So, you’re into this new guy or girl. You get along great, you’re attracted to him/her and you’re ready to put a label on it. But then, this new love interest reveals that he or she has an STD. First, just relax. This doesn’t necessarily mean it needs to be the end of things and a lot of the negative stereotypes about STDs (thanks to our nation’s lack of sex education programs in schools) are complete BS. However, this is understandably something you will need to think about and talk to your partner about before moving forward. Here’s some advice if you find yourself in this sticky situation. And rest assured, you’re not alone; 1 in 4 college students has an STD.
1. Don’t freak out
Hearing this information can be very shocking at first. Those overwhelming feelings are completely valid, but it’s best to try not to completely freak out when you hear your partner has an STD. Contracting an STD is no one’s “fault,” so you don’t want to belittle or humiliate your partner. The more calmly and maturely you approach this situation, the better the outcome will be. “My boyfriend told me he had an STD when we first started seriously talking and getting closer, and I reacted harshly and got really upset, which hurt him a lot,” says Colleen*, a third-year in college. “I think the better thing to do would have been to take some time to myself after hearing this and calm down and then talk to him.”
2. Get informed
It is absolutely essential for you and your partner to research and discuss having safe sex, regardless of having an STD. You need to know about the necessary preventative measures you need to take, and how your partner can/is treating his/her STD, or if the STD is contagious despite treatment. “If your partner shares with you that he or she has an STD, I would recommend making an appointment with Planned Parenthood, another women’s clinic or trusted doctor to discuss how and if you can still have safe sex. Online can be a great place to find out information on this, but there’s also a lot of false information online,” Sara*, a fourth-year in college whose significant other has an STD, recommends. Those are the steps she took after to protect herself after finding out.
3. Consider when and how you found out
Your partner should be honest with you about his or her sexual health status before you commit to a relationship or have sex. If he or she is honest with you before any of this, he or she did the right thing in a really tough situation, and you should be honest about your feelings. However, if your partner admits this to you after you commit to a relationship or sex, that’s not having your best interests in mind, because that is behavior that possibly puts you at risk and did not give you the opportunity to consent knowing he/she had an STD. “If my boyfriend and I had sex before he told me about his STD, I would have been really mad and probably ended things,” Colleen says. “If someone does that, that means they don’t respect you, because you deserve to make an informed decision with this information.”
4. Don’t let negative stereotypes affect your decisions
So much negative stigma is attached to STDs, and most of the stigma is unfortunately based on myths, not facts. Try not to let negative stereotypes about STDs play into your decision about how to handle this situation and proceed in your relationship. Additionally, if friends or family try to push these stereotypes on you to sway you against staying with this person, stick to your own gut feeling. “Listen to what other people have to say and make up your own mind. Make your own conclusion. You can learn a lot from listening to other people or you can be negatively influenced, so if you start to hear people speaking from emotion and not logic, then you close the door on that conversation,” advises Dr. Patrick Wannis, a human behavior and relationship expert and celebrity life coach. He also explained that the term sexually transmitted diseases is changing to sexually transmitted infections to discourage negative stereotypes and language around the infections.
5. You have a right to end or stay in the relationship
No matter what the circumstances, you always have a right to end or stay in a relationship. You also always have the right to consent or not consent to having sex with another willing person. You are not a bad person if you choose to end the relationship over a partner having an STD – as long as you communicate with your partner about it in a mature and respectful way. “I think everyone has the choice and right to say I don’t want to date this person for whatever the reason is. I think everyone has a right to say I don’t want to go out with this person based on my own values and morality,” says Dr. Wannis.
6. Always practice safe sex despite the circumstances
Practicing safe sex is always important whether or not your partner(s) has an STD, especially during college. If you do decide to stay in a relationship with someone who has an STD, practicing safe sex is essential. Safe sex also helps prevent pregnancy. However, it’s important to understand that any form of contraception besides condoms, including birth control pills and IUDs, do not prevent against STDs. Make sure to use condoms even if you use another form of birth control. It’s also always okay to ask someone about their sexual health status before engaging in any type of sexual activity, even if it’s just a hook-up.
*Names have been changed to protect anonymity