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Ten Reasons Your Partner May Not Have Told You About Their STD

The Good, the Bad and the Understandable

By

Updated May 27, 2014

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

One of the hardest things about dating in the modern era is figuring out when it is finally the appropriate time to talk about STDs and safer sex. Most adults know they should have these conversations, which is why it can be so upsetting when you find out that the person you're dating has a sexually transmitted disease (STD) and didn't tell you.

It may make it a little less painful to find out they thought they had a good reason not to tell you ... even if that reason was wrong.

Here are 10 reasons why people sometimes don't tell their boyfriends and girlfriends when they have an STD. Some of them are understandable; some of them are not.

1. They never had any symptoms.

People can't disclose information about infections they don't know they have. A lot of people assume that if they don't have any STD symptoms, they don't have an STD. That's simply not true, which is why testing is so important. Unfortunately, STD testing isn't part of routine medical care. That means that people need to actively seek out medical screening for STDs in order to have an accurate idea of their status. The truth is, lots of times they don't.

2. Your partner had symptoms but didn't know they were contagious during sex.

It may sound crazy to me, but a lot of people don't realize that things like cold sores are contagious and can be transmitted during kissing and oral sex.

Lots of people simply don't recognize that their STD symptoms are STD symptoms, and so they may have had no idea that there was an STD they needed to tell you about.

It's not just a problem for herpes. The lack of recognition that it's important to inform a partner about risk is also frequently seen in such conditions as molluscum contagiosum and other skin diseases that are not primarily thought of as sexually transmitted.

3. You were just having oral sex, and your partner didn't know that was risky.

There is an entire generation that doesn't think that oral sex is sex. Therefore, people think there is no need to take safer sex precautions or talk about STDs. They're wrong. It's a very common misconception that oral sex is something you can do casually - that it has no risks, just plenty of rewards.

That's why in situations where only oral sex is on the table, many people don't think that it's necessary to disclose an STD. They don't think it's a danger, so why should they make the emotional investment? That's particularly true if they're restricting themselves to oral because they're only having casual sex.

4. Your partner was too embarrassed or ashamed to tell you about their STD.

Sometimes a person will know they have an STD and they should be telling you about it. But they may simply be too embarrassed or ashamed to talk about their infection. They may have had bad experiences disclosing that kind of information in the past. They may be afraid of rejection. They may simply find the subject too hard to bring up.

Often the person with the STD will simply try to avoid having any type of sexual encounter. They'll postpone and avoid because they don't want to put their partner at risk and they want to put off having the difficult conversation. It's hard to get too angry about that.

5. They didn't realize they were supposed to discuss these things.

There are people who truly think that talking about sex just isn't something you do. These people often come from conservative upbringings that discourage sexual exploration, and while they may have been able to overcome those restrictions enough to have sex, talking about sex is a whole different ball game. It may seem strange to some people that talking about can be more scary and "sinful" than having it a bit, but for some people that is the reality.

On the other hand, there are some people who are so wrapped up in their own problems that it simply doesn't occur to them that if they have an STD, their partner may have one, too. They are so focused on getting treated and moving on that they don't notify their partners about getting tested and treated. They just hope that their symptoms will go away before anyone notices. Unsurprisingly, they often end up with repeated STD infections.

6. Your partner wasn't tested, and so they weren't sure.

Moving into the realm of ethically questionable reasons for not telling a partner that you have an STD, some people are so afraid they might be infected that they refuse to get tested. This gives them the ability to tell themselves, "Well, I wasn't certain that I had an STD, so I didn't actually need to talk to my date about it."

In my mind willful ignorance is not an excuse for failing to disclose a possible infection. It's a good reminder to always ask people when they were last tested for STDs and what they were tested for - not just whether they've ever been diagnosed with an STD.

7. If you didn't know just by looking ...

If a person already knows they have an STD infection, this reason is similar to the last one on the morally questionable scale. However, they may actually have put some thought into protecting you if they're using this excuse - as many people believe that when a person doesn't have any visible STD symptoms, they're not infectious.

They're wrong for thinking that, but it's possible that they're wrong with good intentions.

8. Your partner was intentionally trying to make you sick.

Although this is an extraordinarily rare occurrence, some people actually hope to intentionally infect their partners with STDs in order to keep them in a relationship. This is a type of domestic abuse, and anyone who tries this is not someone you should be involved with.

9. They couldn't figure out the right time to bring up the topic.

Fortunately, most people have good intentions. They don't want to hurt the people they're involved with. They want to do what's right. They just don't know how to go about doing so ... or when.

It's hard to figure out at what point in a relationship it's appropriate to let your partner know you have an STD. Before you have sex seems like a clear boundary, but do you have to talk about it before you kiss for the first time? What if they kiss you? Should you bring it up on the first date or should you wait until you know there's a possibility of developing a real relationship?

These are really difficult questions for people to answer, particularly for highly stigmatized STDs like HIV and herpes. If you're still in the early stages of a relationship and wondering why your partner didn't bring up the topic sooner, it might be worth giving them the benefit of the doubt. Someone who tells you they were waiting for the right time may be telling you the truth. It's a hard conversation to have - even for the experts.

10. You didn't ask.

In the final analysis, it is every person's responsibility to protect themselves in their sexual relationships. What does that mean? You shouldn't be waiting for a potential partner to get up the nerve to tell you they have an STD. Instead, you should be talking about test results and safer sex before you have sex. That means actively discussing the last time you were tested, sharing your results and asking the same of your partner.

It's hard to disclose an STD infection when you don't know that the person you're talking to is even interested in a sexual relationship. The very act of asking makes it easier. You're telling a potential partner that you want him or her, and they don't have to worry they're presuming a relationship that doesn't exist or moving into the realm of sex when all you're thinking about is friendship.

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  6. 10 Reasons Your Partner May Not Mention Having an STD

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