The other important chat – how to tell someone you’ve been diagnosed with an STI
So you’ve just had some news from your doctor. It turns out there’s an uninvited guest in your underpants.
It might be chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, or something else. You weren’t expecting anything to come back positive, because, like a lot of guys, you probably didn’t have any symptoms.
The good news is treatment is usually straightforward and over pretty quickly — an injection and/or some antibiotic tablets. A week or so later and you should be in the clear. But take your doctor’s advice on how long to wait after completing treatment before having sex again… which means postponing any hook-ups in the meantime.
The next step is letting people know — specifically anyone you’ve had sex with in the last three months, or since you last got tested. This is so they can also go and get tested and treated if necessary, for the sake of their own health and to help take STIs out of circulation for everyone else!
“…if he gave you head, you can at least give him a heads up.”
For many guys, notifying someone about an STI is a conversation they’ve had a few times before. So if it’s your first time, it’s understandable if you’re feeling a little daunted by the prospect.
It’s only natural to think things like: What will they think of me? Will they be upset? What if they don’t remember who I am? — just know that empowering somebody else to take charge of their own health is the right thing to do. Don’t forget, there’s no guarantee they have an STI as well. The only way to be sure is for them to go and get tested too.
And hey, if you’ve already managed to tell your parents you’re into dudes (and even if you haven’t), you can manage this! All it takes is a little courage and a little preparation.
Pick your method
The way you choose to tell him may depend on what sort of relationship you have.
If they’re someone you’re dating or in a relationship with, then a face-to-face discussion is probably the most appropriate way to deliver the news. If you don’t want to wait that long, arrange to call at an appropriate time (see below for phrasing suggestions).
If they’re someone you’re just hooking up with and you mainly communicate via text or online, then a message is probably fine. A text can be a good choice in this case, because it gives them time to absorb the information and reply in their own time, rather than putting them (or you) on the spot.
If you’re struggling with the idea of notifying people yourself, don’t worry — The Drama Downunder lets you notify anonymously, either by SMS or email. While it’s still better to tell him yourself, doing it anonymously is still better than not telling him at all. Chances are if your STI didn’t have any symptoms, he might not have symptoms either — so if he gave you head, you can at least give him a heads up.
Think about language
Your choice of words can make a big difference to how he takes the news.
Try to avoid saying that you’ve ‘caught’ or been ‘given’ an STI. This can create the impression that one person is responsible for passing on the infection, when really nobody’s at fault here. There are a few ways you can communicate that you have an STI without throwing blame around:
- I’ve just tested positive for syphilis
- I’ve just been diagnosed with chlamydia
- I’ve just got my test results and I have a gonorrhea infection in my throat
Bear in mind that the possibility of having an STI isn’t going to be great news, so think carefully before adding humour, sarcasm or shade. Emojis, memes and gifs might also set the wrong tone.
If you’re not sure what to say, the team at Ending HIV New Zealand have put together a great text generator tool you can copy and paste to send out. Here’s an example of what you could use:
Keep calm and know you’re doing the right thing
Just because you got more than a blowjob doesn’t mean you should blow up at each other.
It’s easy to imagine negative reactions to being told you might have an STI: shock, panic, worry, shame, guilt, disgust, anger – or maybe all of them, all at once! But while it can be tempting to dwell on the negative, there’s space for the opposite too. Disclosing that you’ve picked up an STI can be met with good humour, gratitude and compassion. After all, you’re doing someone a solid by letting them know you care enough about them to make sure they stay healthy.
“…doing it anonymously is still better than not telling him at all.”
The thing is, how someone else chooses to react to this information is up to them. What you’re doing is empowering them to make decisions about their own health. Wouldn’t you appreciate knowing sooner rather than not knowing at all?
Be prepared for the conversation
Some of the best support you can give him (aside from a little reassurance) is information.
He may ask you for details — when you might have acquired the STI, where it is in your body, how it’s treated and whether you had any symptoms. It’s a good idea to have as much of this information as possible so he can inform his doctor to get the best possible healthcare. For the lowdown on STIs and sexual health, check out our Knowledge Hub.
“Remember, there’s no guarantee that he has an STI as well. The only way to be sure is for him to go and get tested too.”
If you’ve already been treated, you’ll be able to tell him about it firsthand, though his doctor may recommend waiting for a positive test result before starting treatment, depending on the STI.
It’s worth doing some research of your own as well, particularly when it comes to window periods, so you’re both aware of how your recent sexual history may affect your results.
This is also the perfect opportunity to talk about how you’re managing your HIV and STI risk together in the future. Knowing about undetectable viral load and PrEP are great starting points for managing the risk of HIV, especially if you don’t always use condoms.
Be respectful and considerate
Just remember, the guy you’re talking to is going to be having this same conversation with anyone else he’s been having sex with. He may totally understand and be cool. Though even if he does react badly, don’t take it personally. Offer to talk about it and answer any questions he has. You can always put him in touch with us to help him figure it all out.
If he doesn’t know where to go for an STI test, let him know about Emen8’s interactive map for finding sexual health testing services nearby and across Australia.
And be sure to remember exactly how you’re feeling right now… because sooner or later, someone else is probably going to repay the favour and notify you.