How to talk to a partner about sexual health

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When you’re ready to have sex with someone, it’s important to talk to them about sexual health. This can help you protect yourself, both physically and emotionally. Here are some tips for navigating the conversation.

If you’re thinking about having sex, it’s important to learn about safer sex. Having an open conversation with your partner(s) about sexual health can help you get the facts and protect yourselves. Talking to your partner(s) beforehand means you’ll be more prepared and on the same page. Here are some other things to consider:

  • plan to have the discussion in a private space where everyone feels comfortable and when no one is in a rush
  • tell your partner(s) this is a confidential conversation
  • let them know why you’re having the discussion (e.g. to learn more about each other’s sexual health in order to practise safer sex)
  • remind your partner(s) they don’t have to share anything until they’re ready. It’s OK to take some time so everyone feels comfortable sharing before having sex.

Remember, information shared may influence how you’ll choose to proceed with sexual activity, so it’s important to be honest with each other. Throughout the conversation, here are some other things you may want to discuss:

  • Expectations: take some time to chat about each other’s expectations. For example, are you looking to hook up, have a friends with benefits relationship and/or for something long term? Knowing each other’s expectations can help make things clear before and after the experience.
  • Consent: it’s important to discuss consent whenever physical contact is involved. Talk to each other about enthusiastic consent and what this looks like for you (e.g. saying “yes” and nodding eagerly). This may also be a good time to talk to each other about your limits (e.g. what you’re OK with, and what you’re not). If a partner doesn’t respect your safer sex boundaries, you can take some time to think about whether this is someone you still want to have sex with.
  • Sexual history: you can ask your partner(s) if there’s anything else you need to know about their sexual history. You can share whatever you’re comfortable telling your partner(s), too.
  • Sexually transmitted infections (STIs): STIs are spread through sexual contact. You can ask your partner(s) if they’ve been tested for — or ever contracted — a STI(s). Some STIs don’t have any symptoms you can see or feel, so it’s important to get tested regularly. (You can even suggest going to get tested together.) If you or your partner(s) have — or have had — a STI(s), you can discuss safer ways to engage in sexual activity. Remember, using a condom is one of the most effective ways to prevent STIs (and pregnancy, if that’s a possibility for you/your partner(s)).
  • Birth control: if you or your partner(s) may become pregnant when you have sex, you can talk to them about it. If you’re trying to prevent pregnancy, ask your partner(s) about the type(s) of birth control they prefer (and share your own preferences, too). You can choose/continue to use a method that works for you.
  • Sexual pleasure: sexual pleasure is an important part of your sexual health. You can ask your partner(s) if they know what they like/don’t like when it comes to sex. It’s OK to let your partner(s) know about your likes/dislikes, too. You can also communicate what you are and aren’t ready/willing to explore.

Having good discussions with a partner about sexual health can help you protect yourselves (and make an experience more enjoyable). Remember to be honest and open with each other and to ask for support when you need it. You and your partner(s) can always reach out to a doctor/nurse, counsellor or sexual health clinic for support and information.