Talking about sexual health is ‘awkward’, but we need to have these conversations

Talking about sexual health can be intimidating, especially with a new partner, but these are conversations we need to be having more often.

Talking about sexual health often comes with a hefty dose of intimidation. These conversations can often be awkward and spark fears of judgement. Women have barely edged past society’s ‘s**t shaming’, so it’s no wonder we’re still scared to talk openly about our health ‘downstairs.’

If you find yourself still hesitant to breach the topics of STIs, birth control and wearing protection, you’re not alone. Still, conversations about sexual health need to be had more often.

Why do we avoid talking about sexual health?

Dating app Badoo has recently found as many as 52% of daters find it ‘awkward’ to talk about sexual health with new partners. One in five people has also admitted to having unsafe sex because they were scared that breaching the topic would kill the mood (which brings up its own concerning questions about consent).

Additionally, almost half of those who participated in Badoo’s survey felt that they would be judged for mentioning sexual health. At the same time, many just assumed that their partner was tested and safe without properly breaching the topic.

Talking about sexual health can be attractive

Badoo’s survey also found that 63% of participants thought it was attractive to be open about sexual health, while a further 39% claimed they would be less opposed to the subject if it weren’t so taboo. Unfortunately for them, the best way to destigmatise sexual health conversations is to have them more frequently and openly.

Sex educator Almaz Ohene told The Metro: ‘There is often shame around talking about whether people have been tested or not, when there shouldn’t be.’

It’s really important that we start getting better at having these conversations. If everyone could start to think about their sexual health as something as everyday as their general physical and mental health, then talking about your sexual health with your matches will start to be less cringeworthy.

Conversations surrounding COVID health are also scarily similar to those we should be having before sex. Asking people to use protection - whether that be masks or condoms - and if they’ve been tested or should get tested are prompts that regularly occur in sexual environments. As such, one in three participants has suggested that they’re more open to talking about health post lockdown.

Additionally, two in five participants also say they’re now more upfront about sexual health at the start of a relationship, though a third still wait for things to get serious before they broach the subject.

How to talk about sexual health with a partner

Public Health England has recently released data on England’s STI rates in 2020, and unsurprisingly, STI rates fell 32% from the year before. However, the overall rate of STI diagnosis was still high. Now that lockdowns are no longer enforced, there’s no doubt that Brits will be freeing their pent-up libidos, and if we aren’t careful, instances of STIs could rise again, making sexual health conversations all the more crucial.

It’s best to talk about sexual health with a new partner before engaging in sex, and while it can be a difficult conversation to have, there are tips to make it easier.

1. Stay calm and be prepared to be reciprocal

When starting a sexual health conversation, it’s best to stay calm and judgement-free. STIs are common, and they can often be treated with medication; it doesn’t necessarily reflect on your partner’s habits or personality. In turn, be prepared to reciprocate about your own situation.

2. Reassure your partner

Opening up about your sexual health can be scary. Ohene suggests letting your partner know your questions aren’t coming from a place of accusation, and assuring any information will stay confidential will help the chat go smoothly.

3. Know your facts

There’s a lot of misinformation surrounding STIs. If you have an STI, it helps to be prepared for any questions your partner might ask you.

4. An STI doesn’t always mean infidelity

If you’re in a relationship with someone and they test positive for an STI, this doesn’t automatically mean they cheated. Some STIs can be asymptomatic or go undetected for some time.

Remember, even if you and your partner are both STI-free, it’s still important to practise safe sex and get tested regularly.

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