How to pop the testing question without killing the mood?
April 22, 2007 4:01 AM   Subscribe

My basic question is how to do the “let’s get tested for STDs” talk/request without turning off the other person. General responses are great, and if you have the patience to read about my experience inside, specific advice and suggestions would be really nice.

So I asked a guy I was dating for a couple of months and probably turned him off in the process, because we broke up later that day. I doubt it was the only reason for the split (we had some personality conflicts) but it certainly feels like a contributing factor. I’m less experienced, he knows that, and we had made out a few times (kissing, snuggling, handjobs for him). On the day we split, when we made out he asked if I would want to try oral sex. I do and told him so, but said I also had concerns and wanted to be safe, and asked if he would consider getting tested. I also asked how many people he’d had sex with. I said I would get tested too – This confused him a little, I think, b/c I’ve told him I’m a virgin, so I explained that it would be to be fair and for his peace of mind. Then he said that he’s ok b/c he had given blood last year - (is that equivalent to an STD test by the way? should I have stopped talking about testing at that point?)

I explained why I was asking - that I had seen a clinic's chart which showed more health risks for women performing oral sex on men than vice versa, and that I just wanted to be safe before going ahead & trying oral sex. He mentioned that he was careful and had never had sex of any kind with someone who had a sore on her lip or genitals. I told him that was cool but that things like that probably aren’t always visible on a person’s body surface. I offered to show him the chart I was talking about online when we got back to my apt. I think that's where I went wrong. Because he said that he didn't want to look at charts, that it didn't sound romantic. And when we got back, we didn't go back to my apt. He called me later that night to break up. I know other personality conflicts were a part of that decision, but I feel like the way I handled the "let's get tested" talk played a part. Is there a better way? How have you handled it? Even if this question doesn't show it, I do have a sense of humor and would be willing to try a more playful approach if that’s better than being clinical and straightforward.

Also, hopefully, next time, the guy will still want to see me after I what happens next after you ask? Do you show each other your lab results? If someone says they gave blood & that's an acceptable screen for it ok to ask for proof (an "I gave blood" sticker?). I realize some amount of trust is necessary in relationships where sex is involved & I can't always be sure. I just want some idea of what is reasonable & how specifically to request it without turning someone off. I suddenly feel like asking someone to get tested so that he can be the recipient of my first, awkward, fumbling attempts at pleasing him is like asking a lot of someone. I don’t want to feel that way.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (43 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

Ah, the hell with that guy.

Easy pragmatic answer: couch it in pleasant terms for the fella. 'Look, I'm jazzed to do the thing, here - like really jazzed, like the light at the end of the tunnel is an oncoming blowjob you lucky stiff - but here's the deal...' If he's young it'll be a good object lesson; if he's older maybe he's been through the process already. If it's really important to you, and it's clear that there's a Knob Goblin in the future for the guy who gets the screening, I'm sure you'll find a taker, no problem.

Thornier, potentially far more amusing answer: get together with another virgin.

Alternatively: oral sex using protection. That's a one-stone, two-birds situation, I'd think, though I've no experience with that style personally and wouldn't know what to recommend in terms of method or logistixxx.

(Side note: make sure you find a guy you can really talk to comfortably about sex; you're gonna need some rich feedback when you head downtown. Tell homeboy to be up-front about what's good and what's not.)

(Other side note: a mouth is not a vagina; play to your strengths technique-wise. Imagine the dongle is the last popsicle you're gonna get to eat for ten years, and take your time. Only a churl would complain.)
posted by waxbanks at 4:21 AM on April 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

Donating blood is not a complete STD workup. Frankly, your ex-boyfriend sounds misinformed and defensive about the whole issue. I'm not sure this is your problem.
posted by jacquilynne at 4:24 AM on April 22, 2007

Getting tested isn't everything. What would you do if it turned out that the man you are totally head over heels in love with had, say, herpes?

If you're worried about AIDS in particular, an STD test will tell you whether someone was exposed to HIV more than six weeks ago. If someone was tested last year, they could have been exposed since then.

The way it works is this: you assume that every sexual partner you have has an STD. Your partner should assume you have an STD too. You have sex anyway, but you protect yourselves.

When you and your partner have reached a point where you are confident that you are both going to be monogamous with one another (or you trust eachother to protect yourselves when you have sex with people outside your couple), that's when you get tested. You go down to the clinic together, wait for your results, and if neither of you has an STD you start having unprotected sex. If one of you does have an STD, then you continue with the protected sex you were having already (and of course if it's a treatable STD, you treat it).

Nobody can guarantee that you will never come in contact with an STD, just like nobody can guarantee that your birth control will be perfect or that you won't be hit by a car on the way to work. You can, however, reduce the risks to a level that you can accommodate.

