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How to tell someone you may have given them an STI

Thursday 9th March 2017

“He just broke down.”

 

Safety first.
Telling someone they may have an STI isn't easy.

Photo: 123RF

Life is full of awkward conversations. You worry, your stomach churns and what you think is the perfect script is eventually thrown out of the window.

But it doesn’t matter if it’s a case of breaking up with someone or quitting a job, it has to be done. Telling someone you may have given them a sexually transmitted infection, or STI, definitely falls into the awkward category.

Two people who have been in this situation shared their recent stories with us:

‘SORRY I HAVE TO DO THIS’ - JACK’S STORY

I have honestly never felt more worried than when the doctor told me I had herpes.

She was telling me about treatments and meds and all I could do was try to work out who I had gotten it from and who I had given it to.

I went back to work (I was on my lunch break) and straight away made a list of the people I had had any kind of sex with since I broke up with my girlfriend about a year before. I had four names and I no longer spoke to all but one.

I was fucking terrified.

I added the other three on Facebook and they all accepted, thank God. I know it would have been best to call each one, but I could only direct message them.

I even Googled examples of people who have had to do it.

The messages I sent went something like this:

Hey. I hope everything is great with you. I know this is completely out of the blue but I just found out I have herpes. I honestly don't know if I gave it to you or vice versa, but I think you should get checked out. Sorry to have to do this.

I swear to God, waiting for their replies was the longest wait of my life. It was late at night and I literally turned my phone off so I wouldn't hear the reply notification.

Safe to say, I didn't sleep much that night.

Honestly, they were all pretty OK with it. If they were upset they hid it quite well. To be fair, one literally just replied "OK".

I am now definitely more conscious of being safe sexually. No way do I want to go through that again.

I actually ran into one of the women in town quite recently. I was quite drunk so brought up the topic. She told me she suspected it was her who gave it to me. We laughed about it in a really morbid way.

‘HE JUST BROKE DOWN’ - MEL’S STORY

My ex Tom was raised in a relatively conservative family. He was quick to go to the extremes of emotion. If he was upset he was screamingly angry, if he was sad, it was the end of the world.

He had an office job he didn’t particularly enjoy. He and I had been dating for a few months.

We decided that weekend we would go to watch the Warriors game. He had been silent all afternoon and wouldn’t tell me why. He just broke down on the way there, sobbing and refusing to tell me what was wrong.

Eventually, he told me that he had been to the doctor and he had genital herpes. He said years ago he had caught it from his girlfriend at the time and thought that he was cured.

So for about an hour I sat there at the stadium with him while he was crying. Not full-blown weeping, but an uncomfortable stream of tears.

I was worried about it for obvious reasons, but afterwards I did some research about treatment and felt much better.

After he told me, it basically killed his sex drive. He never acted the same way around me and we broke up soon afterwards. I think it hit him really hard because of his conservative background and he was just ashamed of himself.

*The people involved in these stories asked for their names to be changed.

SO, HOW DO YOU HAVE THE CONVO?

Dr Christine Roke, the national medical advisor at Family Planning, spoke to us about the best way to have that conversation. She said keeping a calm head and doing it face-to-face is vital:

How do I decide who to tell?

The general idea for most types of infections is that you should have a chat with anyone you’ve had sex with in the past two months. For some infections it’s longer, but mostly it’s just two months. Those are the people you have to talk to.

Dr Christine Roke
Dr Christine Roke from Family Planning

Photo: Supplied

And that’s just any kind of unprotected sex?

Not necessarily - condoms are not 100 percent safe, so you should even talk to people you may have had protected intercourse with.

When should I speak to them?

As soon as possible. If they are infected, they are going to need treatment.

How do I approach them?

It’s best to do it face-to-face, absolutely. Pick a private place and say to them: “I’ve got something important to tell you”.

Then, you might say you’ve just been to a doctor or you’ve just got some test results back and been told you have chlamydia or herpes or whatever.

You might ask, for example, if the other person knows anything about chlamydia and you can explain that there is treatment available. You might even suggest a specific clinic or doctor.

You have to remain calm, and if they snap at you “you dirty thing, you must have infected me” or something, the best thing to do would be explain that it’s very difficult to say who gave who the infection.

If you’re in a relationship with that person it’s important to explain you and they can’t have sex again until treatment. That point might be a bit more difficult with someone who you never plan to have sex with again.

What about someone I don’t speak to anymore?

It’s vital you tell them. If there’s no way to speak to them face-to-face, you still have to text them.

I’m of an older generation so I’m not so sure about social media, but if the way you tell someone is private, that’s OK. But it is important to speak face-to-face so you can gauge what they are thinking and feeling and react appropriately.

There are some occasions when you might be afraid of retaliation - whether verbal or physical - and that needs a lot more thought and advice. Those are individual circumstances that have to be managed quite carefully.

Should I apologise?

No. It’s rarely clear who has given what to who. I suppose, if you’re really into apologies, you might say “I’m sorry I’ve got something to tell you” or “I’m sorry I may have some bad news”, but you wouldn’t say sorry for giving the other person an STI as you don’t know for sure that’s the case.

For more information about getting tested and treated for STIs, check this out from Family Planning.



Max is a journalist who has worked for The Star, Bleacher Report and RNZ News.
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