I Have an STD. Should I Tell My Partner?

by Eileen Bailey Health Writer

If you have been diagnosed with a sexually transmitted disease (STD), you may be wondering: Should you tell your sexual partner? Generally, the answer is yes — even if the discussion may be uncomfortable.

Why Should I Tell My Partner?

Telling your sexual partner that you might have an STD shows respect. It gives them the opportunity to make health decisions for themselves. When you keep an STD diagnosis to yourself, you are taking away your partner’s ability to decide what they want to do for their own health. Other reasons to consider telling your partner include:

  • Some STDs can affect fertility if not treated.

  • Some STDs can cause life-threatening infections if not treated.

  • If you are treated for an STD but you didn’t tell your partner, you may get reinfected.

  • If you know you have an STD and purposely have sex with someone without telling them, you could be charged with a crime or sued in some states.

Who Should I Tell?

You should notify anyone you had sex with during the 60 days prior to symptoms appearing or diagnosis. Not all STDs have symptoms, and, according to The Minnesota Department of Health, some STDs may have symptoms in only one partner even when both are infected.

When left untreated, some STDs, such as gonorrhea and chlamydia, can cause permanent damage, including infertility. Other STDs, like human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and herpes, have no cure. Telling your partner gives them the chance to protect themselves or seek and receive treatment to reduce the risk of long-term issues.

Did My Partner Cheat on Me?

If you are in a monogamous relationship and you find out you have an STD, you might wonder if that means your partner is cheating on you. According to the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, the answer is “not necessarily.” Many STDs can stay hidden for years without any symptoms. Your partner might have given you an STD, but they could have contracted it many years ago. On the other hand, if you have had previous sexual partners, you might have gotten the STD from someone else, even if you just now found out about it.

Tips for Telling a Current Partner

  • Talk to your partner as soon as possible. It’s important to be honest and forthright. Both people should be treated for the STD, and prompt treatment is important.

  • Suggest making an appointment together at an STD clinic. Some doctors (depending on your state) will treat both you and your partner. This gives you both a chance to talk to the doctor and ask questions. If your partner doesn’t want to go with you, encourage them to go as soon as possible and make an appointment for yourself. “I have been diagnosed with [name of STD]. I am getting treatment, and you need to be treated as well.”

  • Part of the discussion should be about stopping sex until both of you have been to the doctor and received treatment.

  • Talk about what you plan to do in the future to prevent further problems. For example, herpes is a lifelong condition but is highly preventable when steps are taken, such as not having sex during an outbreak and using condoms.

  • If you are concerned about your partner’s reaction, consider having the discussion in your doctor’s office. That way, there is a third (and knowledgeable) party who can steer the conversation with facts about the condition rather than emotional reactions.

  • Focus on your health and the health of your partner before discussing how this might have happened. You can save a conversation about your relationship for later, after you have received treatment.

Tips for Telling a New Partner About an Existing STD

  • Would you want to know if your partner was diagnosed with an STD? Chances are your partner will want to know too. Keep this in mind, and have the conversation because it is the right thing to do, even if you are nervous.

  • If you have a new partner, it is best to be direct and talk about STDs before you have sex. Talk about why protection is important to you and what steps you both want to take to protect one another. If you already have an STD like HIV or herpes, telling your potential partner before deciding whether to have sex shows respect and gives you the opportunity to help educate your partner about how you can both reduce the risk of transmission.

  • Know the facts. Read about and understand your own STD. What are the symptoms? What are potential problems if not diagnosed? Share this information with your partner.

  • Listen. Once you explain what type of STD you have, listen to your partner’s concerns. Some might ask questions, some might show concern for you, and some might need time to digest the information. Respect your partner’s right to space and time

  • Encourage questions. Let your partner ask questions and be prepared with facts. If you don’t know an answer, seek it out (from a reputable source).

Eileen Bailey
Meet Our Writer
Eileen Bailey

Eileen Bailey is an award-winning author of six books on health and parenting topics and freelance writer specializing in health topics including ADHD, Anxiety, Sexual Health, Skin Care, Psoriasis and Skin Cancer. Her wish is to provide readers with relevant and practical information on health conditions to help them make informed decisions regarding their health care.