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Here’s a question from Mike:
When (and how) do you ask someone you’re hooking up with if they have any STDs? It feels like an invasion of privacy to ask too early. When is a good time to ask?
This has happened to basically everyone before. It’s your first time getting down to business with someone new—you’re dizzy in the head, from lust and maybe a little booze and the raw power of your own readily apparent sex appeal—but just as your body parts are precariously aligning and you’re ready to venture into a land of bliss, your inner Voice of Reason slaps at least one of you across the brain, forcing an awkward, breathy whisper of “Do I have anything to worry about?” and/or “Are you clean?” Both parties involved know there’s a lot riding on the answers: It’s the only thing getting in the way of you getting off.
As someone who is admittedly OCD about germs and wildly distrustful of other people’s intentions, I find it kind of ridiculous that everyone on earth isn’t inclined to openly/explicitly ask their partners about their sexual health, including sexually transmitted infections (ie. STIs or STDs), before the first time they actually have sex. That’s the first time you’re allowed to ask, and that’s when you should ask. If you’re swapping saliva and other fluids, you have a right to know what you’re getting yourself into and what’s rubbing up against you. There’s no shame or embarrassment in that! Just ask!
There’s a reason why this is so difficult. The idea of disease is scary, even when curable or Not That Big A Deal. It’s the reason why people don’t get tested at all. (NOTE: IF YOU ARE SEXUALLY ACTIVE, YOU SHOULD BE GETTING TESTED EVERY FEW MONTHS, YOU DUMMY.) It means facing a brutal and societally taboo unknown with logic and a level of caution that might take the fun out of your sexual prowess and accompanying adventures. And if it’s scary to broach on your own, asking someone else to do it can feel like full-on insanity. It might seem like you’re questioning their basic understanding of their favorite body parts and/or sexual health. But you’re in this together, and what benefits one of you benefits you both.
Sure, barring weird smells and, like, talking about your ex, there’s nothing that slams on the breaks of Sexy Time like talking about your sexual health with someone you probably don’t know that intimately (if this is the first time you’ve talked about it). When I polled friends and coworkers on whether they have ever had a serious or semi-serious talk about sexually transmitted diseases with the people they’re just starting to casually (or regularly) sleep with, the answers ran the spectrum of “No, that’s way too awkward, and I trust them” to “I get tested every few months ... wait, doesn’t everyone?” Others said they wait until they’ve been monogamous, as the question can feel like an icky invasion of privacy. But if you’re old enough to be having sex, you’re old enough to be an adult about it.
The best way to do this is to just be forthright. If you’re comfortable enough to be this intimate with a person, you also posses the courage to ask them when they got last tested and if they’ve been with other people since. Similarly, you should be willing to disclose if you’re carrying anything that you might be able to give to them. The awkwardness is inevitable, but you’ll have to embrace it. It shows a certain level of maturity, and cuts out any trigger-friendly emotions that go hand-in-hand with the blackout surge of emotions (or Darwinian drive) involved in actually, physically being in bed with someone you’re trying to Have A Serious Talk With.
If the person you’re doing it with is someone that you see outside of just the bedroom, then it’s best to have this conversation elsewhere. In fact, do it when you’re in your most casual state: while you’re chatting over coffee or just shooting the shit. It’s going to be a little painful no matter what, even if neither of you has anything to disclose, so you might as well rip the band-aid off on neutral ground: “So, uh, this is awkward, but when was the last time you got tested?” works just fine, to be honest. Your sex buddy will feign being offended, but also hopefully be mature enough to answer you honestly.
This seems obvious, but please continue to use protection whether or not either of you has an STD, because after all, you’re having sex with this person for a reason: Your sex pal is a charming, attractive, and highly bangable human, which means they’ve likely done this sort of thing before they did it with you. While you trust them, you don’t have to trust all who came (heh) before you! And in an age where there are apps designed specifically to let strangers meet just to fuck, there’s no harm in being careful.
If you’ve been hooking up with someone to the point of monogamy, a fun thing to do is to offer to go get tested together. (Because it’ll make other things more fun later.) This is where it can get a little difficult: Merely suggesting that someone needs to get a stamp from a doctor to confirm what they’ve told you can open up a whole slew of other, weirdly contrived implications. (“Do you think I’m lying?” “Don’t you trust me?” “Are you implying that I’ve cheated on you?”) The correct answers to those questions are “No,” “Yes,” and “No.” And if all goes well, this may be the last time either of you have to get tested at all!
Puja Patel is a culture editor at Deadspin.
Illustration by Tara Jacoby.
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