While you may be adamant about practicing safe sex with each new partner, not everyone is as disciplined when it comes to warding off sexually transmitted diseases. Clearly: Over 400-million people were infected with the herpes simplex virus type 2—the virus that causes genital herpes—worldwide in 2012, according to data published in the journal PLOS ONE.
What’s more, the study authors report that approximately 19 million people are newly infected with the virus each year. And that’s just herpes—the Centers for Disease Control estimates that more than 110 million men and women in the U.S. have some sort of STD, and nearly 20 million new infections occur every year. (Including these Sleeper STDs You’re at Risk For.)
So how do you make sure you’re slipping between the sheets with someone who’s clean? Patrick Wanis, Ph.D., communications expert and relationship therapist offers advice on how to bring up this sensitive subject with a new partner without making it huge deal. (Don’t forget about these other 7 Conversations You Must Have for a Healthy Sex Life.)
Don’t Jump the Gun
There is a right time and place to broach this subject, and your first dinner is not it. “The first date is for getting to know if there’s chemistry between you and another person,” says Wanis. If you realize there is no potential for the relationship to move forward, there’s really no point in prying. Rather than focusing on number of dates, focus on your feelings. “As soon as you feel like you’ve reached the point where you want to get physical, it now becomes your responsibility to bring it up,” says Wanis.
Choose Your Location Wisely
“Your environment influences your emotions and will impact how much your partner reveals,” says Wanis. If the conversation takes place while out to eat, your date may feel trapped by your questions because he’s sitting down, or uncomfortable because other diners may overhear, he explains.
Instead, plan on asking the hard-hitting questions in an open, neutral environment—like on a walk, or while grabbing coffee and hanging out at a park. If you’re walking, or moving about freely, it’s much less threatening to the other person, says Wanis. (Try one of these: 40 Free Date Ideas You’ll Both Love!)
Whatever you do, don’t wait until you’re already in bed, about to hookup. (You know, because it might not come up in the heat of the moment.)
Lead by Example
Rather than kicking off the conversation asking him about his sexual history, it’s best if you disclose your STD status first. “If you’re honest about your past, this shows vulnerability—and if you’re vulnerable, they are more likely to be too,” says Wanis.
Try this: “I recently got tested for STDs and just wanted to let you know that my results came back clear.” (Is Your Gyno Giving You the Right Sexual Health Tests?) Gauge his reaction to your statement, and if he doesn’t offer anything up, move the conversation along with a simple, “Have you been tested recently?”
The conversation changes, though, if you’re the one confessing you have an STD. But you have to—it’s up to you to be the responsible one and make sure you don’t infect people, Wanis explains.
He advises that you put all the need-to-know info out there to eliminate confusion. That means explain what type of STD you’re carrying, whether or not your STD is treatable, and then break down what your partner’s risk of contracting it is (even with a condom).
For example: Chlamydia, gonorrhea, and trichomoniasis are primarily transmitted through contact with infected fluids (think: vaginal secretions, semen). So if the condom is applied correctly, it reduces the risk of spreading the STD. Then there are STDs like syphilis, HPV (what causes genital warts), and genital herpes that are primarily spread through contact with infected skin—so a condom doesn’t always guarantee protection.
Whether either of you are infected or not, the STD convo isn’t a fun one to have, but talking about it upfront can save you both worry and distrust down the line—not to mention a whole lot of doctors visits.