How to talk to a partner about sexual health

When you’re ready to have sex, it’s important to talk to your partner about sexual health. This can help you stay safe and protect yourselves, both physically and emotionally. Here are some expert tips for navigating the conversation.

If you’re thinking of having sex, it’s important to keep safety in mind. Having an open conversation with your partner about sexual health can help you get the facts and protect yourselves. Talking to your partner beforehand means you’ll be more prepared and on the same page. Here are some other things to consider:

  • plan to have the discussion in a private space where you feel comfortable
  • tell your partner this is a confidential conversation
  • let your partner know why you’re having the discussion (e.g. to learn more about each other’s sexual health in order to stay safe)
  • remind your partner they don’t have to share anything until they’re ready

Remember, information you share may influence how you’ll choose to proceed with sexual activity, so be honest with each other. Throughout the conversation, here are some other things you may want to discuss:

  • Sexually transmitted infections (STIs): STIs are spread through sexual contact. You can ask your partner if they’ve been tested for — or ever contracted — an STI(s). Some STIs don’t have any symptoms you can see or feel, so it’s important to get tested regularly. (You can even suggest going to get tested together.) If either of you has — or has had — an STI(s), you can discuss safer ways to engage in sexual activity. Remember, using a condom is one of the most effective ways to prevent STIs (and pregnancy, if that is a possibility for you/your partner).
  • Contraception (birth control): if you or your partner may become pregnant when you have sex, talk to your partner about it. If you’re trying to prevent pregnancy, ask your partner about the type(s) of birth control they prefer (and share your own preferences, too). You can choose a method that works for you together. Keep in mind that being on the same page about birth control can help you be more prepared to enjoy the moment.
  • Consent: it’s important to discuss consent whenever physical contact is involved. Talk to each other about enthusiastic consent and what this looks like for you (e.g. a verbal “yes” and an eager nod). This may also be a good time to talk to each other about your limits (what you’re OK with, and what you’re not).
  • Sexual pleasure: sexual pleasure is an important part of your sexual health. You can ask your partner if they know what they like/don’t like when it comes to sex. It’s OK to let your partner know about your likes/dislikes, too. You can also communicate what you are and are not ready/willing to explore.
  • Expectations: take some time to chat about each other’s expectations. For example, are you looking to hook up, have a friends with benefits relationship and/or for something long term? Knowing each other’s expectations can help make things clear before and after the experience.
  • Sexual history: you can ask your partner if there’s anything else you need to know about their sexual history. You can share whatever you’re comfortable telling your partner, too.

Sometimes, talking to a partner about sexual health can be difficult. You and your partner can always speak with a doctor, therapist or sexual health clinic for support and information. Kids Help Phone’s counsellors can also help you with these conversations at 1-800-668-6868.

Having good discussions with a partner about sexual health can help you protect yourselves (and make an experience more enjoyable). Remember to be honest and open with each other and to ask for support when you need it.

Need more information or support? You can contact Kids Help Phone 24/7.

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