How Do You Disclose a Chronic STI?

I got my STI panel results back last week: the results were negative, or non-reactive. The language I used is very deliberate and very important. It’s time to stop using the word “clean” to refer to our STI statuses.

The word clean is like a Trojan horse. You see the outside of the word, and you know it means “negative results”, but the word carries a lot of connotations inside, chief among them the implication that someone with a positive STI status is dirty. We do not treat people with other medical conditions as if they have lost moral value, and STIs should be no different.

Having an STI is not a sign that you are a bad person, that you’ve slept with too many people, that you were dumb or unsafe, that you didn’t care about your body, or that you are unfuckable.

When I found out I had HPV 9 years ago, I thought it was the end of my sex life. I left the doctor’s office and cried. I felt deep shame and self-loathing. I had to go back to a recent partner and disclose, and I had to disclose to a new boyfriend I had yet to have sex with. I was terrified. The doctor certainly did not give me much information on my condition or any advice on how to approach disclosure.

Here’s what I learned through trial and error about disclosing chronic STIs such as HSV, HPV, and HIV with new partners.

  1. Disclose your STI status before interacting with a person in a way that can transmit the STI. It’s important to let people make informed decisions about their own bodies so they can make risk-aware assessments.
  2. Disclose your STI status before things get hot and heavy. Being horny can cloud your partner’s judgment, and being caught of guard can be upsetting.
  3. Be calm, and speak matter of factly.
  4. Become an expert on your STI. Know the facts, statistics, symptoms, and methods of prevention. Knowledge destroys fear.
  5. Once you have disclosed your STI status, give your partner time to process the information, do their own research, and think about it before asking how they would like to proceed.
  6. If someone chooses not to have sex with you based on your STI status, know that it is not a judgment of you as a person, but rather an individual’s right to choose how much risk they expose themselves to and how they take care of their own body. If they are judging you, you probably don’t want to sleep with them anyway.

Lastly, if someone discloses to you that they have an STI, don’t freak out.

Thank them for being vulnerable and respecting your body and your right to make risk-aware decisions about your sexual health.

Be kind to one another.

*One thing I did learn about HPV through having it is although it has no cure, it’s actually not forever! For most people, HPV actually is passed through the immune system after 2 years, and after 5 years of normal pap smears or genital checks, the presenting strain is considered untransmissable.

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