STIs revealed as the most dreaded topic of conversation on a date

So many of us find it difficult to bring up the subject of STIs with dates, family, and even close friends. (Getty Pictures)

The most dreaded topic of conversation on a date has been revealed — and it’s one of the most important ever. Some 44% of UK adults say sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are the topic they feel less comfortable talking about it, new research from Superdrug finds.

This beats the topics of sex and sexual compatibility (28%), talking about exes (26%), money (21%) and annoying family members (16%).

One in two people would even avoid talking about their experience with STIs to their long-term partner, while 15% would prefer never make a diagnosis with a partner.

However, up to 91% of Britons believe having one would have a negative impact on their mental health, relationships, social life, love life, self-confidence or even career.

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Gay couple at home representing a long term relationship.  (Getty Pictures)

Half of us wouldn’t feel comfortable talking with a long-term partner about their experience with STIs. (Getty Pictures)

The most trusted group of people to talk to about an STI is a doctor, with 75% saying they would feel comfortable talking to a healthcare professional.

But most don’t feel able to open up to anyone else, with 63% saying they wouldn’t discuss it with their friends and 90% would avoid the subject with their parents or siblings.

This could partly be because 72% think their sex education at school was very basic or poor, and only 4% say it was excellent.

How to talk about STIs with a partner

A man and a woman discuss STIs on a date.  (Getty Pictures)

The key is to overcome any discomfort with the subject early on. (Getty Pictures)

With the study of 2,000 sexually active adults aimed at breaking the stigma around STIs and sexual health, Superdrug Online Doctor has provided expertise to help people talk about it more openly, especially when dating. Love, sex, and relationship expert and educator Julia Kotziamani and sex therapist Jess O’Reilly (PhD) share their top tips.

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1. Start the conversation early

Talk about STIs early in the relationship (ideally before you get intimate) and normalize that it’s something you discuss openly. If it’s too late for that, then start as soon as possible. We are all adults and know that sex can cause infections, so jumping in and being front and center is the best option. To help you, you can chat openly with friends and get used to it yourself before chatting with a partner.

2. Learn about STIs

On that, find out! It’s so much easier to talk about things you know, and being aware of your own status is really important to familiarizing yourself with the subject. Following sex-positive Instagram and TikTok accounts, reading the NHS website and other educational platforms such as Superdrug Online Doctor can help you learn and make the conversation less alien to you.

3. Be open and accept

Being able to create a non-judgmental environment is a really positive starting point. Unless neither of you have had sexual contact before, you both need to take responsibility for being tested, being honest about your past, and being able to hear things which can be a bit difficult . A safe, non-judgmental space can make the whole conversation much more comfortable.

4. Take the shame away

Stigma can only exist where there is shame. And STI stigma is potentially very dangerous! You don’t have to treat STIs like a death sentence. They are simply a risk associated with sexual activity. Especially since STIs can be cured or treated – there’s no shame in testing positive for one. But if you let shame stop you from testing, you put yourself at greater risk of passing on an STI or dealing with the long-term effects of not treating it (eg, infertility, pelvic pain, ectopic pregnancy). . Realizing that we can all get STIs even if we take precautions is a good place to start your own acceptance process.

5. Stay up to date with testing

Make sure you are up to date with your own tests and vaccinations. This means you can be totally honest about where you are. You can even use your own test history to start the conversation.

Man in sexual health clinic, with doctor taking notes on clipboard.  (Getty Pictures)

Regular visits to sexual health clinics can help you stay on top of all the conversations about STIs. (Getty Pictures)

6. Remember that the first time is the hardest

Once these conversations become part of your love life, they become second nature. It will become easier and is an integral part of healthy dynamics and well-being. Discussions don’t have to be super heavy and serious…or even face-to-face. As long as you communicate, it’s fine. Some people prefer to text if it is a new partner or a casual partner. It can be very chilly.

7. Consider your partner’s discomfort in the subject

If a partner doesn’t want to talk about STIs and testing, don’t assume this is a red flag. The shame and stigma attached to sex makes it difficult to talk about it, so their discomfort talking about STIs is not necessarily an indication that they don’t want to practice safer sex. They may just be uncomfortable with the conversation itself, so ask them what you can do to make them feel comfortable – it could be a matter of timing, language or location.

8. Prepare for their reaction

If you do disclose a positive state, remember that their reaction is more about their own level of comfort and knowledge – it’s not about you. If they’re judging, it’s probably a matter of unease. It is obviously not your job to educate others, but you may find it useful to provide information on transmission, management and treatment.

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Two lesbian women on a date, talking happily.  (Getty Pictures)

Talking more about STIs will help reduce stigma. (Getty Pictures)

For more information on the symptoms and myths about STIs busted, gathered earlier this year after STI rates were predicted to skyrocket with a post-pandemic ‘summer of sex’, see our helpful guide .

Visit a sexual health clinic if you or a partner are showing signs of an STI, if you are worried about having sex without a condom, or if you are pregnant and have symptoms. Many have no symptoms, so it’s important to get tested regularly. You can find a sexual health clinic on the NHS website or see if free home test kits delivered to you are available in your area.

Watch: ‘Age is no condom’: Why STIs are on the rise in people over 55

Jessica C. Bell