Do I have to have the STD talk every time?

The candles are lit, saxophone music is playing, and you’re toying with a chocolate-covered strawberry as you throw this hot new hookup your most sizzlin’ gaze. Everything is straight out of a ‘90s soap opera, but there’s one thing in the back of your mind that’s keeping you from unleashing that latent sex god: the STD talk.

Maybe you totally forgot about it until now. Or just maybe, you deliberately ignored bringing it up because you haven’t been tested lately – or are just embarrassed by the thought of even broaching such a sticky topic with a new lover.

I get it. It’s hard. As a culture, we have so many hang-ups about STIs and STDs that even having a conversation about being safe can seem like the ultimate mood killer. Some of us are so unsure of how to do it that just saying the word “tested” can conjure up unsexy images of sterile offices, itching, and pill bottles. It’s enough to make some folks want to do away with talking about it at all.

But by not being brave enough to bridge the conversation, you’re putting yourself and your casual partner at risk for infections or viruses that can range from simply embarrassing to seriously threatening. Not to mention, you’re missing out on a lot of uninhibited sex by avoiding the conversation. This doesn’t mean you have to do away with casual sex altogether.

I know I for one am no stranger to a casual fling with a honey I meet at a party, a nightclub, or just out on that digital prowl.

But do you really have to broach the topic every single time? And if you do, how in the world do you keep it from killing the mood?

Why it matters

The U.S. has an STD problem. Around the country, the three most common STDs (gonorrhea, syphilis, and chlamydia) are on the rise. When spotted and treated quickly, there’s generally no lasting consequence other than maybe being a little more willing to talk about safe sex. And clearing them up promptly means you’ll be able to get back to your usual self in no time.

The problem? STDs are often asymptomatic, meaning you may not know you have one until it’s either a big deal or you’ve passed it onto several other partners. It’s not just that you’ve potentially given others an itch or rash. When left unchecked, some STDs pack serious consequences, like infant death due to syphilis. 

To be clear, I’m not trying to scare anyone out of sex. Personally, I love having it myself and I am a firm advocate of casual hookups. We should all be able to enjoy new partners as frequently as we want, free of shame. The only way to do that though is by talking about our safety over and over again.

That’s why it’s an absolute must that you bring up testing history and status – even with someone you never plan on seeing again. Not only is it your moral duty to be honest with partners; it gives your hookup a chance to talk about the status, as well. And when you both feel comfortable knowing the other is safe, it’s easier to loosen up and explore each other’s bodies with abandon. 

And of course, there’s no better way to get started than by getting yourself tested.

Regular testing

Regular testing is the key to your sexual safety and happiness. If “the talk” mortifies you, one of the best ways to feel equipped diving in is to get tested at least every three months. This gets you up to date on your own status and saves you from making awkward excuses for not knowing down the road.

Whatever you do though, make sure you actually go to see someone when you get tested. Recently, the U.S. has seen an alarming trend of people taking to the internet and asking the hive mind on Reddit to diagnose their STDs instead of actually going for a check up.

While it’s totally fine to get on a forum for advice, and the internet does offer some pretty great home remedies for things like shortening the length of cold sores or fighting a UTI, it’s never a replacement for a legit STD diagnosis. To keep you and your partners safe, you need a doctor or healthcare professional involved.

And don’t let money stop you. Those of us who don’t have health insurance are in luck: most towns in the U.S. have an STD clinic where you can get tested for free. These places generally test for the three most common STDs plus HIV.To find one, all you have to do is search for “STD testing near me” or “STD testing” plus the name of your town. Most places offer both walk-ins and appointments, and many are open late – meaning you have no excuse for not getting tested. 

Best of all, these STD and HIV centers are free, confidential, and professional. They’re a friendly place to get some nonjudgmental advice and talk about your recent experiences and risks. Plus, they always have loads of free condoms and condom-friendly lube, so that once you get your results, you can head back out there and keep having fun.

Even if you don’t have a partner on the books, you should still go get a test. And when you and a new hookup find yourselves becoming mutually exclusive partners, you can loosen up on getting tested so often – although you still should get tested three months after you become monogamous, since some STDs take awhile to show up. Nonmonogamous babes, as long as you’re engaging in casual hookups, you and your partners should all play it safe.

How do I bring it up?

So in theory we know to talk about safe sex, but for some of us, the idea sounds absolutely mortifying. But having these conversations about our testing history and current STDs shouldn’t feel as vulnerable as getting naked with someone. And honestly, if you can’t talk about STDs, you shouldn’t be boinking with other folks – period. 

