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Lithium Five tips for when your partner has an STI

Sep. 4, 2019
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I was diagnosed with bacterial vaginosis weeks before I met my first girlfriend.

Although it isn’t a STI so much as it is a bacterial imbalance, my diagnosis compelled me to disclose my STI history to her.

I dragged it out for weeks because I was scared of being judged and misunderstood, especially since STIs still aren't normalized here in the Philippines. 

Admittedly, there was a lot of learning and unlearning involved (and some pretty complex emotions). In hindsight, though, I’ve compiled the tips below to offer better ways to respond to a partner during and after disclosing your diagnosis.

1. Listen without interrupting.

When I was first diagnosed with gonorrhea and trichomoniasis a year ago, none of my friends and relatives knew. Since I didn’t have anyone to share my feelings with, I resorted to strangers and distant followers on the Internet. I didn't receive any negative feedback or comments; they just understood. I realized it doesn't matter to whom you choose to disclose your diagnosis—what's most important is that you feel listened to.

In this case, when a romantic partner decides to be transparent about their STI diagnosis, my friendly advice would be to listen first. Pay close attention to their story. You might be compelled to offer your thoughts and opinions immediately, but give this moment to your partner and avoid interrupting. Allot at least a few seconds before responding.

2. Be soft, and offer kind gestures.

Your reaction means a lot. A subtle shift of expression when your partner says "I have an STI" could break their heart.

To avoid unknowingly hurting the other person while they’re being vulnerable, remain calm. Be mindful and soft with your facial expressions. Avoid overreacting. Note that your partner is going to be more sensitive right now, and any abrasive comments could feel exceptionally hurtful. Watch your intonation.

Based on my own experience, people reacting with a shocked expression and an "Oh my god," while natural and instinctive, made me feel more alienated. Holding their hand, nodding at their sentiments, and gazing at them intently could be enough to make them feel better, safe, and seen.

3. Be sensitive with your words.

There may be questions you've been itching to ask since your partner disclosed their STI diagnosis. Who, what, where—those are the common ones, and usually they're okay to ask. 

Think over your question before asking it aloud. If you were in your partner's position, would you feel comfortable answering?

4. Research!

All of us have internalized stigma, and you may even have been misinformed thanks to inaccurate discussions in schools and at home.

It's okay to be confused and uneducated about a topic—we're not born woke. It's in our best interest to actively widen our perspectives through learning and consciously unlearning stigma. We’re less prone to judge our partners when we’re knowledgeable of their circumstances. That’s part of why sex education is important—it corrects preconceived notions about sex itself and STIs.

When you're informed, you're less likely to find a diagnosed person slutty or dirty—and you'll know how easily most STIs are treated. The bottom line is, your knowledge will show in the way you communicate with and subconsciously see your partner. So read books, look up reliable articles, and watch informative videos.

5. Offer your presence during their clinic appointments.

If your partner currently has an STI, politely ask them if they’d want your company during their appointments. STI tests can be nerve-wracking, and offering to tag along will mean a lot. It shows your willingness to be there for them through the ups and downs.

I remember the first time a friend accompanied me when I got a follow-up test. Usually when I'd go alone, my commute would be filled with anxiety, but during our commute together I didn't feel nervous at all. It just felt like running an errand. Her support that day flipped my self-image and has become a timeless reminder that I'm worthy of love and other’s presence, whether I have an STI or not.

While you're there, I suggest that you get the test as well. Taking a STI test means that you care about yourself as much as you care about your partner. If your partner truly loves you, they will appreciate you for loving yourself too.