Let’s face it. Dating can be daunting in the 21st century. People are so busy that it is hard to find time to connect. Thankfully, the internet makes some of the beginning stages of a search for partners easier. You can join specialised dating sites that seek members who share some of the things you find most important. These sites raise the likelihood that someone you meet will have the qualities or interests you find essential in a mate.
Once you have spent some time getting to know each other online, it’s time to head out on that first in-person date. The anxiety and excitement mix together as you wait to see if that spark is there when you meet in person. After all, photos never give us the full story. Someone can look just like his photo but when you meet the energy just isn’t there.
The anxiety is higher if you have a sexually transmitted disease or infection (STD/STI). For most people who have an STD, when to tell a potential sexual partner is a difficult decision.
Do you have a ‘no sex on the first date’ rule? If you do, then you give yourself some extra time before you need to have ‘the sex talk’.
According to the Center for Disease Control, 110 million Americans currently have an STD. In 2016, there were over 323 million Americans so that is about 1/3 of Americans. STD’s are not rare.
I am often asked if it is essential to tell a partner that you have an STD since the stigma can kill a relationship before it starts. Most of the time when I am asked this question, the person asking has herpes. Herpes comes in two types. Many people think that only one type is sexually transmitted. This is incorrect. Both types can be sexually transmitted. Type 1 is often oral but can be transmitted by oral to genital contact. According to the World Health Organisation, ‘more than 3.7 billion people under the age of 50 – or 67% of the population – are infected with Herpes Simplex 1’ (oral herpes). They go on to estimate that between oral and genital herpes strains, ½ billion people between ages 1 – 49 have a genital herpes. Herpes has no cure. Many people have few outbreaks after the first one and the infection can only be transmitted when active. I believe this is why people ask if it is even necessary to disclose to a partner.
If you have herpes 1 (also known as cold sores), you should not be kissing or have oral sex with a partner when you have an active sore. Most people don’t disclose this as ‘herpes’. Since up to 90% of the population have this virus by the time they are 60 years old, this is understandable. If you have had any type of herpes outbreaks on your genitals, you should disclose this to a partner.
There isn’t one ‘best time’ to tell someone about an STD.
Most people include it as part of the full ‘sex talk’. A good sex talk includes sexual health history (including STD’s), sexual interests and desires, expectations, limits and no go areas or activities. It is a hard conversation for people who don’t have STD’s for a number of reasons:
1. Many people find talking about sex in detail embarrassing. They fear that their desires will be seen as strange or unacceptable and that they will be rejected as a result. Sometimes a possible partner will find shared desire strange or will even express disgust. When that is the case, you should be re-thinking any sexual relationship with the person. People who have good communication skills can express a lack of interest in a particular sexual activity without expressing disgust or judging the person who has the desire.
2. People often hold to the fallacy that talking about sex before doing it will take away the mystery and surprise and so sex will be less fun. Actually, talking about sex before doing it raises excitement levels, adds anticipation and takes the intensity to a higher level.
3. The conversation is left until you are about to get sexual. By this time, you are aroused and stopping to have a conversation that may derail the sex feels too difficult.
4. The conversation can be decidedly un-sexy. Even though the sex talk covers what you desire and fantasize about, most people focus on sexual history and health. That part of the talk can be a buzz kill. You can bring back the luscious parts by making sure to spend some time talking about desires at the end of the talk as well as at the beginning.
For someone who has an STD, it is additionally difficult because there is lots of stigma attached to having an STD. Most of this comes from a lack of education. It is common to see ‘only clean’ or ‘only disease free’ in profiles on dating sites. People advertise that they have never had a STD or even been exposed. While it is certainly possible that someone hasn’t ever caught an STD, it is less likely that a sexually active adult who has had more than one partner has never been exposed to anything.
Many people choose to avoid the conversation all together and just use condoms. Some also use dental dams and gloves. The rationale is that having safe sex makes the conversation unnecessary. This isn’t true because barriers are not fool proof which many couples who use condoms for the prevention of pregnancy know.
The best time to have the sex talk, which includes telling a date that you have an STD is as soon as you know that the potential for physical intimacy is on the table. If you feel that spark and you know she does too, set up a time to talk about sex and intimacy. I would always recommend having the sex talk face to face. Make sure you leave enough time to talk through any reactions to disclosures. Bring any medical information that might help explain things to your date in case they ask for further information. For example, if you take medication for HIV, bring along a description of the medication. Be prepared to explain what the STD is, how it is transmitted, what symptoms and illnesses it causes, how it is treated if there is treatment, and how you can prevent transmission of the STD. Remember to put the sexy back into the sex talk by talking about desires and fantasies after the sexual health part.
Remind yourself that if a date reacts badly to your disclosure, she was not the person for you in any event. You deserve someone who sees and accepts the whole of you and trusts you to keep both of you safe.