By Renee Bullock
With freezing AF temperatures outside—hello, bomb cyclone—you might be scrolling through dating apps like Tinder and Bumble to find someone new to warm up with, or maybe just reaching out to that cutie you dated last year. It’s cuffing season, after all. But to avoid making a chlamydia courtesy call, à la Miranda Hobbes in Sex and the City, don’t forget to ask potential partners one super important Q: “Have you been tested lately for STIs?”
According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, the number of Canadians being diagnosed with sexually transmitted infections steadily rose from 1998 to 2015 (the most recent report available), with chlamydia—the most commonly reported STI in the country—nearly tripling in reported cases. There’s also been a national increase in cases of syphilis and gonorrhea, across all ages, too. So, now more than ever, if you’re planning on having unprotected sex with new partners, you’re putting yourself at risk.
While many STIs—including chlamydia and gonorrhea—can be successfully managed or treated, knowing whether you or your partner has an STI is still super important. You don’t want to contract the infection unknowingly and then pass it on to someone else. And knowing your status can save you from serious side effects, like inflammatory diseases, infertility and cervical cancer, which can happen if you don’t treat STIs like HPV or chlamydia in time. Plus, some diagnoses are more serious than others and require ongoing treatment, like herpes or HIV.
STI talk isn’t always the sexiest, though, so we asked Toronto relationship expert Nicole McCance for her advice on how to ask your partner to get tested. From picking the right time and place for your conversation to what exactly to say, here are her best tips.
Start the conversation early on—like before you get intimate
Sometimes you just want to jump into bed with a hot date, but before you get down, you need to sit down and talk. “You want to have this conversation early on and not when you’re taking off your clothes,” McCance says. “Because it’s very likely that you’ll end up getting intimate even when you don’t mean to.”
McCance says that every time you enter a new relationship or know you will be sexually active with a new person, you and your partner should get tested—knowing you both have a clean bill of health will make sexy times that much sexier. But keep in mind that getting tested—and waiting on the results—takes time (this can be a matter of days or even a week or more, depending on whether you’re waiting on urine or blood tests), so it’s best to have the STI convo well before you plan to engage in sexual activity.
Pick the right setting
You need to have the talk in a place that sets the mood—and not in a frisky way. Make sure you’re choosing a good time (i.e. not when you’re running out the door for a dinner date) and a private place so you can ease a potentially awkward conversation. Also, make sure you’re in a comfortable setting with no distractions, like a loud sports game or a juicy episode of The Bachelor.
Here’s what you should say
McCance says it’s important to share why getting tested is important to you. Let your partner know that this isn’t about judging them, but rather about your health—and theirs, too. That way, “your partner is going to take it less personally,” she explains.
Sounds straightforward, but how do you string the right words together? In order to avoid making your partner feel singled out or judged, McCance suggests saying any of the following:
“I’m thinking of getting tested, why don’t we go together?”
“Before I’m intimate with someone, I ask them to get tested.”
“I get tested every time I have a new partner and I always ask them to do the same.”
Here’s what not to say
What’s worse than talking about your ex non-stop on a date? Talking about your ex’s junk. McCance says you want to make sure you refrain from going on and on about your past, and avoid using phrases like, “My ex got tested with me,” or “I dated someone with an STI once.” You want to keep this conversation as positive as possible as focused on good health now and in the future.
What if you’ve had an STI in the past?
If you’ve had an STI before, now’s the time to bring it up and explain again why getting tested is important to you. Opening up about your personal history will most likely make your partner less defensive since they’ll understand that it’s something you’ve previously dealt with. Make sure to have information on hand and give them all the details about how you may be vulnerable to catch the same STI or pass it on if you don’t finish treatment, which is the case with chlamydia, syphilis, gonorrhea and trichomoniasis. If you no longer have the STI, McCance says you also want to “make it clear that you don’t have it anymore” and explain “the treatment you went through.”
After you get tested, ask to see your partner’s test results
A lot of people feel awkward about asking for proof that their partner went to get tested, but you should absolutely ask. As shitty as it is, McCance says you should never take anyone’s word that they got tested without seeing the results. To avoid offending them, she says it’s important that when you ask you say, “I always do this.” You should share your results, too. Again, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
What if the results come back positive for you or your partner?
Learning you have an STI may cause initial anxiety, so McCance encourages taking some time to process the information. Get support from your family doctor and friends, and educate yourself on what your next step is.
Next, make sure you’re ready to share this info with your partner. Help ease this situation by planning what you’re going to say, and even jotting down some notes. “This might be an emotional conversation, and sometimes when we feel emotional, we can lose track of what we want to say,” McCance explains.
Educate yourself so you can answer your partner’s questions effectively, she continues. Depending on the diagnosis, point out that you can take medication to treat it, and explain how long it will take to get better. You also need to let your partner(s) know what it might mean for them. They will have to use protection or refrain from sex with you while you’re getting treated.
On the flip side, if your partner is the one diagnosed with an STI while you are clear, it’s crucial to educate yourself and take the precautions you need to protect your health. It’s OK to take some space to process it on your own and come back to talk about it, but be sure to communicate this to your partner.
What if you have to refrain from sex during treatment?
If either of you does test positive for an STI, you need to prepare for periods where you need to refrain from sexual activity. McCance says there are a number of alternative ways to be intimate without sex, like cuddling. “Cuddling releases oxytocin which is the attachment hormone, which definitely improves the feeling of closeness and connection with your partner,” she says. Being close with someone doesn’t mean you need to be physical all the time, either. Sometimes “good ol’ conversation and sharing your daily stresses can help you feel close.”
At the end of the day, knowing your body and taking care of it is what’s most important—and it’s worth all the awkward conversations and/or temporary dry spells in the world.