“I normally begin with the ‘R’ to see if we’re even compatible,” says Courtney, referring to the relationship intentions component of Dr. Dacker’s framework, “because if we are looking for different things altogether, the likelihood of us having sex is low, so why bother even having that conversation about my herpes status if we’re not compatible?”
A large part of shame surrounding STI testing and disclosure can be attributed to stigma, which studies indicate may push people to avoid STI-related health services and can be associated with feelings of isolation, rejection, and discrimination. Stigma can be further exacerbated by intersecting identities like class, race, sexual orientation and gender expression.
Chase felt devastated when he first learned of his diagnosis. “When I was diagnosed with herpes I was devastated; I felt dirty and like no one would love me,” he says. “It already felt so hard to date as a trans man in a small town, and now I had an STI on top of it. I felt alone. There were no resources for me to turn to. I became very depressed and isolated myself from everyone.”
When people have sex, exchange of fluids is bound to happen. It is a contact sport, after all. As humans, we’re prone to all sorts of infections — why are we so hesitant and closed off to the idea that we might come in contact with a microorganism or infection during these sorts of activities?
“I remember telling a guy that we would have to hold off on sex because I tested positive for ureaplasma,” says Chris. “[I was nervous] that he would think I was an absolute slut for having something I’d never heard of before.” To Chris’s surprise, this partner’s reaction to his STI status was very welcoming.
“Thankfully, he was perfectly accepting, and that was that. I think because I make a point to fuck with sex-positive people, I only have understanding reactions to report back, really. Someone who would turn their nose up over my STI status probably wouldn’t be my cup of tea anyway.”
There is nothing that makes someone with an STI innately bad, dirty, or immoral. In actuality, it should be just as easy to bring your status up in a conversation as anything else you might want to discuss before engaging in sexual contact with someone, like sexual preferences, dating history, contraception, and boundaries.
“My disclosure is an invitation to connect with me,” explains Courtney. “It’s vulnerable, and most important, it’s a conversation. If there are any stereotypes that come with me being a man or being Black, and how the communication is ‘supposed’ to be, I shatter that when we get into conversations about sex, sexual health, and the agreements for the relationship all together.”
How to Tell Your Partner That You Have an STI
Immediately after you test positive: Before we venture out into the dating world, take some time to process how you feel about your recent diagnosis. It can be easy to blame and be hard on yourself. Make a plan for yourself. Educate yourself on your current diagnosis, commit to regular testing, schedule annual sexual health check-ups, and find a supportive community. That last bit might also help you process the news around your health, whether you find a diagnosis-related support group or simply a couple of friends who you trust.