So how do you go about it? No matter your status, wait until a quiet moment when it seems like your date is interested in taking things a little further. Maybe you’re sitting on the couch after a first night out, or you’re lingering over your (hopefully first) cocktail. Whenever you do it, make sure you both still have your clothes on. Start by saying something about how attractive you find them. If you’re a forward kind of person, you can even suggest some sexy thing you’d love to do with them. Then, it’s up to you to take the plunge.

It helps if you model the way you'd like to talk about it. You can say something like, “So, just to be totally transparent, I got tested about two months ago for gonorrhea, chlamydia, and HIV, and my results were all negative. I haven’t had any partners since I got tested, so nothing’s changed, but I have gotten a cold sore in the past year.”

Wait for them to respond. If they’re silent, just nod, or try to brush off the topic, it might be a good time to prompt them with a question like, “What’s your testing history?” Listen to what they have to say, and keep your face open, so they aren’t too scared to talk about it. If they haven’t been tested and you want to get sexy, that is totally your decision. Keep in mind that you can always opt for a less risky way to get sexy, like digital stimulation alone, dental dams, or mutual masturbation. If you’re interested in hooking up again, suggest getting tested together on another day.

But what about when you know you’ve tested positive for something that doesn’t go away? Like my example, you can still broach the topic the same way. While STDs and STIs are stigmatized to no end, especially HIV and herpes, having the conversation when you have tested positive for something is by no means an end to your sex life. For starters, about ⅔ of the world has cold sores, and the biggest problem they pose is the stigma. And with treatments out their for HIV that makes your viral load undetectable, your partners’ risks are minimal. 

Talk openly to your partner about what exactly their risks are, what your status is, and what you can do together, and you’ll find your sex life is even richer than before. The more you talk about it, the more you encourage your partners to talk about it, which helps us millennials minimize the spread of STDs that are on the rise around the world.

Your conversation will be a lot smoother if you’ve read up on the facts. When you’re totally in the dark about what the heck STDs actually are, you can either end up sounding way too flippant or like a judgmental fearmonger. And while an STD chat isn’t a mood killer, those two attitudes absolutely are. When you know the stats and the symptoms, you can talk about the risks calmly and have a more fulfilling sex life in the process.

Initiating the conversation can feel stilted – and that’s okay. Personally, I have this talk a few times a year, and it never quite seems to feel suave. But each time, I realize I’m a little more confident in my delivery, and regardless, I know I couldn’t have sex without this talk first. After all, once you know more about STDs, it’s not exactly easy to loosen up and eat someone out while the question still lingers in the back of your mind. 

Can’t I just skip it?

Keeping silent about your status and testing history isn’t just dangerous. It’s rude. When you know you have something, or haven’t been tested in a long time, you’re actively undermining your hookup’s autonomy. It’s just like any other contract or agreement. If you give misleading info and aren’t direct about your status, your partners can’t actually consent to sleeping with you. You have to make sure you’re giving your prospective new sweetie the scoop, because otherwise, you’re offering some false advertising.

This all goes back to the cornerstone of all sexy encounters: consent. You might already check in at every turn and see if your partner is eager to sleep with you as well, but if you leave out a factoid like STD status that you know could change their mind, then you’re not actually getting their consent – end of story.

But no matter how important consent is, that’s not the only reason you have to share your STD history. There are genuine safety concerns at play, too. Some strains of HPV, for instance, can cause cancer. And if your hookup has an autoimmune condition like endometriosis or lupus, exposing them to a virus or disease can make them feel much sicker than you might from the same symptoms.

Of course, being honest might change what your partner is willing to do with you – and you have to be okay with that. When other people’s health is in our hands, we have to be willing to get a little vulnerable and to share where we’re at if we hope to have a fulfilling sex life.

Having an STD isn’t the end of the world

It may seem like something that is swept under the rug and only happens in the most shameful of places, but buckle your seatbelts as we whiplash to reality: one in two people under twenty-five will get an STI. If you’re bad at math, that’s half. But despite how common STIs are, only 12% of young people got tested last year. 

That number is unacceptable. We should all get tested every three months, because the sooner we know, the better we can deal with it.

Even if you’ve contracted something that’s lifelong, you can easily get your symptoms under control these days and not worry about passing to others. We now know that the longer you go without an HSV-1 or 2 outbreak, the less likely you are to spread it. Best of all, the fear of HIV is slowly loosening its grip as we understand the disease better. 

