Dating someone new can be super exciting. Nothing quite matches the butterflies you get after a first date, when it’s gone well, you’ve connected, and you can tell it could go somewhere. The honeymoon period in a relationship is full of firsts. The first time you go out for dinner, the first time you meet their friends, and the first time you sleep together. While it’d be nice if all of this could go off without a hitch, you’ve also got to protect yourself. So, what approach should you take to talking to a partner about sexual health? When you first start seeing someone, it can feel like you’re the only two people that exist in the world, but the truth is that most people will have a sexual history that extends beyond you and when your health is on the line, it's important to know where you stand.
No matter how sex positive and confident you are, having a chat about whether your partner has been tested isn’t the easiest thing in the world. However, according to experts, the earlier you have it and the more open you are, the better it could be for your relationship.
According to some research commissioned by fem tech company Elvie, 78% of women they spoke to said they weren't comfortable talking about their sexual health among friends, and 33% won’t even talk to their GP about it. I know it can be tough, but there are ways to make it easier.
Things to consider before
When it comes to talking to your partner, Emma Holmes from HANX condoms says, "Before you bring it up with your partner, think about why you want to share your sexual history. Are you doing it because you're insecure? Or maybe you're just curious?" It's important to have clear intentions and to understand what you want out of the conversation before you enter into it.
Where & when
In terms of exactly when and where, Holmes says that bringing it up "over dinner" or "on a walk" are two good options. "People feel less pressure and are more at ease if you're sitting next to one another or walking alongside one another. Assure your partner that there's no judgement involved, you'd simply like to know more about their life before you."
Co-founder of sexual wellness app Ferly Billie Quinlan also has some helpful tips when it comes to discussing sexual health. "If you'd like your partner to do a sexual health screening before you sleep together, consider asking your partner to accompany you when you go," she suggests. "If your partner is hesitant about testing and sharing results, your willingness to open up may help."
Do your research
Psychosexual and relationship therapist Kate Moyle explains that researching different methods of contraception before talking to your partner could help you clarify what you’re happy with.
"Think about what fits with your lifestyle," she says. "It has to be suitable for you. Also discuss with your partner, for example if you are both are happy using condoms, which are the only reliable form of contraception for protecting against STI’s.”
The condoms chat
I know I’ve had more conversations than I can count with friends who have gone to bed with a new partner who has told them, in the moment, that they don’t like using condoms. If you find yourself in the same situation, there are options. Dr Kathryn Basford, a GP for the online doctors Zava says, “If your partner doesn’t want to use a condom, ask them about why that might be. Some of the most common reasons are a loss of sensitivity, cost, or a perceived change in sexual performance.”
Holmes from HANX condoms adds: “If your partner doesn't want to use a condom, gently ask why. If the reasoning is that 'it kills the mood', tell them it doesn't have to. Condoms don't have to be put on by the wearer whilst their partner waits on the sidelines, it can be a ritual you do together.” Once you know the reason behind their dislike of condoms, you can begin to move towards a place where you're both using the contraception you're happy with, in a way that suits both of you. But be sure to prioritise your needs as much as you do theirs. Don't feel pressured into doing anything you don't want to.
How do I tell my partner I have an STI?
If you've already been tested and diagnosed with an STI, it can be tough to work out how and when to tell a new sexual partner. You know they need to know but it's not the most fun chat to have. Clinical Director at SH:24 Paula Baraitser says that being tactful is key. "Choosing a quiet time can help, a time when you will be able to talk through the issues," she says. "Doing some research on the infection so that you can answer your partners questions about testing and treatment can help, including the fact that STIs are common and easily treated and can be carried for many years without symptoms. Offering to support them to go to the clinic might be appreciated."
Respectful, calm, & confident
By approaching conversations about sexual health and contraception in a respectful, calm, and confident way, you’ll be able to lay out your boundaries and feel more confident that you’re having safe sex, as well as getting closer to your partner. The more you talk about sex — your desires and dealbreakers — the more fulfilling your sex life will be.