Having conversations about almost anything relating to sex can be awkward for the average person. However, sex is one of the most intimate things you can do, so talking about it is something we should all learn to get more comfortable with. Sex is a broad topic, which means you have more than enough ground to cover, be it one’s STD status, sexuality, sexual trauma, or sexual kinks. It is essential to mention the gamut of sex as sometimes, we assume the term “sexual health” is only comprised of your STD status.
The World Health Organization defines sexual health as a state of physical, emotional, mental, and social wellbeing as it relates to your sexuality. Since sex is such a broad topic, how can you approach talking about sexual health with a new person you’re dating? Where should you start? Perhaps choose any starting point, and see where the conversation goes from there. What’s most important is actually opening the floor to have the conversation.
“There’s a number of ways to broach the topic,” says Jen Caudle, DO, a family physician and associate professor at Rowan University. She explains that you can initiate the conversation over dinner or coffee. “Pose things as ‘I’d like to talk about something that can be difficult for some people to talk about, but it’s important to me,’ or, ‘Can I talk to you about something that’s been on my mind?’ she says. “Everybody’s going to have a different way to do this based on your personality or style and your relationship with the other person, but letting the other person know that you come from a good place and that you mean well can be helpful.”
Caudle adds that letting the person know you understand conversations around sex can be awkward is a good way to set the tone also.
Once you do get the ball rolling and begin having conversations around the topic, what types of questions should you ask the person you’re newly dating? Asking your prospect how they define sexuality and sexual health is a good starting point says Lorneka Joseph, a pharmacist, coach and speaker. She is also a certified HIV/AIDS counselor and tester.
“Listen to what this person is saying. Is sex, a taboo for them? Do they like talking about sex? Were they sexually abused? [Maybe] they don’t want to talk about sex,” she tells ESSENCE. “I think initially asking their definition [of sexual health] will also break the ice and then you can go into [other] questions, like ‘Do you believe in multiple sex partners?’ ‘Do you believe in threesomes?’ ‘Have you ever had an HIV or STD test?’”
Caudle recommends taking it a step further and going beyond just having conversations about STDs and putting some action behind it. “I recommend people get tested before they’re into it with one another as well. I think that’s very important,” she says.
There is technology you can use to exchange test results, so you’re not simply relying on each other’s word. iPlaySafe is a helpful app you can use to take an at-home STI test and securely share your results with the person you’re seeing. There is also Hula, which enables you to find a pre-verified clinic and have the results delivered from the doctor to your phone. It also tells you how much time has passed since the user was last tested for that extra blanket of safety.
If you already know your STD status and you’re living with an incurable one, disclosing that information can be tough. However, it’s an important thing to consider doing. “I have women clients I coach who have tested positive for STDs, and we are walking through building their confidence and I am teaching them how to break the ice and bring up this information, even though it’s vulnerable,” says Joseph.
The conversations around existing STDs you may have should especially come up before engaging in sexual intercourse. It’s a way to show the person you’re dating you care about their wellbeing and it gives them the chance to choose whether or not they’d like to engage in sexual activities with you.
“If I’m going to say that I care about the person that I’m dating and I am HIV positive, or I just tested for herpes and we’re about to get down, then I believe that that is showing a lack of concern and care because I did not take the time to let this person know, ‘I actually tested positive for herpes,’ or ‘I actually have chlamydia and X, Y and Z.’ That’s showing you don’t care about that person and your relationship.”
Another tip for having conversations around sex is to invite or ask permission of the person you want to speak with. Ask them if they’re comfortable having that talk before diving in, says Joseph. “Sometimes we’ll assume [they] want to talk about sex. Not necessarily, because maybe this new prospect just came out of a relationship where there was no sexual awareness or there was trauma,” she explains.
These are all tips to help you converse in a healthy way about sexual awareness, but there’s no guarantee these conversations will always run smoothly or the other person will be forthcoming. So what happens when said person doesn’t want to talk about their sexual health or disclose any information? Joseph says it could mean that they need to see a therapist about some challenges they’re having or maybe it’s just not the right time to talk about it. However, she says it could also be a red flag to look out for.
“If I’m gonna be vulnerable with you, if we’re gonna be sexually intimate together and you’re not being honest or you are afraid to talk about it, then there isn’t much conversation for us to have.”