Your guide to bringing up sexual health with someone new
We promise, it doesn’t have to be awkward
Are you splashing around in the dating pool right now? Whether you’re looking for longer-term connections or exploring physical relationships with new sexual partners, there’s so much fun to be had. But with the excitement of the new and mysterious come the complexities of the new and mysterious.
Discussing sexual health isn’t as taboo as it used to be, but some people may still feel awkward bringing it up or may worry that it’s a vibe killer. We get it–grown-up conversations are hard. But the issues that can come from not having this conversation are the ultimate vibe killer. These talks are essential and there are ways to approach them that won’t bring your sexy rapport to a screeching halt. Here’s what you need to know.
Don’t mix the serious with the steamy
We recommend avoiding having serious conversations during steamy situations. Even questions as simple as “do you have condoms?” are best asked before any clothes come off.
When dopamine is high, so are emotions. Not only is your judgment clouded when you’re in the heat of the moment, but you’re also in a hyper-sensitive emotional state, so be sure to address these things before the situation gets too heated.
Don’t assume it has to kill the vibe
There are things that are good to know about a person before the situation turns sexual. Some things, like their desires and fantasies, can be a lot more fun to talk about than others, like STIs and trauma triggers. And while it’s best not to couple the serious chats with the heat of the moment, you can totally couple the fun conversations with the less fun ones.
For example, consider saying something like, “I’m so attracted to you, and I can’t wait to take this to a physical level. Let’s get to know each other a bit better.” Something like this can replace the more serious and scary-sounding “before things go any further, there are some things we need to discuss.” These conversations are (ideally) paving the way for a fun and safer sexual experience, so there’s no reason they can’t have a sexy vibe.
De-stigmatize the subject matter
Conversations about sexual health can be triggering or uncomfortable for some. Be sure to avoid adding any unnecessary embarrassment or shame when bringing up topics related to sexual health. One great way to do this is to just put it out there that it’s a bit awkward. That way, if the person you’re talking to is feeling uncomfortable, they’ll know they’re not alone. And maybe you can laugh about the awkwardness a little, which will help break the ice.
You also don’t want to imply that if one of you has an STI, the whole thing has to come to a screeching halt. Using language like, “You don’t have an STI, do you?” can suggest that you think it’s a big problem if they do and could make them scared to be honest with you. Instead, consider mentioning that STIs are super common and that you recognize that there’s a lot of stigma around them, even if there shouldn’t be. You can also add that you’re coming from a completely neutral place and just hope to have a discussion.
Offer info first
Remember: you don’t want this to be an interrogation; you want it to be a conversation. Rather than springing questions on the other person, consider offering information first. Try something like, “I’ve been prioritizing my sexual health and just wanted to let you know that I’ve been tested recently.” This way, you’re showing that you share the responsibility with them, and you’re also letting them know it’s a safe space to be vulnerable.
Put the “we” in sexual wellness
It’s not you against them in these conversations. It’s the two of you together. We suggest coming at it with a “to keep things safe and fun for both of us, do you mind if we chat about sexual health?” You could also ask if they’d be comfortable going in to get tested together.
Share (and be prepared to hold) your boundaries
Suppose you have strict boundaries about condom use, exclusivity, transparency, or anything else. In that case, it’s up to you to express those as soon as it becomes evident that you might get physical with this person. Knowing your boundaries is incredibly empowering, but they can only be understood and respected if they are communicated. Sharing your boundaries early will also give you a chance to see if there are any sexual disconnects, which you’ll be happy you knew sooner than later.
Keep in mind that expressing your boundaries doesn’t mean other people will necessarily respect them, and it’s up to you to enforce your boundaries if they don’t. For example, you may have a boundary about using condoms every time you have sex. That doesn’t mean the other person will necessarily agree to use condoms every time. What it means is that if they don’t, you can choose to enforce your boundary by not having sex with them or by sticking to types of sex that are safer to have when you’re not using a condom.
Leave no room for nuance
Last but not least, be direct. If you want to know if someone is living with an STI, you need to ask. “Have you been tested recently?” may get you some information, but it isn’t the same as asking if they have any STIs. If there is something you want to know, ask it explicitly.
Advocating for your sexual health and sexual pleasure is an ongoing process that requires letting go of a lot of internalized stigma and taking the risk that things might be a little awkward sometimes. The key thing is to try to make your partner(s) feel comfortable and accepted, no matter what information they bring to the table. This type of conversation is rarely easy, but it’s worth it for your peace of mind and it will likely help you relax and enjoy the sex that much more.
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