How should someone tell their partner that they might’ve given them an STI?

This is a great question! Telling someone that you have an STI can be really hard, but it’s also really important. Untreated STIs can have serious health consequences down the line if they’re not diagnosed and treated, and if your partner doesn’t know to get tested they may pass it on to someone else. The negative stereotypes (or stigma) about people with STIs (sexually transmitted infections, sometimes called STDs or sexually transmitted diseases) may make you feel embarrassed, or even ashamed. Remember that anyone can get an STI, and they’re actually quite common. Having an STI says nothing about who you are as a person!

Here are some tips for helping the conversation go as smoothly as possible:

  • Beforehand, learn about the STI and how it’s treated. Facts can help dispel any myths your partner may have heard. Have a pamphlet or website on hand where they can learn more. You can ask your doctor for this during your visit.
  • Your physician will also provide you with a partner(s) letter, which you can use to tell your partner about your STI. This letter explains what STI you were treated for and which medication was used. It also has a list of clinics where your partner can get tested.
  • Think about what you’re going to say beforehand. This may help you feel more confident.
  • Talk to them in person if possible. It may feel easier to text or talk on the phone, but this can lead to misunderstandings.
  • Choose a private place, where neither of you will be worried about others overhearing.
  • Talk to them when they’re not in a rush or a bad mood, and haven’t taken any drugs or alcohol.
  • Be direct and honest.
  • Remember that you don’t need to give them personal details about your life. They are not entitled to know how you got the STI, or from who.
  • Don’t apologize! There’s no reason to feel bad about having an STI. Plus, you are doing a brave and good thing by being honest about your STI status.
  • They may be upset at first. Acknowledge how they’re feeling, and redirect the conversation to the facts. Remind them that STIs are common, and nothing to be ashamed of. That being said, it is NOT ok for them to call you names or make you feel bad about yourself. You deserve respect. No matter how they react, you should feel proud of yourself for being honest and talking about STIs!

Ultimately, it is your decision whether to tell your partner. However, in some states you can be sued for knowingly or recklessly giving someone else an STI. There are also laws about disclosing HIV. You can learn more about them here.

If you’re worried that your partner may become violent, aggressive, or threatening, talk to them in a public or semi-public place. This way, you have an easy out if you need to leave, and there are other people around who can help. Consider using an anonymous STI notification service like Don’t Spread It, which sends your partner an email or text message that they should get tested. If you have HIV, your health care provider or local health department can anonymously notify your partners. If you’re concerned your relationship is unhealthy or afraid for your safety, you can call Love is Respect’s teen dating violence hotline at 1-866-331-8453, or chat online or text on their website.

If you’re 10-22 years old and in NYC, your partner can stop by the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center for free, confidential healthcare services, including free STI testing & treatment. You can make an appointment by calling (212) 423-3000.