Help! How Do I Tell My Partner I Have an STD?

Dear GoodTherapy.org,

I’m pretty sure I met the love of my life three weeks ago. I’m falling for him fast. He’s kind, compassionate, generous, funny, and maybe best of all, great with my kids. I’m 37, and I honestly didn’t think I would ever meet someone who made me this happy!

Here is my problem: I have resisted having sex with him in part because I am not sure how to tell him about the fact I have a sexually transmitted disease. Although I don’t feel comfortable specifying here which STD it is exactly, I will say it is not life-threatening. It can be life-altering, however, and does have some long-term risks associated with it (namely, a higher risk of developing certain types of cancer). If we are sexually active for a period of time, it’s fairly likely he’ll get it eventually, even if we always use protection.

For our relationship to have a chance, I know I have to tell him. I just don’t know how. I am so afraid he won’t want to have anything to do with me anymore. If I lost him over this, I would be heartbroken. I don’t know if I can deal with that.

So I’m not sure what to do. I am actually contemplating telling him I want to wait a while (maybe months) before we take the next step, which would give me more time to (1) make sure our relationship has a longer-term future and (2) formulate a plan. I also feel like the longer we’re together and the more he has invested, the less likely he might be to walk away when I tell him. How awful of a human being am I? —Burning Secret

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Dear Burning,

You’re not an awful human being. We all bring the totality of our past experiences with us into new relationships—emotional scars from childhood or previous relationships, messy financial situations, and yes, in some cases even STDs. Regardless of what the challenge is, you have a right to wait until you feel ready to share it; you also have the responsibility of sharing it before your partner is likely to be harmed or personally affected. You’ve indicated you don’t plan to have sex with him until disclosing your STD, so you aren’t placing him at physical risk.

You may be right; he might very well be less likely to walk away if he has become invested in the relationship. Because you immediately raised the question of “how awful a human being” you are after positing this idea, it leads me to believe you feel guilty about this. As with many aspects of relationships, it’s not quite so simple. It sounds like having this STD is embarrassing and maybe even painful for you. Does it seem like a reasonable expectation for you to share the parts of yourself that you have a difficult time accepting within the first few weeks of meeting someone? Does it seem more reasonable to get to know and trust a person before sharing such private details of your life?

Because you immediately raised the question of “how awful a human being” you are after positing this idea, it leads me to believe you feel guilty about this.

You also say you would be “heartbroken if you lost him over this.” That’s the flip side of waiting for a shared investment to develop—the longer you wait, the greater the loss will be if he decides he doesn’t want to take the risk of contracting the STD. It might also be possible that if he feels like you waited too long, he could feel a sense of distrust because you kept something from him. He may feel your decision to wait until he was more invested was manipulative and unfair.

There’s a lot to balance here. I imagine it can feel lonely and overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to. You might benefit from partnering with a therapist to try to come up with a course of action that feels right for you. Therapy might also help you to come to terms with some of the seemingly unresolved feelings you have about having an STD.

Sincerely,

Sarah Noel, MS, LMHC

Sarah Noel
Sarah Noel, MS, LMHC, is a licensed psychotherapist living and working in Brooklyn, New York. She specializes in working with people who are struggling through depression, anxiety, trauma, and major life transitions. She approaches her work from a person-centered perspective, always acknowledging the people she works with as experts on themselves. She is honored and humbled on a daily basis to be able to partner with people at such critical points in their unique journeys.
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  • Mills

    May 12th, 2017 at 3:23 PM

    I do not think that you are a terrible human being but I would think that just a little if you had sex with him and didn’t tell him that you have an STD. You would not want someone to do this to you, and at 37 I know that you know that would be very irresponsible.

  • Pressley

    May 13th, 2017 at 8:57 AM

    It is important to remember that he probably has his own baggage that he is bringing to the relationship too. You are not the only one.

  • Dee

    May 15th, 2017 at 7:13 AM

    But what happens if you get in the heat of the moment and have to tell him right then and there? That would be kind of awkward.
    Really the best thing that you could do is go ahead and have this conversation.

  • Lorna

    May 28th, 2017 at 12:50 PM

    For just one minute put yourself in his shoes and think about how nasty it would feel to learn about this from your partner after you have already done the deed. I guess if you don’t know about it up front then ok, that’s the chance you are taking with having sex with someone.

    But if they did know and then still didn’t tell you? How on earth would you feel about that? I know because I know how I would feel.

    I would be upset and angry and that would really be a deal breaker for me.

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