You're diagnosed with an STD and faced with alerting your sexual partner. It's a very important obligation to fulfill as soon as you know there's an issue, says Mary McFarlane, a research behavioral scientist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Division of STD Prevention. When just an E-card won't do, here's how you can ease the stress of a face-to-face discussion:
Reflect. Start by reflecting on how you feel about learning that you have an STD, suggests Gail Wyatt, a professor in the psychiatry department at the University of California-Los Angeles and a clinical psychologist who counsels patients diagnosed with STDs. Then try to have compassion for yourself. "You're a victim too," says Bonnie Jacobson, an adjunct professor in the applied psychology department at New York University, "because you didn't do anything intentionally to get this disease." This may help to alleviate some of the shame and humiliation and fear of rejection that may follow diagnosis, she adds. Fear of rejection is often the reason why some may evade this discussion entirely, she says.
Practice. Write out a script with talking points. Practice in the mirror. The most important thing when having this sensitive discussion is to be genuine and sorry, says Wyatt.
Choose your setting. Ideally, this conversation would take place in a comfortable space, face to face, where neither partner is intoxicated or about to engage in a sexual act—just a matter-of-fact, middle-of-the-day conversation, suggests Jeffrey Klausner, director of the San Francisco Department of Public Health's STD Prevention and Control Services.
Preface. Sometimes you can prepare a partner by saying, "I need to talk to you about something that is very upsetting to me and it may be very upsetting for you to hear," says Wyatt. That lets listeners know to brace themselves for a serious discussion that shouldn't be blown off.
Apologize. It's important to allow partners to react as they want. Convey that you are truly sorry for potentially exposing them to an infection, let them know that you are going to get treated, and explain what you will do to make sure this never happens again, says Wyatt. Even if you don't take your diagnosis seriously, it's important to consider that your partner might not feel the same way.
Follow up. Offer partners the option to speak with you in the future if they so choose, says Wyatt. They may want to sever all ties, but leaving the door open for further discussion is considerate.
Salvage. When ongoing relationships are involved, Wyatt aims to help partners salvage what's left. She tries to help couples retain the expectation that they were working towards something together before an STD entered the picture. "Sometimes what's left is a lot," she says, because both people get tested and treated and find a way to move on.
To learn about a Web-based partner notification tool that provides an E-card to disclose an STD diagnosis, click here.