New research has revealed that 91% of the UK say an STI would have a negative impact on their mental health, confidence, relationships, social life, love life, or even career.
Superdrug conducted a survey of 2,000 sexually active adults to help break the taboo around STIs and help people openly discuss their experiences while understanding the impact a diagnosis can have as a result of the current stigma.
A huge 91% say that an STI diagnosis would negatively impact their mental health, relationships, social life, love life, general confidence, and even their career:
- Negatively impact love life: 53%
- Negatively impact relationships with partners: 52%
- Negatively impact general confidence: 47%
- Negatively impact mental health: 43%
- Negatively impact social life: 22%
- Negatively impact career: 8%
As a result of these perceived impacts in so many aspects of life, the most trusted group of people to speak to about an STI was a doctor, with 75% saying they would feel comfortable speaking to a medical professional if they had an STI.
Indeed, when it comes to dating, it was found that STIs were the ‘most feared’ topic, with 44% saying discussing them on a date would be the most uncomfortable topic. It beat speaking about sex and sexual compatibility (28%), past relationships (26%), money problems (22%) and family (17%).
Expert tips for talking about STIs
Talking about sex and STIs can be tricky, especially with someone you are or are planning to be intimate with. Superdrug online doctor spoke to sexologist Jess O’Reilly (PhD), who provided tips for talking to a partner about STIs.
Start the conversation early
Start early in the relationship (ideally before you are intimate) and normalise it as a topic you discuss openly. If it’s too late for that, then start asap. We are all grown-ups and know that sex can cause infections so jumping in and being upfront is the best option. To help with this, you can talk openly with friends and normalise it for yourself before chatting with your partner.
Get knowledgeable about STIs
On that, get knowledgeable! It’s much easier to talk about things you know about, and knowing your status is important when getting comfortable with the topic. Following sex-positive Instagram and TikTok accounts, reading the NHS website and other education platforms such as Superdrug online doctor can help you learn and make the conversation feel less alien.
Be open and accepting
Be open with your partner, and also accept. Being able to create a judgement-free environment is a positive place to start. Unless neither of you had any sexual contact prior, you both need to take responsibility for being tested, be honest about your past, and be able to hear things that may be a little challenging. A safe space without judgement can make the conversation much more comfortable.
Remove the shame
Stigma can only exist where there is a shame. And STI stigma is potentially very dangerous! You don’t have to treat STIs like a death sentence. They’re simply a risk associated with sexual activity.
Especially since STIs can be either cured or treated, there is no shame in testing positive for one. But suppose you let shame hold you back from testing. In that case, you’re putting yourself at greater risk of transmitting an STI or dealing with the long-term effects of leaving it untreated (e.g. infertility, pelvic pain, ectopic pregnancy). Realising that we can all get STIs even if we take precautions is a good place to start your own acceptance process.
Stay up to date with testing
Make sure you are up to date with your own tests and vaccinations. This means you can be honest about where you are. You could even use your own testing history to start the conversation.
Remember, the first time is the hardest
Know that the first time is the hardest! Once these conversations become part of your dating life, they become second nature. It will get easier and is an important part of healthy dynamics and wellness. Conversations don’t have to be super heavy, serious or even face-to-face. As long as you are communicating, that’s fine. Some people prefer to text if it’s a new or casual partner. It can be very chilled.
Consider your partner’s discomfort with the topic
If a partner doesn’t want to talk about STIs and testing, don’t assume it’s a red flag. Shame and stigma around sex make talking about sex challenging, so don’t assume their discomfort talking about STIs indicates that they don’t want to practice safer sex. They may be uncomfortable with the conversation itself, so ask them what you can do to put them at ease, it may be a matter of timing, language or location.
Be prepared for their reaction
If you disclose a positive status, remember that their reaction is more about their own level of comfort and knowledge; it’s not about you. If they’re judgemental, it’s likely a matter of their own discomfort. It isn’t your job to educate others, but you may find it helpful to provide info about transmission, management, and treatment.