with your date and neglected to tell them, though, don't panic.
"Let your partners know that you have been diagnosed with an STI so that they can get tested and treated as well," advises Dr. Meera Shah, a family medicine physician with Physicians for Reproductive Health and author of You’re the Only One I’ve Ever Told. "If you do not feel comfortable disclosing your diagnosis, there are anonymous reporting methods through your local department of health."
While you'll want to disclose your status before hooking up, you may not want to put this convo off until the clothes are coming off, because it can be harder to have a level-headed convo when your hormones are surging in the heat of the moment.
So, should you disclose your status right off the bat, or wait until you've gotten to know each other better? Jenelle Marie Pierce, Executive Director of The STI Project, says there are pros and cons to both approaches. If you disclose immediately (on a dating profile or during a first date), then there’s less risk of hurt feelings because if they don’t respond well, then you haven’t invested much time into the relationship yet. If you disclose your status after you’ve gotten to know each other — say, on several dates — then you’ve likely developed more interest and built more trust with each other, which can be helpful going into this conversation.
Either way, you definitely shouldn’t feel pressure to tell your date right away if you need more time.
"There is an unrealistic pressure to disclose either immediately or soon after a new relationship begins, but that doesn't always support the overall wellness of all the people involved," says Pierce. "In what universe does someone first meet someone and verbally vomit everything they can think of that might be a red flag to a new partner? On what planet does someone tell someone they've just met intimate details about their genitals?"
Since neither of these approaches is necessarily "better" than the other, it's ultimately a matter of what feels most comfortable for you.
"The right time is all down to your own discernment," explains sex educator Rukiat Ashawe. "For example, if a date is going well, the sexual chemistry is there and you are hoping that things escalate, it may be a good time to tell your date before you make nightcap plans. If things are going really well but you have no intentions of having sex with them that night, I don't think disclosure is necessary."
How to Bring It Up
While some people may prefer to disclose this information in person, that isn't the only way to go.
"Ultimately, I think it depends on someone's comfort level and what they're looking for in a partner," explains sexologist and SexELDucation founder Emily Depasse. "Any disclosure, whether in-person or via text or app is highly valued."
So, if you'd rather share your status via messenger in your dating app or while chatting on the phone — that's cool, too.
"Technology might allow a partner to pause and consider before responding, without you or them being worried about their initial reaction or facial expression," says Pierce.
Just remember that you won't be privy to body language and facial expressions, which could either be a perk (if it helps to make you feel less vulnerable) or a pitfall (if you misread the tone of their response).
If you need a little guidance on how to bring it up, Pierce recommends saying something along the lines of, "Hey, I thought right now might be a good time to check in. I'm really liking where this is heading, and I can see this continuing, too. But before we do that, I think it's important to have a conversation about STI testing and safer sex. Have you been tested for any STIs recently? I know this might catch you off guard because this stuff doesn't get talked about a lot, but it's important to me because I have [name of STI]. And I want to make sure I'm not putting myself or you at risk without knowing where we stand and that we're both comfortable to keep going."
Notice how she advises asking your date if they've been tested? This is a key component — because as Depasse emphasizes, the convo should be a two-way street.
"It's important to note that risk is not necessarily higher for the person who does not have or does not know they have an infection," adds Pierce. "The person who is doing the disclosure is just as worthy of informed consent, and their bodies and their overall well-being is equally important."
Your date may have some questions — and while you obviously want to inform them as much as possible, it's crucial to keep in mind that you aren't obligated to answer everything.
"You don't owe the other person any information you don't feel comfortable giving, including, but not limited to how you contracted it or how many partners you've had," says Pierce.
Once you've shared your status, Pierce notes that it's a good idea to give your date some space to process things before you figure out how to proceed.
Tips for Feeling More Calm and Confident
The key here, according to Ashawe, is to keep the conversation as laid-back as possible and not make a big deal out of it. If you act like it's NBD, hopefully your date will, too.
"If you approach it in a casual and light-hearted way, your date may experience feelings of curiosity instead of fear, leading to an open mind," explains Ashawe.
She also suggests using de-stigmatizing words and phrases like "common" and "skin infection," which may help to alleviate any anxiety on your date's end.
Although it may be tempting to down a couple of drinks to loosen you up before the talk, Pierce advises against disclosing your STI status when you're drunk or otherwise impaired.
"Making sure you're having the conversation clothed and sober ensures there is no coercion and full consent can be given, giving your partner the physical and emotional space to consider what they’d like to do and what it means to them," she explains.
Other than that, she says it's a good idea to choose a setting that's not sexually charged (like the bedroom) but where you feel most at ease (so, probably not a crowded bar). She says a quiet park, your living room, or the kitchen table can be excellent environments for this conversation.
Ashawe adds that you may want to come prepared with a couple of resources or easily digestible facts about your STI that will help them to understand what your status means. Your date may have some questions, and while it's great to want to ensure they're informed, keep in mind that you get to decide which details you'd like to disclose.
If you get emotional for any reason while disclosing your STI, Pierce recommends cutting yourself some slack.
"It's not easy to talk about your STI status, and you probably aren't going to ace the conversation right from the start," she adds. But like any skill, it gets easier the more you practice it.
Some Things to Keep in Mind
If there's one thing experts want you to remember, it's that rejection is never a reflection on you, but on the other person.
"Your acceptance and value isn't determined by your partner or potential partners, it's determined by you," says Depasse. "Does your partner get regular STI screenings? Do they know their STI status? If they don't know the answers to these questions or talk around them, it's time to consider if they can meet your needs and desires."
So, if your date seems to lose interest after you share your STI status with them, try not to take it personally.
"There are some people that even after hearing non-stigmatizing facts, will still not want to sleep with you, and that's OK," says Ashawe. "You'll be surprised at how many people truly do not care."
As Pierce points out, their response is unique to their own experiences and perspective and therefore, isn't indicative of how other dates will react. Also, since figuring out how to disclose your status is a learning process, you may take something away from the convo that you can use in the future, even if it doesn't go as you'd wished.
Pierce also clarifies that disclosing your STI status isn't just about informed consent — it's also about intimacy and pleasure, too. Since this conversation requires vulnerability and communication, it helps to build trust, which is oh so key to fulfilling sexual experiences. Whenever you need to, remind yourself that your STI does not define you, and neither does this conversation. At the very least, by bravely initiating this open, honest discussion about sexual health, you're paving the way for you and a potential partner to more easily share your boundaries, needs, and desires in the bedroom — and that's a wonderful thing.
Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, OG/GYN
Dr. Meera Shah, family medicine physician
Jenelle Marie Pierce, sexual health educator
Rukiat Ashawe, sex educator
Emily Depasse, sexologist