You may not be as lucky as a client of mine. There she sat over dinner, on a
date with an interesting man she had just met through a matchmaking service. He
had a cold and sinus headache. She pulled out her trusty but tiny pill holder
that held one Advil, one aspirin, and one blue pill. She handed him the Advil
-- not knowing that she had just had "the conversation."
It seems her date had recognized the distinctive blue pill -- because he
took Zovirax for his own herpes. A few dates later, when the topic of sexually
transmitted disease (STD) was formally broached, ironing out the details of
safe sex was relatively easy.
Syphilis (pronounced siff-eh-lis) is a bacterial infection that is sexually transmitted. It progresses in distinct stages. The disease is curable and progression is preventable if syphilis is caught early and treated. But if it isn't treated, it can cause serious damage to the cardiovascular system and brain and lead to blindness and nerve problems.
Syphilis is often called "the great imitator," because its signs and symptoms are indistinguishable from those of other diseases.
Not everyone is this fortunate. Opening up about an STD (particularly the
ones that you cannot "cure," like HPV, HIV, and herpes) can be
intimidating, whether you're 20-something or 50-something. You might wonder:
Why risk rejection? I'm safe if I always use a condom or avoid sex whenever I
have an outbreak, right?
In a word: no. It's not always possible to know with complete certainty when
an STD like herpes is transmissible. That's because herpes can "shed"
the virus and spread even when there is no sign of an active herpes outbreak.
And such "asymptomatic shedding" does occur, explaining how herpes is
transmitted to so many unsuspecting people.
Timing is everything. Gather information on your STD, since your intended
sexual partner may have questions. Your attitude and mood will influence how
your disclosure is received, so broach the topic when you are relaxed and can
devote your full attention to the conversation. Do it in a private place, but
not en route to a romantic weekend. Nor should such a discussion happen in the
midst of a passionate embrace. That's a mood killer and can lead to an angry
response by your partner.
Plan ahead. If you feel really nervous about this, write down a
"script" and practice it. Begin by pointing to the strengths of the
relationship. For example: "I really like you and think that I can trust
you. I'd like to tell you something that is quite personal. I have genital
Listen. Be straightforward, calm, and sincere. Once you've delivered the
information, stop talking. Allow the other person to speak. Let it be a
dialogue, not a lecture. Your partner may need time to mull this over, get more
information, and just experience his or her feelings.
When you talk with someone about this, no matter how it turns out, pat
yourself on the back for doing a difficult thing that takes courage and
integrity -- and be sure to do it every time you have sex with someone new.