Medications these days help many people who are HIV+ achieve undetectable viral loads, meaning there’s virtually no risk of partners contracting it too. And if you’re HIV+ and hitting it off with a partner who wants to be extra safe, they can always take PrEP, a new pill that reduces HIV transmission by 92%.

These thrilling new ways to treat diseases are why it’s easier than ever to be open with even your most casual flings – and regular testing helps you stay on your A Game. Getting an STD at some point in your life may sound embarrassing or scary. Our culture loves to shame folks about their status. But it turns out that the only thing people should feel bad about when it comes to STDs is not getting tested at all.

Explore new ways to get frisky

You can still have sex all you want, and when you’re armed with this knowledge, you are confident enough to navigate a fulfilling sex lfie with a partner even if they haven’t been tested yet. 

If you or your honey aren’t comfortable getting it on due to viral loads, outbreaks, or not getting tested recently, you can still enjoy a thrilling night together. Expand your ideas of what sex means for you. Maybe this is a time to try out some kinks you’ve had on the list. Maybe you’ll get a thrill from incorporating used panties or socks and getting a voyeuristic thrill together. You might even get off with some mutual masturbation. 

If one person’s gotten tested and the other hasn’t, one could provide oral while the other uses toys. Long story short, your sex life is far from over when you incorporate the STD talk..

Find your way back after you test positive

Testing positive for something can feel like the end of your sex life. But everyone deserves to have some great orgasms, and your new status doesn’t change that. Go slow as you reacquaint yourself to getting fresh. Once your body feels back up to par and your STD has cleared up – or if it’s a lifelong thing, you’ve gotten it under control – you can ease yourself back in with solo play.

Think of it as a great opportunity to find out what you’re into. You may find it’s actually really healing to get to know your body and realize that you can still feel just as sexy. As a culture, we have a long way to go in helping people with herpes or HIV realize that their sex lives are still full and amazing. There’s even a stigma still when someone admits that they’ve had something like chlamydia…five years earlier. 

It can take time to feel confident again. So explore, take your time, and be gentle with yourself as you go. You’ll find out things that make you tick that may not be a penetrative act at all (nipple orgasms, anyone?). By opening yourself up, you may just find that your brush with an STD deepened your relationship to your sexuality – and that you’re more confident talking to your partners about it in the process.

Safer sex means better pleasure

Like many problems in the way we all approach sex as a culture, we have porn to (not) thank for the unhealthy way westerners view safer sex as inherently boring or awkward. Some people even still hold onto the idea that a woman carrying condoms is somehow immoral. And even when people don’t think that, many still don’t want to “ruin the moment” by whipping out a condom.

They all couldn’t be more wrong. Safe sex opens you up to more exciting sex. When you’ve both been tested and are using protection, you can let your hair down and explore things you may have hesitated on before. 

So how do you go about it? 

For starters, don’t listen to people who wrinkle their noses at carrying condoms. It’s smart to always have them on hand, and to bring it up before things get too hot and heavy, so you don’t get carried away. And when the time comes and you bring that condom into the mix, make the moment glide with some condom-safe lube. If you or your partner have a penis, you’re at a higher risk of spreading and exchanging STDs, which means wrapping yourself up is an absolute must in the bedroom. 

But even sex that doesn’t involve a penis still can carry risks. If you’re sharing toys with a casual partner, be sure to switch condoms every time, or use internal condoms so you don’t have to go through quite so many. And if you’re with a new fling and are actively concerned about spreading STDs, the safest way to go is to bring a dental dam with you just in case.

It helps to be prepared well ahead of time. If you’re on dating apps, head to a sex shop! Stock up on lubes, condoms, and any kind of exciting toy that could deepen your pleasure safely. By the time you have your first hookup after dedicating yourself to talking about STDs, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how good it feels to be prepared.

Get tested this week!

If it’s been a minute since you’ve gotten tested, it may be scary to show up and list out your full sexual history between tests. But think about it this way: the sooner you get started, the sooner you can have full-bodied, fun, and engaged sex. Knowing your status makes you confident enough to vocalize your fantasies, since you’ll be able to rest assured that you’re clean and ready to go.

Spread the word – let your friends know testing is the only way to have that uninhibited casual sex they’ve only dreamt of. It may seem awkward at first, but the more you talk about it, the easier it’ll be. Now turn that sax music back on. Relight those candles. Armed with enough knowledge, you’re suave enough to have this talk tonight.