When you're interested in someone new, the possibility of hooking up with them is likely something you're actively thinking about. Discussing getting tested for STDs, on the other hand, is probably not at the forefront of your mind. Whether your situation is romantic or purely sexual, knowing when to ask about STDs in any new relationship can be tricky. You don't want to come off as presumptuous by broaching the subject before you two have even kissed, but you do want to ensure that you get this important conversation out of the way before things really get hot and heavy. There's nothing worse than having to break up a steamy make out session — especially one that is definitely headed into below-the-pants territory — just because you haven't had the STD talk yet.
The conversation can feel awkward, but it is necessary, so it's best to get it over with early on. That way, you can get to hooking up with total peace of mind. But just how soon should you talk to a potential sexual partner about whether they've been tested for STDs? And how exactly do you go about asking? I spoke to Dr. Sheila Loanzon, board-certified obstetrician and gynecologist, about specific timing and successful strategies to use when advocating for your sexual health.
Dr. Loanzon recommends confirming a partner’s sexual health status as soon as you are thinking of becoming sexually active with them. "It is important that both partners feel comfortable with their partner's sexual history before any sexual activity," she says. "Better to be prepared than to be surprised." She also recommends that you get testing done after a relationship ends, because you want to be aware of your STD status before becoming involved with someone new.
Neither one of you should wait until the last minute to get tested. "I always recommend testing before sexual activity so there is time to treat any infections that need to be treated, ensure that there are no long-term sexual transmitted infections that you are not interested in being exposed to, and vice-versa," says Dr. Loanzon.
The most important thing is that you and your partner are both getting tested. How you choose to get tested is up to you. You want to be proactive, but do so in a way that makes you feel comfortable. If you're OK with going to see your gynecologist or visiting Planned Parenthood by yourself, that's fine, but don't feel like you have to go alone. "Going with a friend is great for moral support, and testing with your partner may be a bonding experience," says Dr. Loanzon. Getting tested can be scary, especially your first time. Bringing someone who cares about your health and happiness could help to relieve some of the anxiety you might be feeling.
Regardless of how you approach the question, don't let anyone make you feel like you're asking too much of them. If they refuse to get tested, you can refuse to hook up with them. It's as simple as that.
Once you start to take control of your sexual health, you will begin to feel more and more empowered. Talking about STDs will get easier over time, but the conversation should never be glossed over or taken lightly. "Be your own advocate," says Dr. Loanzon. "Other than your physician or health care provider, you will be the biggest advocate for your health. It is your right to know what you may be exposed to when being sexually active with partners."
If you're anxious, just remember that not only are you protecting yourself, but you are protecting your partner as well. Take a deep breath and tell yourself that you and your health are worth it. A few minutes of uncomfortable conversation are worth it to prevent what could be a lifelong disease.
When the time comes to have the talk, be confident. If it helps, you can practice in the mirror or with a friend beforehand. Having a script that you can follow might help you feel more self-assured, even if you don't end up using it. If discussing testing in person isn't an option, or if you feel better about having more time to gather your thoughts, Dr. Loanzon says that texting about it may be appropriate.
Whether you choose to sit down and have a face-to-face conversation, or you'd prefer to bring up the subject over text, make sure you have a thorough and honest talk about getting tested for STDs. You should do so soon as you're considering getting intimate with a new partner, and definitely before you engage in any kind of sexual activity with them. Remember, it's up to you to advocate for yourself and your health.