How to Talk to Your Partner About Getting Tested for HIV and Other STIs
In general, talking about your status with partners should include basic information, like your last STI screening date and results and, potentially, educational resources. Rather than clinical pamphlets, I find that providing vetted information from social media resources like Ina Park, MD; Julia Feldman, MA; and Mariah Caudillo — who offer some knowledgeable, accessible content — makes these conversations more approachable.
All this said, here are a few modifiable scripts below for different scenarios:
This might be random, but have you been tested for STIs recently? I saw this post on Instagram that reminded me I probably need to go. Maybe we can go together or order a kit?
I really like the time we’ve spent together and I’m not sure I want it to end here. If you feel the same, it might be a good idea to talk about our testing histories. I’ll share mine if you share yours?
On an App
Hey, [Name]! It seems like we’re a great match for one another, but I wanted to ask when your last STI test was and your results before moving forward with a date? I greatly value my and my partners’ sexual health and think things might move more naturally if we have this conversation now. My last STI test was [DATE] and I have/do not have any known STIs.
Sexting has been fun and I’d really like to continue IRL. FYI I live with herpes and am happy to share resources, but I’d also like to know when your last screening was and the results?
If you’re still struggling with what to say and how to say it, practice what you would share with your partner in the mirror or with friends. I recommend creating a brief script on the Notes app of your phone. That way, if you’re feeling nervous you have an outline to pull from.
It’s never too late to have the talk.
Getting tested — and then sharing your results — after prior intimacy is still helpful for you and your partners. Even if you use barriers (like internal and external condoms) and communicate your STI results to one another, you can still contract an STI. Dr. Fogel Mersy reiterates how some STIs, like the human papillomavirus (HPV), can show up years after a sexual encounter. STIs like herpes pass via skin-to-skin contact, and since condoms do not cover the entire genital area, there is still the potential for exposure to the virus. Whether this is someone you see as a friend with benefits or a committed partner, it’s mutually beneficial to prioritize your sexual health. Find a moment to send a text or chat in person and say something like, “Hey, I had a really great time, but I realized neither of us talked about getting tested or our STI status. Can we pause and take space for this?”
Navigating testing with multiple partners solidifies why regular testing is so important.
Being non-monogamous further validates the importance of regular testing because it means that your body is touching other bodies — which mathematically increases the potential for infection. Dr. Fogel Mersy adds that “knowing your status and informing sexual partners is part of open communication and consent which creates trust and safety between partners.” If you are part of a polycule, or members of a consensually non-monogamous relationship network, STI testing may be a point of a regular discussion among boundaries for all members in the network.
If you get cold sores, you should disclose that, too.
Cold sores, a.k.a. oral herpes, can transmit to the genitals if performing oral sex on a partner. If your mouth is touching your partner’s genitals, regardless of whether you’re having an outbreak, you should let them know. The American Sexual Health Association (ASHA) estimates that roughly 50 percent of American adults live with oral herpes, which means it’s likely that you or someone you’ve made sexual contact with are living with a form of the herpes virus. Sharing your oral herpes status can also help break down herpes stigma overall by raising awareness about the likelihood of connecting with a partner with herpes.
How to respond if someone tells you they have an STI.
Despite the increasing number of global infections, the lack of resources and visibility of people living with STIs in the media can make a diagnosis feel alienating. Dr. Fogel Mersy says that folks living with STIs can experience feelings of shame, isolation, and fear. “This can create barriers to sexual pleasure, particularly if there is disinformation or misinformation about how their particular STI may impact them or their sexual partner,” she explains. If you are on the receiving end of a positive STI disclosure, the best thing you can do is listen and thank them for their honesty. While you may have immediate questions, it’s best to refrain from overloading them or depending on them as the sole source of your research. STIs are common, but it still may be nerve-racking to share given the potential for rejection due to ignorance and lack of education about STIs. Below are a few prompts to pull from if you find yourself on the receiving end of a positive disclosure.