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Breaking the ice: Talking with your doctor about sexually transmitted infections

 A woman talks with her doctor

Sexually transmitted infections are very common. But talking about them with your doctor may be difficult. Knowing what to say and ask can make this conversation easier.

Talk may be cheap. But sometimes it isn't easy. That's especially true when you're talking with your doctor about sensitive subjects such as sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Awkward or not, open dialogue about STIs is important. Talking with your doctor can provide you with important information that will help you protect yourself and others. And the sooner you do it, the better. Some STIs can cause lasting damage or become harder to treat if you wait too long.

Could you be at risk?

Many people don't believe they're at risk for STIs. But you are at risk if:

  • You have multiple sex partners.
  • You don't know your partner's sexual history.
  • You have had unprotected sex.
  • You have signs or symptoms of an STI such as warts or sores in your genital area.

Start talking

If your doctor doesn't ask you about STIs, you should feel free to bring up the topic. The American Sexual Health Association (ASHA) offers these examples to help you get the conversation rolling:

  • "I want to make sure that I'm taking all of the right steps to protect myself from sexually transmitted infections. Where should I start?"
  • "Given what we've talked about in terms of my relationship history, should I be tested for STIs? Which ones?"

What to tell your doctor

Your doctor may need to know some personal information to get a better understanding of your risk and what tests to order. Be prepared to discuss information about:

  • Your sexual history.
  • Your sexual practices.
  • Your condom use.
  • Any symptoms you have.
  • Whether you may be pregnant.

Ask questions

You may want to bring a list of questions to your office visit. Questions you might consider asking include:

  • What is an STI?
  • Could I have an STI and not know it?
  • How often should I be tested for STIs?
  • How can I protect myself and my partner from STIs?

Remember, you shouldn't be embarrassed to talk about sexual topics. Enlisting the help of your doctor is important for diagnosing and treating any sexually transmitted infection, and for protecting your health.

Reviewed 10/20/2023

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