And why you shouldn’t have sex unless you do
Storytime: I contracted HPV (the Human Papilloma Virus) from one of the first people I had sex with at 15 years old. Huge bummer. And for nearly a decade after that, I dealt with moderate to severe outbreaks of warts on my genitals.
How’s that for a lead in?
To say that it put a damper on my budding sex life would be an understatement. Casual, care-free sex was entirely off the table. I was petrified, horrified, and mortally embarrassed, and I had no idea how to move forward.
I didn’t tell anyone or talk about it except with the nurses, doctors, and clinicians who treated my outbreaks. I had a lot of treatments, and even many health care professionals weren’t that great at talking about STIs.
I showed HPV symptoms on and off for about seven years, which means that if I wanted to have a semi-normal sex life as a young man, I had to learn to talk about STIs.
That said, I’d had a couple of hookups early in my budding sex life where I didn’t disclose my status and felt terrible about not coming clean about my symptoms, and vowed never to do that again (I eventually contacted those I could to finally have the much-needed conversation about sexual health).
So, I got good at talking about sexual health and developed a script that I’ve used hundreds of times over my 23 years as a sexually active adult. If you want a dose of courage and the script on talking about sexual health, read on, my friend.
Deal with it
STIs are part of being a sexually active adult.
That’s just the way it is, hun.
If you don’t want to risk getting an STI, then don’t engage in any sexual activity that involves touching another person.
Simple as that.
And that’s just not gonna fly for most people, because you probably love sex and see it as a fun, playful, and connected way to develop a deeper intimacy with someone. Cool, me too.
That means you need to accept that sex is inherently risky, and there’s no way to make it risk-free, especially in the context of hookups, or when you first start sleeping with someone. So, it comes down to risk management, then.
And the best way to mitigate risk is to get tested often, know how to talk about sexual health status and safer-sex practices, and make informed decisions about who you’re going to engage in sexual play with.
But I don’t wanna talk about sexual health
Real talk: if you can’t have a sexual health conversation before having sex, you shouldn’t be having sex. Period.
It’s your responsibility as a sexually active adult to talk about your sexual health and the sexual health of your new potential partner.
If you have an STI, you might be scared that your new potential lover won’t want to have sex with you if you disclose it. Bringing up that you have or have had a sexually transmitted infection can be terrifying (trust me, I know).
What if your partner decides they don’t want to have sex with you anymore? What if your new crush screams in horror when you tell them you have herpes?
Both of these scenarios, while possible, are highly unlikely. And if they decide they don’t want to run the risk of getting an STI by having sex with you, that’s their choice, and you have to respect it.
Your job is to give them all the information you have and to let them make an informed and conscious decision as to whether they want to hook up with you or not.
And let me assure you: I’ve had this conversation countless times, and I can count on one hand the number of times that a lover decided they didn’t want to risk having sex with me.
Won’t talking about sexual health ruin the mood?
You know what ruins the mood? Getting an STI, and then having to talk about that STI with every new partner you have for the rest of your life (if it’s not curable and only treatable).
So while I’m comfortable having ‘the talk,’ I don’t necessarily find it enjoyable to talk about my STI(or STIs) in detail. And while most STIs are pretty benign these days (having relatively harmless effects on the body and treatable), I don’t necessarily enjoy collecting them.
Not only won’t it ruin the mood, but being able to have ‘the talk’ is sexy as fuck and can 100% enhance the mood, not ruin it. And it shows maturity and confidence, which we could all use a bit more of in our sex life.
No matter how serious or casual, your hookup will benefit from having a frank and open conversation about sex. You’ll bring clarity and compassion to the encounter, and you’ll leave knowing that you did the right thing, no matter how scary it was.
And here’s another little tidbit about the state of hooking up these days: if you don’t bring it up, there’s a good chance they won’t either.
You are responsible for your sexual health and no one else
If you don’t bring up sexual health with your new partner before the first hookup, that talk probably won’t happen.
It’s too bad, but it’s been my experience that if I don’t stop the action before getting naked to talk about sexual health, my new partner won’t either.
Unfortunately, we don’t live in a world where this is an automatic conversation, so it’s up to you to do it.
And when you bring it up, you create a safe environment for an honest conversation about your sexual health and the sexual health of your partner to take place. That’s something to be damn proud of.
Remember this: You’re 100% accountable for your sexual health. If you don’t take care of yourself, who will?
Are you willing to risk getting a sexually transmitted infection because you were too shy to talk about it?
I’m not, that’s for sure.
So, what’s your sexual health status?
You can’t talk about your sexual health if you don’t know your status. Seems kinda basic, but whatever. Here we are.
If you’re sexually active and not in a monogamous relationship (with known test results on both sides), it’s a good idea to get screened for STIs every three to six months. The more partners you have, the more often you should get tested.
