The Ultimate Guide to Dating With STDs
Here’s Everything You Need to Know About Dating With STDs
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Newsflash: Your dating life is not over just because you discover that you have an STD (sexually transmitted disease) or STI (sexually transmitted infection). In fact, the CDC estimates that nearly 20 million new sexually transmitted infections occur every year — that’s more than 2 million cases of the three nationally reported STDs (chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis) in the United States alone.
“Most people don’t realize they are at risk for STIs, but the truth is that anyone who’s ever had anal, oral, or vaginal sex is at risk,” says Julia Bennett, the Director of Learning Strategy at Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “In fact, about half of people will have an STI at some point in their life.”
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Everyone deserves to have a safe, healthy and pleasurable sex life, and being able to talk about safer sex, getting tested, and the risks of STIs is a really important part feeling empowered. “Talking about that stuff can feel challenging, but the most important thing is that we do talk about it,” notes Bennett.
Below, you’ll find the ins and outs of STD, STIs, and everything in between. Enjoy the free education.
What are STDs and STIs?
STDs and STIs are diseases/infections that are passed from one person to another through intimate physical contact including vaginal, oral, and anal sex. While there are many different types of STIs, the most common ones you’ve probably heard about are HIV, chlamydia, gonorrhea, herpes, and syphilis.
Some are curable bacterial infections (gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis) as long as you seek medical treatment and take the proper regimen of antibiotic medication. “If you have one of these infections, get treated and tested again later if your provider says you need to,” says Bennett. Sometimes, you might have an STI and not even know it, as is often the case with chlamydia, for which symptoms might not appear for months or years.
Other STIs (like herpes and HIV) are viruses that stay in your system forever. For those, you can’t be cured, but you can treat the symptoms, and in many cases, can significantly reduce them or not feel them at all.
For HIV, a retrovirus, the drugs used to treat it are called antiretrovirals (ARV). Although a cure for HIV does not yet exist, ARVs can keep you healthy for many years, and greatly reduce your chance of transmitting HIV to your partner(s) if taken consistently and correctly, according to the HIV.gov website.
Once you have a diagnosis, it’s important to follow your doctor’s plan of care. “Left untreated, STIs like chlamydia and gonorrhea can cause serious health problems like PID, infertility, and potential deadly ectopic pregnancy,” it reads on the CDC website. Plus, without treatment, it’s more likely that you’ll pass the STDs to your partner.
The Right Way to Tell Your Partner That You Have an STD/STI
If you’re currently living with an STD/STI like herpes or HIV, that doesn’t mean you’ll never land a date again. It does mean you have an added layer of responsibility when it comes to being open and honest with new partners.
The first step is to remember that having an STD doesn’t make you dirty or a bad person. “You’re a human who happens to have a health condition,” says Bennett. The best thing you can do to prepare for the conversation is to know your facts, and go into the chat with a calm, positive attitude.
“There are lots of myths out there, so reading up and being ready to answer questions your partner might have can be really helpful,” she adds. Make it clear that you’re telling them because you care about them. As for the right time, ideally, you’ll want to let your potential sex partner know before things get intimate. Before you bring up the subject, it might be a good idea to practice what you’re going to say out loud to yourself or with someone you trust. “This can help you figure out what you want to say so you feel more confident and comfortable,” notes Bennett.
It’s important to be prepared for different kinds of reactions. “Put yourself in your partner’s shoes and think about how you might feel if someone told you,” she says. “It can feel scary but having an open dialogue can also end up bringing people together.”
What if Your Partner Tells You They Have an STD/STI?
First things first: Remember to take a breath. Before you say something that sounds insensitive, this is someone you care about. A great way to start might be: “Thank you for telling me, I appreciate your honesty,” says Bennett. Then you can ask some questions about how they are living with the STD, what treatments help, and what you both can do to prevent it being transmitted.
Most important whenever you’re having the STD talk? “Avoid the blame game. It can be hard to tell or know when you got an STI or who you got it from. Be open, get tested, and get treated as needed,” she notes. If you’re hung up on how to talk to your partner if they have an STD/STI, check out Planned Parenthood’s informative YouTube series on “talking about safer sex, testing, and STDs.”
Having Sex When You or Your Partner Has an STD or STI
Safe sex is always important, but it becomes increasingly vital when you and/or your partner has an STI. Bennett says that condoms and dental dams are the key products that can significantly reduce the risk of transmitting diseases during vaginal, anal, or oral sex. Oh, and don’t forget the lube. “A lot of people don’t realize that lube helps prevent condoms from breaking, and it reduces the chance of skin tears,” she says.
Just as important as using protection during sex is staying on course with your prescribed treatments. Especially in the case of bacterial STIs, finishing out your antibiotics is a must.
If you’re in a situation where you find out you have an STI/STD while you’re already in the middle of a relationship, Bennett suggests talking to your healthcare provider to see if Expedited Partner Therapy (EPT) is right for you. EPT is the clinical practice of treating the sex partners of patients diagnosed with chlamydia or gonorrhea by providing medications to the partner without having to be examined.
Dating With Herpes
If you have genital herpes, you’re just like 1 out of 6 Americans. “It’s really common and is largely a skin condition, but there is a lot of stigma around it in this country,” explains Bennett. The bottom line is you can have herpes and still have a healthy sex life — dating with herpes is totally fine! “There are lots of things you can do to help prevent transmitting, like staying on medications and practicing safe sex,” she adds.
Dating With HIV
An estimated 1.1 million people are living with HIV in the United States. However, thanks to advances in medicine, for many people, the virus is practically undetectable, thus eliminating the risk of transmitting HIV to an HIV-negative partner through sex, says the CDC.
However, for people who are in an ongoing relationship with a partner who has HIV, a doctor may recommend taking Pre-exposure prophylaxis (or “PrEP” medication) for added protection, along with using condoms and other safe sex practices.
Dating With STIs
If you find that it’s hard to meet new partners when you have an STD or STI, just remember you’re not alone. In fact, there are even dating sites and apps that can help connect you with people who also have STDs/STIs. These include:
The site and app boasts to be the largest herpes and STD dating community. With 15,000 daily active members and counting, informative blogs, and real-life stories, it’s not just about hooking up — it’s also a support and information network.
Check out Positivesingles
While this app/site is geared for helping those living with herpes find a dating match in their area, it’s also a great place to chat and discuss managing symptoms, dating life, and more. The big key here is that your privacy is 100 percent protected.
Check out MPwH
Brought to you by POZ, the print and online brand for people living with and affected by HIV/AIDS, Personals is the top dating service for people living with HIV or AIDS. Signing up is free, but there is also a premium membership option available.
Check out Poz Personals
Just as with other health conditions, it is possible to live a normal life — and date! — after you’ve been diagnosed with an STD or STI. As long as you follow your doctor’s treatment to the letter, maintain open and honest communication with your partners, and take precautions to practice safe sex, you can enjoy dating just as before. Get yourself back out there.
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