Part of any mature relationship is talking about the not-so-fun stuff, like finances and future in-laws. But before you and your S.O. can progress to these topics — in fact, before you even get hot ’n’ heavy for the first time — you’ll need to get real about your sexual health. And for those of you with an STD or STI, the conversation becomes all that much more complicated. Modern medicine has made most STI or STD diagnoses significantly less scary (though some strains are harder to treat than others), and Brianna Rader, sex educator and founder of Juicebox, a sex and relationship advice app, is working to make the conversations regarding these diagnoses less scary too. She shared with us some tips on how to tackle this difficult conversation tactfully.

Couple talking on the couch

1. Take your time. So long as you’re not engaging in unprotected sex with your new boo, Rader says there’s no reason to rush the disclosure. “It’s perfectly acceptable to wait to share your STD status,” she says. “There’s no need to tell someone on a first date or before you meet them. If you prefer that, though, that’s fair too.” As for hooking up, there are a handful of ways to do so safely that won’t lead to the spreading of the infection, though it’s important to verify how your specific infection spreads beforehand. Rader suggests sticking to foreplay or sex with a barrier method, such as male or female condoms, which can both easily be interpreted as a personal preference rather than an indication of your sexual health. “You could say something like, ‘I’m really enjoying getting to know you and am having a lot of fun. Could we take it slow and do other activities that don’t involve penetration for now?’” she says.

2. Carefully select the setting. Once you feel as though you’ve reached the point in your relationship to inform your S.O. of your STD status, make sure the atmosphere is right. Rader says a quiet, calm space in which both partners feel at ease, such as either person’s home, is ideal. By bringing it up in a comfortable place, you’re helping guarantee that the topic will be discussed both openly and in full. To start, Rader suggests saying, “I have something important to share with you. I feel anxious about sharing it because, in our society, there’s a lot of stigma. I have an STD, and I know how to manage it and have safe sex. As our relationship progresses, I thought now would be a good time to have this conversation openly and honestly.”

3. Know your stuff. Understandably, your partner will likely have plenty of questions: How is it passed from person to person? How can I help us have the safest sex possible? What are the symptoms, if any? To avoid having to reach for your phone for answers, be prepared beforehand, preferably with information straight from a gynecologist — not Google. “Be sure to be informed on how transmission occurs and the health risks,” Rader advises. “Your doctor and resources like Planned Parenthood are great to get all the information you need.” If the person begins pressing you with questions that make you feel uncomfortable about the details of the infection or disease, your sexual history, or similar judgy inquiries, this is probably an indicator that they aren’t your perfect match.

4. See it as a chance to correct misconceptions. It’s no secret that the reason it’s hard to talk about STIs and STDs is because of the stigma that surrounds them. “The stigma associated with STIs can be debilitating,” Rader says. “The first conversation will give you a chance to help correct any problematic views your partner has when it comes to STDs.” This will most likely result in a pretty emotional chat, but by sharing how their misconceptions make you feel, you’re potentially bringing the two of you closer as well as fostering empathy from the other person. And, hey, this way, if it doesn’t work out for you two, at least you will have taught them a few things.

How are you proactive about your sexual health alongside your S.O.? Let us know @BritandCo.

(Photo via Getty)