Dating With Sexually Transmitted Diseases

Torn packaging of wrapper containing a condom

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For many people, one of the scariest things about learning they have a sexually transmitted disease (STD) is the thought of dating with it. They may wonder what people will think. They may question how to talk about their diagnosis with a new or existing partner. If they're angry, they may want to blame someone...or worry someone may blame them. If they're sad, they may question whether they're still desirable.

These questions and doubts are normal. However, millions of people manage to date happily with STDs. Sometimes, that's because they don't know they have an STD. Other times, it's because being open and honest about sexual health is a good way to turn up the intimacy and heat.

Talking to a Partner About Having an STD

Dating with STDs wouldn't seem nearly as difficult if people made a habit of talking about sex before having it. Unfortunately, in most social circles that is the exception rather than the rule.

Ideally, everyone would get tested for STDs. They'd discuss those results before having sex with a new partner. They'd make conscious decisions about practicing (or not practicing) safe sex. That would take the burden of disclosure off people who know they have an STD. Instead, everyone would come to the table with something to say.

The truth is, many people have STDs and don't know it. That's why testing is so critical. When talking about having an STD with a partner or potential partner, both people should ideally know where they stand. Not knowing increases the risk of judgment and blame. It also increases the risk of someone saying something they'll regret.

When should you tell someone you have an STD? That's something only you can decide. Some people like to talk about it before any intimacy occurs—either emotional or physical.

Others save the conversation for before physical intimacy, but after they've determined a potential partner is someone they feel safe talking to. Still, others put it on the table even before going on a first date. It's often a balancing act between protecting a partner versus protecting yourself.  

That said, it's not a great idea to talk about an infection once things have started to get hot and heavy. That's not a time when people are capable of making good decisions. It's far better to have the talk before the clothes come off, rather than after. 

Dealing With the Stigma of Dating with STDs

The hardest part of STD dating is dealing with stigma. Many people believe that having an STD makes a person dirty or unlovable. However, that belief is far from universal.

The more people realize how common STDs are, the harder it is to judge someone for having them. Still, if you have internalized STD stigma, it can be hard to get over. It's worth working on, though. It's hard to find someone to love you when you have trouble loving yourself. 

One thing that can help is interacting with other people who have dealt with STD stigma and come out the other side. Support groups for some of the more stigmatized STDs, like herpes and HIV, are available both in person and online. 

There have also been a growing number of STD dating websites. Although they're well-intentioned, they may actually contribute to STD stigma. They don't encourage discussion of sexual risk as much as they sidestep it.

The truth is, if you have an STD, there's no need to limit your dating pool to other people with the same STD. That's particularly true since doing so doesn't make safe sex any less important.

In addition, dating isn't about whether you have a particular bacterial or viral infection. It's about finding someone to share parts of your life with. If the only thing you have in common is an STD, that's not the best foundation for a relationship.

Thinking About Risk

Everyone's tolerance for STD risk is different. For example, some people can't imagine not using barriers for safe sex. Other people prefer to fluid bond with a partner after they've been together for a while. 

Either way, it's important to think about your concerns and preferences clearly. There's nothing wrong with deciding to stop having safe sex with a partner. You just want to do so with open eyes about potential consequences. That means being aware of potential risks and how you can reduce them. For example, someone might ask a partner with cold sores if they would be willing to use suppressive therapy before starting to have unprotected oral sex. 

STDs and Dating Violence

People who experience dating violence are at increased risk of getting an STD. In fact, they have a high risk of becoming infected multiple times. In part, this is because victims of intimate partner violence lack the power to negotiate safe sex.

However, STDs can also be used by a perpetrator to control their partner or keep them in an unhealthy relationship. The stigma associated with STDs may make individuals think they're stuck with a violent partner or that they don't deserve anything better. It's not true.

If someone is using an STD diagnosis to keep you in an unhealthy relationship, get help. Using STDs to manipulate a partner isn't about love. It's about power. 

A Word From Verywell

STD dating isn't just about risk. It's also about excitement. Many sex educators are moving towards a notion of enthusiastic consent. Enthusiastic consent means that people only have sex with partners who really want to be there with them. It's a pretty laudable goal. It's also one that starts with informed consent. In the context of sexual health, informed consent has several critical components:

  • Knowing your STD status. This includes being aware of the fact that STD testing isn't the default. It's something you need to ask for.
  • Knowing your partner's STD status. This includes talking about the last time they were tested and what they were tested for.
  • Being aware of what contraceptive options you're both using if contraception is relevant.
  • Being aware of whether your partner or potential partner is looking for the same things out of sex as you are. If one of you wants a one night stand and the other a life-long relationship, it's a recipe for pain.

After that, it's time to think about the enthusiasm. Do you want to have sex with your partner? Is now a good time or would it be better to wait? What are some things you're interested in? Do they share your excitement or are they wondering if it's the right idea? 

Remember, you never have to have sex right away. If you both want to, that's great. However, there's also nothing wrong with waiting for a time and place that works for both of you. Sometimes, taking the time pressure off gives you the chance to be honest and open with each other. That's never a bad thing when it comes to building a healthy, sexual relationship.

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