10 Reasons Your Partner Hasn't Told You About Their STI

You might not know what to do if your partner did not tell you they have herpes or another sexually transmitted infection (STI). And it's also important to know how to tell your partner if you have an STI.

One of the hardest aspects of dating in the modern era is figuring out the appropriate time to talk about STIs and safer sex. Most adults know they should have these conversations. That is why it can be so upsetting when you find out that the person you're dating has an STI and didn't tell you. It may make it a little less painful to find out that they thought they had a good reason not to tell you, even if that reason was wrong.

Telling someone you have an STI is hard, even if you know you should. Here are 10 reasons why people sometimes don't tell their sexual partners when they have an STI. Some of them are understandable; others are not.


They Were Too Embarrassed and Ashamed

embarrassed woman

martin-dm / iStockphoto

Sometimes a person will know they have an STI and they should be telling you about it. But they may simply be too embarrassed or ashamed to talk about their infection. Telling someone you have an STI can be overwhelming. They may have had bad experiences disclosing that kind of information in the past. And they may be afraid of rejection or simply find the subject too hard to bring up.

Often the person with the STI will avoid having any type of sexual encounter. They'll postpone intimacy because they don't want to put their partner at risk, and they want to put off having the difficult conversation.


They Never Had Any Symptoms

People can't disclose information about infections they don't know they have. A lot of people assume that if they don't have any STI symptoms, they don't have an STI. That's simply not true. That's why testing is so important.

Comprehensive STI testing isn't part of routine medical care. That means that people need to actively seek out medical screening for STIs. It's the only way for them to have an accurate idea of their status. Unfortunately, lots of times they don't. Often, they don't know they should.


They Didn't Know Their Symptoms Were Contagious

A lot of people don't realize that things like cold sores are contagious. They have no idea that they can be transmitted during kissing and oral sex. Lots of people simply don't recognize that their symptoms are STI symptoms. Therefore, they may have had no idea that it was an STI they needed to tell you about.

It's not just a problem for herpes. The lack of recognition that it's important to inform a partner about risk is also frequently seen in skin diseases that are not primarily thought of as sexually transmitted, such as molluscum contagiosum, a condition caused by a poxvirus that spreads small, round, firm, often itchy bumps.


They Didn't Know Oral Sex Was Risky

Many people of all ages don't view oral sex as sex. Therefore, people think there is no need to take safer sex precautions or talk about STIs when they have oral sex. They're wrong. It's a very common misconception that oral sex is something you can do casually. People think that it has no risks, just rewards.

That's why in situations in which only oral sex is on the table, many people don't think that it's necessary to disclose an STI. They don't think it's a danger, so why should they make the emotional investment of revealing an STI? That's particularly true if they're restricting themselves to oral sex because they're only having casual sex. However, oral sex can spread a number of STIs.


They Didn't Realize They're Supposed to Discuss These Things

Many people feel that talking about sex just isn't something you do—and there are many reasons for this. Some individuals come from conservative upbringings that discourage sexual exploration. While they may have been able to overcome those restrictions enough to have sex, talking about sex is a whole different ball game. For many, talking about sex can be scarier and more "sinful" than actually having it.

On the other hand, a person can be so wrapped up in their own problems that it simply doesn't occur to them that if they have an STI, their partner may have one, too. They are so focused on getting treated and moving on that they don't notify their partners about getting tested and treated. They just hope that their symptoms will go away before anyone notices. Unsurprisingly, they often end up with recurrent STI infections.


They Weren't Tested, so They Weren't Sure

Let's move into the realm of ethically questionable reasons for not telling a partner that you have an STI. Some people are so afraid they might be infected that they refuse to get tested. This gives them the ability to tell themselves, "Well, I wasn't certain that I had an STI, so I didn't actually need to talk to my date about it." Willful ignorance is not an excuse for failing to disclose a possible infection.

Always ask people when they were last tested for STDs and what they were tested for. Don't just ask whether they've ever been diagnosed with an STD.


They Couldn't Find the Right Time to Bring It Up

Fortunately, most people have good intentions. They don't want to hurt the people they're involved with. They want to do what's right. They just don't know how to go about doing so or when.

It's hard to figure out at what point in a relationship it's appropriate to let your partner know you have an STI. Before you have sex seems like a clear boundary, but do you have to talk about it before you kiss for the first time? What if they kiss you? Should you bring it up on the first date or should you wait until you know there's a possibility of developing a real relationship?

These are really difficult questions for people to answer, particularly for highly stigmatized STIs like HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) and herpes. If you're still in the early stages of a relationship and wondering why your partner didn't bring up the topic sooner, it might be worth giving them the benefit of the doubt.

Someone who tells you they were waiting for the right time may be telling you the truth. Telling someone you have an STI is a hard thing to do.


They Weren't Asked

It is every person's responsibility to protect themselves in their sexual relationships. What does that mean? You shouldn't be waiting for a potential partner to get up the nerve to tell you they have an STI. Instead, you should be talking about test results and safer sex before you have sex. That means actively discussing the last time you were tested, sharing your results, and asking the same of your partner.

It's hard to disclose an STI infection when you don't know that the person you're talking to is even interested in a sexual relationship. The very act of asking makes it easier. You're telling a potential partner that you want them. You don't have to worry that they're presuming a relationship that doesn't exist or moving into the realm of sex when all you're thinking about is friendship.


They Didn't Have Any Visible Signs

Many people believe that when a person doesn't have any STI symptoms they can see, they're not infectious. They're wrong for thinking that, but it's possible that they're wrong with good intentions.

If a person already knows they have an STI infection, this reason is similar to the others on the morally questionable scale. However, they may actually have put some thought into protecting you if they're using this excuse.


They Were Intentionally Trying to Make You Sick

This is an extraordinarily rare occurrence. However, some people actually hope to infect their partners with STIs in order to keep them in a relationship. This is a type of domestic abuse. Anyone who tries this is not someone you should be involved with.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Molluscum contagium: Transmission.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. STD risk and oral sex.

  3. Hess KL, Javanbakht M, Brown JM, Weiss RE, Hsu P, Gorbach PM. Intimate partner violence and sexually transmitted infections among young adult women. Sex Transm Dis. 2012;39(5):366-71. doi:10.1097/OLQ.0b013e3182478fa5

By Elizabeth Boskey, PhD
Elizabeth Boskey, PhD, MPH, CHES, is a social worker, adjunct lecturer, and expert writer in the field of sexually transmitted diseases.