The best sex is safe sex.
The best and easiest way to protect yourself from STIs is to use either a male condom or a female condom during vaginal or anal sex, and during play with sex toys. You can also use male condoms and dental dams for protection during oral sex.
There are many ways of getting an STI, but the greatest risk is having unprotected vaginal, oral or anal sex. STIs can even spread through contact with blood or bodily fluids if you are sharing sex toys yourself. Prevent STIs. Use a condom. And if you didn’t, get tested.
STIs are equal-opportunity infections.
STIs don’t discriminate against age, gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation. Anyone who has unprotected sex can get an STI. You can get one from someone you love, or from someone you barely know. The more people you have unprotected sex with, the greater your chances of picking up an infection. So how do you protect yourself?
Wearing condoms is the best way to reduce your risk of getting an STI.
If you’re going to have sex, have safe sex. You can get an STI through unprotected sex and sharing sex toys with an unprotected person. Whether you’re male, female, straight, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning, protect yourself by using a condom. Condoms can reduce the risk of spreading STIs during all types of sex. If you and your partner share sex toys, use a condom and change the condom each time you move the toy from one area of the body to another.
Not sure about your partner(s)? Make sure. Get tested.
Not all STIs show symptoms—especially the more serious ones. The solution? Before you and your partner(s) have sex, get tested. If you’ve had unprotected sex and/or are not sure if your partner has an STI, get tested.
How do I tell my partner?
Prevention also means making sure that your past partner(s) know that you have an STI, as well as future partner(s) if you are currently being treated for an STI, or have an STI that can’t be cured (e.g., HIV, herpes, HPV).
Nobody looks forward to telling their partner(s) they have an STI. Whether it’s with a past, present or future partner(s), it will probably be a difficult conversation. But keeping quiet isn’t the answer and there is support available.
If you’re concerned about telling your partner that you have an STI, talk to a health care provider or someone at a sexual health clinic. They can offer resources, advice and the help you need.
Why you need to tell your partner(s):
It’s natural to feel nervous at the thought of discussing your infection with your partner(s). But their health may be at risk too, so they really do need to know what’s going on. Want more reasons why it’s the conversation you need to have? Here are some good ones:
- Some STIs can cause life-threatening infections if they’re not treated.
- If you’re treated for a curable STI but your partner isn’t, you can get reinfected.
- Telling a current or past partner gives that person the opportunity to get checked out and, if necessary, treated.
- In Canada, people living with HIV have a legal obligation to disclose their HIV status before having sex that poses a “significant risk of HIV transmission.” For more information about HIV and the law, visit the website of the HIV & AIDS Legal Clinic Ontario (HALCO).
- You may also have a legal duty to disclose other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) before engaging in sex. While rare, there have been prosecutions in Ontario relating to Herpes, and prosecutions in other parts of Canada relating to hepatitis B and hepatitis C.
Tips for having the difficult talk.
Every situation is different. How do you approach it? It really comes down to your comfort level. Here are some ideas for handling the conversation.
Prep yourself for the conversation.
Put yourself in your partner’s shoes. Rehearse what you’re going to say. Be honest and straightforward. If necessary, write down some notes. It may be a difficult talk, but preparing helps you appear comfortable. This will go a long way toward reassuring your partner.
You could start by saying, “Before we have sex, there’s something I need to tell you,” and then mention your STI and how you got it. However, there’s no need to share every detail of your past relationships.
Be prepared for a negative reaction.
No matter how well you’ve handled the talk, you may have to deal with a person who is upset, angry or shocked. In worst-case scenarios, they may reject you as a sexual partner. But remember, STIs aren’t just about you—they’re about other people, too. As hard as it may be for you to accept a negative reaction, be proud of yourself for having the courage to be upfront about your situation and trying to protect others from becoming infected. If you’re concerned about telling your partner, talk to a health care provider or someone at a sexual health clinic. They can offer resources, advice and the help you need.
Talk to a doctor or someone at your sexual health clinic.
Remember, you’re not the first person they’ve ever seen with an STI, and they can help you find the right words to explain your situation. Or, if you are worried about your partner’s reaction, someone at the sexual health clinic can notify your partner for you. They won’t say where the information comes from, only that they need to be treated.