I have always been the person that friends have turned to for advice on romantic encounters. Following the launch of Jewrotica, the amount of questions that I have received from friends, acquaintances and strangers has more than doubled. The most frequent questions that I am asked are about communication: both how to have a conversation about sexual health and also how to communicate boundaries. In light of our recent Sex with Jewrotica article on Protecting Your Sexual Health, I will address broaching the “awkward conversation” about STIs and sexual history in this week’s column.
We all understand the importance of caring for our sexual health. But how do you start that conversation? Everyone has their own style, but before you start any sexual encounter – or certainly before clothing has disappeared – it’s a good idea to at least casually introduce the conversation. You can do so with a light-hearted disclaimer like “I don’t want to be a buzzkill, but can we have a quick chat about sexual health?” or “I don’t want to be presumptuous (that this is leading to XYZ), but…”
By introducing the conversation, you are empowering yourself and your sexuality. Many people feel at a loss for words in this context. If you would like to start the conversation more generally, you can ask something open-ended like: “Can you tell me a bit about your sexual health history?”
Rather than opting for ambiguous questions, I recommend being as direct as possible and asking questions like:
“To your knowledge, have you ever had an STI or symptoms of an STI?”
“When was the last time you were tested, and did the results come back clear?”
“What STIs were you tested for?” (Some less expensive tests offered by Planned Parenthood and local clinics check for HIV, Chlamydia and Gonorrhea, but not Oral or Genital Herpes, for example.)
“Have you had any sexual partners (oral sex or intercourse) since being tested?”
Even then, keep in mind that – assuming the person you are choosing to be with is being truthful (which IS an assumption) – they might be forgetting that “one random hook-up” that they had the other week. Even if they have not ever had symptoms of an STI, it is still possible if not likely that they may still carry one and some STIs stick with you for life. Your health is more important than a few awkward or embarrassing moments of dialogue.
I don’t say any of this to scare you. But knowledge is power and it’s important to take ownership of your health. So, think about what language you would use to have this conversation and speak it out loud. Practice the questions at least three or four times until they become natural. Be responsible and initiate the conversation.
It will always be worth it. Your health is worth it. You are worth it.
Does anyone have success stories, awkward encounters or tips to share about broaching this difficult but critical conversation?
Light and Love,