This Summer, the Government’s Going to Tell Your Ex About Your STI

From January, if you test positive and don't spill the details of your past hook-ups you could wind up with a criminal conviction and a $2000 fine.

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Nov 9 2016, 12:00am

If you don't want to have the conversation, the Ministry of Health will get in touch for you. Image via Flickr user ClaudioM

New Zealanders sure aren't shy about having sex, but they are shy about the details. It seems talking about their STI history before getting it on is not always a high priority, so the Government has decided to get involved and force us to be honest. And it could be a good idea since the aftermath is not pretty—New Zealand has high rates of STIs compared with other OECD countries and these are rising every year.

From January onwards, if you test positive for an STI you could be legally required to let your past and present sexual partners know that you might have passed it on. This includes chlamydia, gonorrhoea, syphilis, or HIV. Basically, if you don't fess up, you could wind up with a criminal conviction and a $2000 fine.

If contacting your last hookup fills you with dread, you'll have to provide their name and contact details to a random person employed by the Ministry of Health who will talk to them for you. But don't worry, they won't disclose that you've potentially given that person an STI. They will just let them know that "someone" they have slept with has tested positive so they should get tested sooner rather than later.

STIs can result in some serious lifelong complications including chronic pain, infertility, and genital cancer to name a few. These new laws are all about reducing the spread of STIs and get people tested and seeking treatment earlier, but how will they actually work?

The legislation lacks a clear threshold, so it's unclear if everyone who tests positive will be required to make contact or only those who have been on a Tinder binge.

It's also unclear whether the law will be tougher on people with certain STIs compared with others. People with HIV might be automatically required to contact past partners no matter how many they have, and even if they used a condom. In contrast, there might be more leniency on people with chlamydia, New Zealand's most common STI. But then again, with around 30,000 cases per year according to the Government's conservative estimates, it would perhaps be odd to not use the laws to reduce the spread even further.

In a speech made when the law was passed, Minister of Health Dr Jonathan Coleman said it should be applied proportionate to the risk each person poses to the public, "so that you do not have a situation where a sledgehammer is being used to deal with an acorn." Hmmmm.

Wanting to get some clearer answers I got in touch with the Ministry of Health. A spokesperson said staff are drafting guidelines on how the law will work in practice but these are some way from being finalised.

Then I tried Family Planning, New Zealand's largest provider of sexual health services in New Zealand.

"In principle contact tracing is a good idea," says national medical advisor Dr Christine Roke. There is particular concern over gonorrhoea because people are increasingly developing resistance to the antibiotics used to treat it. But contact tracing could also help contain outbreaks of STIs, such as the current outbreak of syphilis in Auckland and Christchurch.

One of Roke's main concerns is that the new laws may discourage people from getting tested out of fear they will be forced to contact past sexual partners if they test positive. "There will be cases where it would be inappropriate to require people to make contact, for example rape victims or those in violent relationships," she says. "So there needs to be flexibility in terms of how the law is applied."

If you are required to notify past partners under this new law (or just want to out of the goodness of your heart), you might want to check out this site, run by a sexual health non-profit organisation in the United States that enables you to notify past sexual partners anonymously. You just enter in their email address and select the relevant STI, click send then, boom, notification done. The person will receive an email containing helpful information on the STI and testing options.

It's probably best to tell people yourself (especially if one of them is your current partner) but this tool can cut out potential embarrassment or criticism. Roke thinks the tool is good idea.

A New Zealand version could be set up and enhanced so that the anonymous notification could somehow be sent by text or to the person's Facebook or even Tinder account. Let's face it—not everyone is going to know their one night stands' email addresses.

The tool would speed up notification process and reduce a huge amount of admin for the Ministry of Health, which would then have a clear record that the person has actually notified their partners.

For now, we still don't know how the laws will affect New Zealanders in practice but you'll soon find out what details you'll be forced to reveal...and who to.

Zoë Lawton is a family law researcher. Follow her on Facebook.

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