Knowing your status is sexy and will reduce the likelihood of spreading STIs. Win-win all around if you ask me.
Make an appointment with your doctor or go online and find a local health clinic specializing in sexual health. Many clinics will test you for free, or for a low fee. Planned Parenthood is also a great resource for quality sexual healthcare and testing. The Safely App can also help you find a local testing center that accepts your insurance. You have options, and no reasons not to get tested often.
Whatever you do, make sure to ask for every test available, especially if you haven’t been tested in a while.
By the way, a comprehensive STI panel consists of: HIV, Syphilis (Rapid Plasma Reagin test), Oral Herpes (HSV-1), Genital Herpes (HSV-2), HPV, Gonorrhea, Chlamydia, Hepatitis B, and Hepatitis C.
OK, ready to talk about it?
How do I bring up my sexual health?
When the action starts to get hot and heavy, before either of you touch any genitals, slowly pull back and take a breath. Look your partner square in the eyes, and say,
“I don’t want to be presumptuous about what may or may not happen between us right now, but this feels like a good time to talk about our sexual health. I’ll go first.”
Note: If you’ve had HSV (Herpes) symptoms before, you might consider bringing it up before the first kiss because HSV can be transmitted orally. This strategy is cautious, respectful, and considerate.
Your partner might need a second to switch gears, and a look of relief might follow it. Most people want to have this conversation but have a hard time bringing it up.
At this point, share:
- The last time you were tested
- The results of that test
- Any information you have
- Your sexual health practices
- Your recent sexual history
Talk about the last time you had an STI test and what the results were. If you have an STI, share what you know about it, the risk of transmission and if you’re contagious.
“My last test was two months ago. The results came back negative for all STIs, though I have had warts in the past, which are a symptom of HPV. I don’t currently have any warts; I had them treated about six months ago, and I haven’t had any since.”
Share your sexual health practices, how you protect yourself, and if you’ve had unprotected sex since your last test.
“I’ve had two partners since my last test. I always use condoms for penetrative sex and rarely use barriers when performing oral sex. I had this conversation with both those partners, and as far as I know, they were both negative for STIs.
After that, offer to answer any questions, and then ask them to share their status and practices with you.
“Do you have any questions I might answer for you? If you want or need more information about HPV, I’m happy to share it. If not, would you care to share your sexual health with me, your last STI screening, and what your safer sex practices are?”
OK, now what?
How you move forward depends on what information you received and what you want to do about it.
And how your partner moves forward depends on the information they got and what they want to do with it.
Your options for moving forward are:
- Accept it and hook up
- Ask for clarity and then decide
- Negotiate a less risky sexual activity
- Decide to pass on continuing the hookup
If everything you heard sounds groovy and you’re comfortable to move forward, then have fun.
“That all sounds great to me. Where were we?”
If you received information about your partner’s sexual health that gives you pause, you can either ask for more details in the moment or take some time to think about it.
“Thank you so much for sharing that with me. I’m not familiar with Chlamydia. Do you mind sharing what you know about it, its effects, and how contagious it is?”
“Oh, great. Thank you for the extra clarification. I’m totally comfortable with continuing to play if you are.”
Or maybe you receive information that you’re not comfortable moving forward with; if that’s the case, say so.
“Oh, thank you for the extra information. I’m not comfortable with having the kind of sex that exposes me to that right now. I’d totally be open to continuing to make out if that’s something you’d be into.”
“Oh, thank you for the extra information. I’m not sure how I feel about this right now, and I’d really love some time to think about it and do a bit of research before we continue. Are you open to doing something else for the rest of the night until I feel more comfortable and informed?”
And if these are your options for moving forward, that means that your partner also has the same options.
The “new” way of staying safe
That’s what it takes these days if you want to stay protected, live in clarity and honesty, and give people the information to make fully informed decisions about having sex with you.
Hoping and praying that your new partner doesn’t have an STI or takes their sexual health seriously doesn’t work anymore. You are 100% responsible for your sexual health and the sexual health of your partner.
Trust me when I say that the more you have this conversation, the easier it gets. I’ve stopped ‘the action’ to talk about my sexual health status and practices and my experiences growing up with HPV and warts more times than I can count, and my partners received me with kindness and graciousness nearly every time.
Not only that, a good majority of my sexual partners breathed a sigh of relief when they realized that I was taking the lead in talking about this.
And most said they felt even more connected and turned on, knowing they were about to hook up with a conscientious lover who cares about the health and pleasure of everyone involved.
Time to step up your game; you got this.
I found this so helpful, and it endeared me to you even more. It takes such honesty to share all of this. I’m about to become active again after a very long break…so I’m nervous about the risks! But this paints the clearest picture about how the conversation will probably go. Thanks Shaun!!