Disclosing Your Sexual History Isn't Always Easy
Sex is complicated. It releases endorphins, stirs up emotions, encourages insecurities as well as confidence and requires a lot of trust. Some people have been traumatized by sexual experiences, many have sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and others explore with kinks. It's no wonder disclosing your sexual history with a new partner can be tricky. But having a discussion with your partner before engaging in sex can help you both understand each other's perspectives and boundaries.
Sex therapist Brittany Steffen explained that disclosing an STI is crucial before having sex. "The purpose of sharing your sexual history with a new partner isn't to judge or compare, it's to explore the risk of current STIs and discuss any STI history. STIs are insanely common and they are nothing to be ashamed of. If you have a viral infection like HIV or herpes or genital warts, you definitely need to share that information, even if you're medicated and/or are currently asymptomatic."
While sexual health advocates everywhere work to destigmatize sex, many people still aren't comfortable discussing sex and the boundaries around it. Here are a few common reactions that can crop up, so you can be prepared to handle them.
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Twenty-three-year-old Janet from Kansas City asked her new partner if they had been tested before they hooked up, to which they responded, "Yes, I'm clean." Two weeks later, she experienced a flare-up for the first time. She was in more pain than she had ever experienced, with tender sores all over her vagina that she had trouble identifying on her own. She had contracted both herpes and chlamydia. When she told them, they spewed anger and slurs at her, asking her who she was sleeping with. But she had proactively been tested after her last partner and wasn't seeing anyone else.
The next week, her partner tested positive for both. A person they had been with was secretly with other people during their relationship, and because they had no flare-ups, no one bothered to get tested.
Whether your new partner is uncomfortable with you being a virgin, what kind of kinks you're into, the number of people you've slept with, a specific person you have slept with, or your STI status, they could channel that into anger. Everyone has a past. Meeting that past with anger while trying to create healthy boundaries might be a tough blow early in the relationship.
Twenty-year-old USF student Melissa was thrilled for her date. They had dinner, danced and sat underneath the stars at the park, singing old indie pop songs and bonding over French films. They had been seeing each other for a while, and she was absolutely certain she wanted to lose her virginity to him. They started to kiss, and she pulled away so she could have a discussion with him before things got too far.
"What do you mean you're a virgin?" her partner asked, flummoxed, shocked and immediately unhappy. "I can't see you. You need to go be with other people. I've been with plenty of people, and I can't be responsible for that."
There is a chance your new partner will respond by delivering swift rejection. It's good to have this discussion early so that if they do choose to make your truth a dividing factor between you, the heartache will be minimal.
Twenty-six-year-old Tony was hanging out with someone he had been seeing for weeks in his home in Brooklyn Heights, New York. He had never felt so comfortable around anyone, and had already been envisioning a future with them. He also knew he needed to be honest with them about his experience with partners upfront, so that he didn't surprise them while being intimate.
When he told them how many people he had been with in the past, they burst into tears. "Why does this always happen to me? I choose the wrong people, I'm just another person to you!"
The delivery of certain news—and miscommunication—can trigger people to project their own insecurities and issues onto others. While having someone sob about your sexual history can be an uncomfortable situation, it does mean they cared enough to consider you in their future.
It is necessary to be honest about your sexual health with your partners. Even if your partner says something that you didn't expect, the conversation alone is proof that you can both effectively communicate. Even a seeming disaster could help you realize you want to pursue someone else.
If you are having trouble gathering the courage to open up to your partner, Steffen suggests working through the emotions around that trauma. "Talk to a sex therapist who can help you work through anything getting in your way," she explained. The relationship or casual encounter can bloom more comfortably. You're the one in charge of taking responsibility for your own health and well-being.