About a year before my girlfriend met me, she had unprotected sex with her boyfriend, although she was still on the pill. This dude was apparently more experienced, and I do worry about the possibility of STIs [sexually transmitted infections] from her ex, although I don't know the full story. How do I ask her to get tested?
Better Safe Than Sorry (Male, 19)
Dear Better Safe,
You are right. When it comes to your health, it is better to be safe than sorry. Talking about STIs can be awkward, but it's important that you have that talk. Many of the risks and misconceptions about STIs could be avoided if people talked about them more openly. STIs are more common than people think, and they're not just acquired from "sleeping around." A lot of STIs do not show symptoms, so the only way to know for sure is to get tested.
Here are a few suggestions for how to have "the talk":
1. Don't be judgmental. This is not a conversation about your girlfriend's choices or morality. It is about both of your medical histories and future. If you present it that way, as a health issue, she may feel less threatened, less like she is being accused or shamed, and more inclined to open up.
2. Offer to get tested together. Try to talk about it in terms of "we" not "you." Instead of saying, "I think you should get tested," you might try, "Let's get tested together." This is something that concerns the physical and emotional aspects of your relationship. You're protecting each other, but you're also building trust.
3. Choose the right time and place. It's not clear from your letter, but if you have not had sex with her yet, make sure to bring this up before you do. Choose a place that's private and a time when you won't be distracted.
4. Discuss next steps. If she agrees to get tested, talk about how you plan to protect yourselves in the future. Will you be monogamous? What kind of protection will you use? Condoms and other barrier methods can reduce the risk of contracting an STI.
And finally, if she gets defensive, be patient. But if she downright refuses, she may have failed the bigger test of whether she's right for you.