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Sex Myths: I'd Know if My Partner Had An STD

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Updated February 03, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

People often assume that they'd be able to tell if they or their partner had an STD. They figure they'd know because:

  1. There would be noticeable STD symptoms, such as a change in odor or visible sores.

  2. Their doctor would tell them after their regular check-up.

  3. Only certain types of people get STDs, and high-risk people are easy to recognize.

Unfortunately, none of these beliefs are true.

  1. Huge numbers of people with STDs have no symptoms, which means you can't tell that someone is infected by just looking... or sniffing.

  2. For a number of reasons, doctors don't usually include comprehensive STD testing as part of an annual exam.

  3. Anyone can get an STD -- even if they practice safe sex, sometimes even if they're still a virgin.

Furthermore, it's important to realize that people can spread STDs even in the absence of symptoms. It's thought, for example, that a large proportion of the people who are infected with genital herpes were exposed by people who had no idea they had the virus. This is also true for other conditions including syphilis, chlamydia, and HIV.

The truth is that the only way for you to know if you or your partner has an STD is to get screened and then to openly discuss your screening results with one another. You can't rely on symptoms. You can't rely on hoping a person knows their results. And you can't rely on being able to identify someone as looking as though they might be safe.

Assuming that you'd know if your partner had an STD, or that they'd know themselves, is a recipe for anger and heartbreak. By taking responsibility for your own health -- which includes regular screening, talking to your partner about their screening history, and practicing safe sex -- you can not only reduce your risk of acquiring an STD, but also improve the health of your relationships.

It can be devastating to find out that you've been infected with an STD when you had no idea such a risk existed -- leading to feelings of anger and partner blame that can destroy a relationship. Many people are willing to accept the risk of STD infection to be with someone they care about, but that's far more likely to be true when they've been given the chance to make an informed choice -- rather than feeling deceived. Such feelings of deception can exist even when no one was intentionally misled, when one or both partners simply believed the sex myth that told them they'd just know if they had an STD.

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