Talking About STDs Can Be Awkward, But it Doesn’t Have to Be

by Guest Contributors

Unfortunately, talking about issues pertaining to sex and sexuality is often easier said than done, especially when attempting to do so with important people in our lives.

Post Submitted by the National Alliance Of State & Territorial Aids Directors (NASTAD)

In the spring of 2016, Connecticut College hosted TEDx Talks, and one of the speakers, Ella Dawson, delivered a speech of epic proportions. In her TEDx Talk, Ella discussed her experiences living with genital herpes.

In her speech, Ella said one of the worst aspects of living with a sexually transmitted disease (STD) is the stigma she faces. To help combat that stigma, Ella decided long ago that she would be intentionally vocal about her STD status as a way to invite open and honest conversations about what it means to be a person living with an easily treatable but widely misunderstood STD.

Unfortunately, talking about issues pertaining to sex and sexuality is often easier said than done, especially when attempting to do so with important people in our lives. Talking about STDs to your sexual partners and your healthcare provider is critical to maintaining good sexual health. Check out the list below for suggestions on how to make these conversations a little less awkward and a lot more empowering:

With Sexual Partners:

  • Do your homework and learn more about STDs before having the conversation.
  • Avoid having the conversation in the “heat of the moment” to allow for more clarity, honesty and focus.
  • Frame the conversation around a desire to maintain your sexual health and your partner's. In doing so, avoid using stigmatizing and potentially hurtful language such as referring to someone without an STD as “being clean.”
  • Propose getting tested together as a way to both gauge your partner’s reaction and to help build and maintain trust. You could also propose getting treated together if you and/or your partner is diagnosed with an STD.

With Healthcare Providers:

  • Write down notes and questions beforehand to help you stay on track since many healthcare interactions are less than 20 minutes long.
  • Tell your provider about the type of sex you’re having, and be as forthcoming as possible. Rest assured that anything you say to your provider should be kept 100 percent confidential.
  • Ask you provider which HIV/STD prevention methods may be right for you. If you are interested in Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) or Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP), then be sure to ask your provider about them and the best way to access the right medications.
  • Look for opportunities to build a rapport with your provider, but do not be afraid of changing providers if your needs are ultimately not being met.  

While these tips will help you get started talking about STDs, do keep in mind that no two conversations will likely be the same. Be flexible, and if you can, try to keep it light-hearted! Tense or serious conversations rarely benefit anyone. Ella’s more vocal approach may or may not be your cup of tea, but even so, we could all benefit from having more conversations about these extremely common medical conditions.

Marcel Byrd is the Racial and Gender Justice Fellow at NASTAD. Blake Rowley is Senior Manager for Health Equity.

Additional Resources from NASTAD:

  • WellVersed - A tool that empowers Black men to have honest conversations with their providers and encourages providers to better understand the myriad barriers to engaging and accessing healthcare for Black men.
  • His Health - A similar resource designed to engage and dynamically educate healthcare providers via the use of Continuing Medical Education Credits/Continuing Nursing Units on issues of HIV, holistic health care, cultural responsiveness, and program innovation for providing care to Black men.

This post is not a substitute for sound medical advice — and the examples throughout it don’t cover every situation! We encourage you to seek out additional resources from other community advocates and, most importantly, talk to a knowledgeable healthcare provider before making any medical decisions.