How to Talk About Sex

How to Talk About Sex

For some talking about sex is uncomfortable. This is especially true when it is about what we want from, and even during, sex.  But communication is the key to having good sex.  By having these conversations, you and your partner’s relationship can have emotional, psychological, and mental benefits.

Key questions to talk about are:

  • Sexual health
  • How frequently you and your partner would like to have sex
  • How to explore unknowns
  • How to deal with differences in what you and our partners enjoy

Talking about these topics can also help build a foundation for a better relationship as you learn about each other and explore new things together, all while being on the same page.

It is also worth getting past the discomfort to talk about health, particularly sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and birth control. Avoiding these vital conversations might be endangering your health and altering the future you had hoped for. Discussing this topic can be awkward but needed. Do not be afraid to ask them to get tested; it is for the benefit of both of you. Not having the conversation can be worse. If your partner is hesitant about sharing testing results, try to encourage them to be more open. If that does not work out, think twice before going any further. There is no reason for that person’s not wanting to share.

Why talking about testing status is important?

These conversations are not fun, but they help break the chain of infection. A talk about testing and status can help prevent the spread of STIs and lead to earlier detection and treatment, which can help avoid complications. This is especially important with many STIs often being asymptomatic until complications occur, like infertility and certain cancers. Plus, it is just the decent thing to do. A partner deserves to know so they can be free to decide how to proceed. The same goes for you when it comes to their status.

When to get tested:

Basically, you want to know before you go — and by go we mean down there, in there, on there, or up there!

What to do with your results?

This totally depends on why you were tested in the first place. Was this an FYI check-up for your own peace of mind? Are you testing after a past partner? Before a new one?

If you test positive for an STI, then you will need to share your status with any current and past partners that may have been exposed.

If you are planning to share any kind of sexy time with someone new, you’ll need to share your results first. This goes for kissing, too, since some STIs can be transmitted through smooching, like oral herpes or syphilis.

How to talk about your results:

Know all the things.

They are probably going to have questions or concerns, so gather as much info as you can before the talk.

Do your research about the STI so you can be fully confident when telling them how it can be transmitted, and about symptoms and treatment. 

Have resources ready.

Emotions may be running high, so your partner might not hear or process everything you share. Have tools ready that will answer their questions.  In this way they can process things on their own time.

These should include a link to a credible organization like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Trusted Source, or the American Sexual Health Association (ASHA), and a link to any resource you found particularly helpful when learning about your STI.

Pick the right place and time.

The right place to disclose your status is wherever you feel safest and most comfortable. It should be someplace private enough that you can talk without worrying about other people interrupting.

As for timing, this is not a conversation you should have when you are drunk, not on booze, love, or sex. That means clothes on and totally sober.

Be prepared that they might get upset.

People make a lot of assumptions about the how’s and whys of STIs. Blame it on less-than-stellar sex education programs and stigmas that just refuse to die, though we are working on it.

STIs do not mean a person is dirty, and they do not always mean that someone cheated.

Still, even if they know this, their initial reaction might still be to throw anger and accusations your way. Try not to take it personally.

Try to stay calm.

Your delivery is as much a part of your message as your words. And how you come off will set the tone for the conversation.

Even if you believe you contracted the STI from them, try not to play the blame game and lose your cool.  It will not change your results and will only make the conversation even harder.

If you have results to share but want to remain anonymous:

In some states, healthcare providers offer the Partner Notification Services Program and will contact your previous partner to let them know they’ve been exposed and offer testing and referrals.

If that is not an option or you would rather not have your healthcare provider do it, there are online tools that let you text or email previous partners anonymously. They are free, easy to use, and do not require sharing any of your personal information.

Here are a few options:

How often to test?

Yearly STI testing is for anyone who is sexually active.

It is especially important to get tested if:

  • You are about to start having sex with someone new.
  • You have multiple partners.
  • Your partner has multiple partners or has cheated on you.
  • You and your partner are thinking about ditching barrier protection.
  • You or your partner have symptoms of an STI.

You may want to get tested more frequently for the above reasons, especially if you have symptoms. If you are in a long-term monogamous relationship, you might not need to get tested as often; think once a year minimum, so long as you were both tested before entering the relationship. If you were not, then it is possible that one or both of you has had an undiagnosed infection for years. Get tested to be safe.

Take lab-certified STD tests in the privacy of your own home.

How to minimize transmission:

  • Have an honest talk with potential partners about your sexual histories.
  • Do not have sex when you are drunk or high.
  • Get theHPV and hepatitis B (HBV) 

When getting down to it, use a latex or polyurethane barrier for all types of sex.

This includes:

  • using external or internal condoms during penetrative vaginal or anal sex
  • using condoms or dental dams for oral sex
  • using gloves for manual penetration

There are things you can do after sex, too, to help keep you safe.

Rinse off after sex to remove any infectious material from your skin and urinate after sex to reduce the risk of urinary tract infections (UTIs).

When to see a doctor?

Some STIs are asymptomatic or cause mild symptoms that can go unnoticed but knowing what signs and symptoms to look for is important.

Any of these, no matter how mild, should trigger a visit with a doctor:

  • unusual discharge from the vagina, penis, or anus
  • burning or itching in the genital region
  • changes in urination
  • abnormal vaginal bleeding
  • pain during sex
  • pelvic or lower abdominal pain
  • bumps and sores

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Photo Credit: Priscilla Du Preez

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