Sexual health probably isn’t a subject that you want to bring up with the new person you’re dating.
No matter how confident or sex-positive you are, it can often feel uncomfortable and awkward talking about sexual health — and that’s with anyone, let alone someone new that you’re trying to impress.
But although it may be difficult, it’s important to talk about sexual health at the start of any relationship for a number of reasons. Here are just a few good reasons why you should be open about sexual health with your new partner.
To practice safe sex
One of the most important reasons to talk about sexual health in any new relationship is to practice safe sex.
Of course, discussing sexual health with a new partner can be awkward, but it’s far better to have that uncomfortable conversation now rather than having to potentially deal with an upsetting test result further down the line. When your health is on the line, you need to know where you stand. Practicing safe sex will hugely decrease your risk of getting a sexually transmitted infection (STI).
Whenever you have a new sexual partner, it’s important to cover your bases in sexual health discussions. There are a few things that you should discuss
- When the last time both of you had a sexual health check
- What both of your preferences are when it comes to practicing safe sex (a barrier method such as condoms or a femidom are the only contraception type that protects against both STIs and pregnancy)
- Whether either of you have had an STI before
- What you are both comfortable and happy doing e.g. your likes and dislikes
Finding out the answers to these questions will help you to practice safe sex together and avoid potentially passing an STI to each other (or getting pregnant).
If you are initially using barrier contraceptive methods like condoms, this is something you can revisit further down the line — should you decide together to stop using them, you might need to settle on a suitable method of birth control.
To build trust and communication
If you’re entering into a new relationship, it is important that trust and communication are present if that relationship is going to flourish. Talking about sexual health early on will help to establish honesty and open communication for the future.
We’ll be honest — it’s probably going to feel a bit uncomfortable and awkward when you first broach the subject of sexual health with a new partner. But once you get it out of the way, hopefully you will both feel more comfortable and open around each other — and this means you’ll be able to work through things together and support each other.
Being there for each other isn’t just about consoling your partner after a tough day at work or an argument with a friend — it also extends to sexual health. This means being open and supporting each other, whether it’s going to a sexual health clinic together, self-testing for HIV at home, or any sexual health problems you may encounter.
For example, erectile dysfunction (ED) is a common problem for lots of men, both young and old. It can sometimes make both parties feel self-conscious or embarrassed, but if you tackle it together, you can maintain a healthy and enjoyable sex life. This could be how you approach intimacy together — or trying out different ED treatments.
The point is, talking about sexual health early into your relationship sets you up for the future — it makes supporting each other and being open easier, strengthening your relationship in the long run.
To establish boundaries
At the start of any new relationship, it’s important to establish some boundaries when it comes to sex.
This doesn’t mean coming up with a list of rules for you both to adhere to but having a respectful chat about where you’re both at and making sure you’re on the same page when it comes to sex. What you don’t want is to feel uncomfortable or pressured into doing something you don’t want to do — or for your new partner to feel this.
Laying out some sexual boundaries protects you both and will make you feel more comfortable and confident when being intimate. Ultimately, setting out boundaries about what you both like and don’t like will lead to a happier, healthier and safer sex life.
How to bring up sexual health and things to remember
Talking about sexual health with a new partner can be uncomfortable, but there are some ways to make it easier, and make the whole conversation run a bit more smoothly.
Firstly, do it in private. This is not a conversation that you should be having at the pub or when you’re around friends. This is just something for the two of you to discuss, and many people feel embarrassed or anxious when talking about sexual health — initiating an awkward conversation around other people will only make these feelings worse.
Secondly, pick your time carefully. Try to have the conversation at a moment when you’re both feeling relaxed and positive — in the bedroom when you’re aroused is not the time to start a discussion on STIs. Instead, you can try bringing it up on a walk or in a setting when you both feel at ease and less formal.
Finally, remember why you’re doing this — because you’re in an exciting, happy relationship that you want to continue, and you want to be as safe as possible. Frame your conversation within this context — you want it to be an exchanging of helpful health information that will benefit your relationship, not an interrogation or a personal attack. Talking about sexual health is difficult enough — you don’t want your new partner to feel anxious, ashamed or confronted.
It might be daunting, but keep these things in mind, and you’ll be fine. Be honest and considerate during your conversation — it’s probably worth emphasizing to your partner that whatever you talk about is confidential — and come up with a sexual health plan together. Whether it’s getting your sexual health status checked together, deciding on contraception methods, or discussing your preferences, it’s something you can tackle together.
And if, following your chat, either of you has any concerns about your sexual health, it’s a good idea to head to a sexual health clinic to get a check-up or order a test online from a reputable company.
Knowing your own sexual health status can ease anxieties that come along with certain decisions.
Talking about sexual health in a new relationship can feel embarrassing and uncomfortable, but it’s so important to do. Practicing safe sex, building trust and establishing boundaries are all big reasons to talk about sexual health — and to look after your physical and mental health too. And if you’re struggling with how to bring up sexual health with a new partner, you can follow our tips above.
About The Author
'Andy Boysan (BPharm) is the co-founder and superintendent pharmacist of The Independent Pharmacy, an online pharmacy and healthcare resource based in the UK. Andy qualified from the University of Bath in 1997, with experience spanning 20+ years, Andy has worked in pharmacies in both the UK and New Zealand.'