How to Tell Someone You Have an STI Without Being an Asshole About It

Just be nice, but if you're nervous, here's a handy script.
Hannah Smothers
Brooklyn, US
A genderqueer person looking at their phone

It’s passé to quote lines from the HBO sitcom Girls at this point in time, but heck; there’s one bit from the show’s first season that still holds the fuck up: Shortly after she’s diagnosed with HPV, Hannah Horvath puts on certified banger “Dancing On My Own,” and tweets “All adventurous women do.” It’s a reference to how wildly common it is to have HPV, an STI that nearly everyone with a vagina will get at some point in their sex-having lives.


The same could honestly be said for any STI. According to the latest report from the CDC, released earlier this month, STIs are at an all-time high in the United States. There are many reasons for this: people aren’t using condoms, there have been loads of financial cuts to sexual health programs, and, of course, that classic gag about sex education being absolutely terrible in this country. Regardless of these contributing factors, STIs are rampant; and so perhaps it’s time for us all to brief ourselves on how to politely tell a partner that you’ve just been diagnosed with one.

It’s a matter of public health and general human decency to disclose your STI status to new partners, and there are non-awkward ways to go about this. (Also, anyone who is a jerk to you about an STI is a jerk, in general.) But recent partners also need to know if you’ve been diagnosed with an STI, even if you never plan to have sex with them again.

Justin Lehmiller, a research fellow with the Kinsey Institute, told VICE that the best thing is to be direct and upfront. “It’s also important to do a little bit of research first, so that you understand the STI in case your partner has any questions about it,” Lehmiller said. He also offered up a basic script to follow (feel free to copy/paste, this is a public service):

  • Hi, I was recently diagnosed with [INSERT STI] and my doctor thinks it’s essential that my previous partners get tested for this, in the interest of protecting their health. It’s possible that you may not have any symptoms, but should still be tested, to be safe.


See? Easy. It would be difficult, even, to insert assholery into this sort of simple dialogue. And yet many have tried, because—thanks to previously mentioned horrible sex education, there’s still a lot of undue stigma surrounding STIs.

The worst thing you can do, according to Lehmiller, is to go into the conversation like it’s some sort of forensic investigation to discern the origin story of the STI, or to approach your partner with defensiveness or blame. “When somebody contracts a cold or the flu or something like that, we don't get obsessed with figuring out who gave this to us,” Lehmiller said. “The key thing is just that you share the information, not that you're figuring out who to blame for it.”

On that note, here are some phrases to avoid when disclosing STI status to a former partner:

  • “hey, I just tested positive for [INSERT STI]…think you may have given it to me”
  • “remember me lol??? u gave me [INSERT STI], u fuck!!!”
  • “Hi…so i just tested positive for [INSERT STI]…i’ve only had sex with like, two people without a condom in the past month and you’re one of them…it could’ve come from anywhere, you should probably get tested tho…because maybe…you did this to me”
  • “u gave me herpes, i hate u”

And so forth. There’s no need to apologize or go full whodunit; the only thing that matters, from a health perspective, is that everyone who could possibly have come in contact with the STI gets tested and treated for it, Lehmiller said. So, you know, basically just be chill about it. All adventurous blah blah, you get it. As Lehmiller said, the best thing to consider when having this conversation is basically…the golden rule: If it were you receiving this news from a former partner, how would you want to be told?

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