It sounds like communication between you and your boyfriend wasn't very good on a few levels. If you can't communicate about important things with someone, you shouldn't have sex with them. But that was this boyfriend. For the next boyfriend you will be prepared - you will have condoms, flavoured lube, and a whole stack of reading material about how to have fun safe sex. (The reading material is for you, not him. You'll let him read it if he wants, but you won't suggest it.) You and he however will be constantly negotiating what you want from one another and what your personal limits are. That's what relationships are. If someone doesn't respect your personal limits, you don't want to be in a relationship with them.

And remember - it's up to him to please you, right? Not just the other way around?
posted by kika at 4:31 AM on April 22, 2007 [2 favorites]

This guy sounds like a jerk. Even if you asked in the most awkward way possible, it's not a reason to break up with you.

I like waxbanks' idea...ask in a playful way, and let him know what he's in for. As far as proof goes, I'd say you should trust him...if you feel like he'd lie about something like this, or you feel like you don't know him well enough to tell if he'd lie, maybe it's too soon for sex.

Personally, I didn't ask my first boyfriend to get tested until after I found out he'd cheated on me before we were intimate, and the girl he cheated with had genital warts. I was treated to a terrifying ten days as I waited for my appointment and my results and I wished every day that I'd made him get tested before we had sex. Thankfully neither of us caught anything.

On the flip side, when I was dating the man who is now my husband and I first talked to him about STDs and testing he was open and honest and willing to do whatever I wanted to make me comfortable. It was a sign that he was a good guy :-)

Good luck!
posted by christinetheslp at 4:48 AM on April 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

I think you should be proud of yourself! You're absolutely in the right. it doesn't sound to me like you were even that awkward, which is impressive considering your inexperience and nervousness!

IMHO, the most important lesson you need to learn when you start dating is that there are a lot of guys out there who are idiots and/or dicks. By being a forthright, confident woman, you will probably end up alienating that type of guy. It's a win-win!

Any cool and confident guy will not be offended by you asking about testing, or showing him a chart, or telling him something he doesn't know (which sounds like the biggest thing that annoyed that guy).

In my dating experience with guys who were not assholes, this is how the conversation would go:

"Want to have sex without protection?"


"OK, let's get tested."


Seriously. It should be that easy. If it's not... it's not you, it's him. Keep being strong and smart!
posted by miss tea at 5:07 AM on April 22, 2007 [3 favorites]

It bears repeating: giving blood does not mean that you have no STDs. First, anyone can give blood -- you are not supposed to if you have been exposed to certain risks (including eating meat in England at certain times), but there is no procedure to stop someone from lying about any of that. Blood stocks are kept secure by testing the blood after someone has donated it. Second, there are all kinds of STDs that don't affect blood tests, such as warts, chlamydia, etc -- testing for those involves taking cultures, not taking blood. So your guy may have been a lying scumbag trying to say anything to get into your pants, or may have been genuinely clueless, but either way don't listen to him.

There are three basic approaches to testing. The most common, unfortunately, is to not bother. You look healthy, he looks healthy, you maybe ask "have any diseases?", and you go to town. Most people, most of the time, mostly get away ok with this... but rates of diseases like herpes are actually really high, and if you keep this up you will be in for an unhappy surprise. The second is what kika described: you have safer sex (involving condoms, or avoiding certain acts, or whatever), and then get tested at a later date as a preparatory step to having less "safe" sex. The third option is what you were suggesting to your guy -- you get tested before doing much of anything, even if you will then be using condoms, avoiding certain acts, etc. Your approach (especially if followed by safer sex practices) is almost certainly the smartest approach, safety-wise, but in practice I'd guess not all that many people do it, just because of logistical and social barriers. (Testing takes time, but you are horny right now; as you have found out it can be hard to ask for testing while doing things that demonstrate trust; etc)

But I think you are doing this the right way. You frame the request as a) non-negotiable (just as you should with other aspects of safe sex, like using condoms or whatever) and b) about your safety and your comfort. It's pretty cool that you were willing to go to the time and trouble of making things mutual, even though you aren't really at risk for having much of anything. So really, what I'm saying is that it sounds like you are doing this the right way -- you just need to find a guy who respects both himself and you enough to be a good partner in this.

My one suggestion, though, is that you have this conversation not while in bed in the middle of a makeout session, but rather while walking along holding hands or whatever. That way you aren't the bad person derailing a fun sexual experience, but rather a setting things up for later good times -- building, rather than reducing, intimacy.
posted by Forktine at 5:08 AM on April 22, 2007 [2 favorites]

The guy was being a jerk, so don't take him as the rule. You were doing everything right, especially offering to get tested yourself. If a guy is refusing to get tested when you're offering oral sex, then he really isn't worth your time.

Do you show each other your lab results?

This one is tricky, as wanting to see them implies you don't trust the other person. Maybe make an appointment to get tested at the same time?

Suggestion though: in the future, make it clear that you want all parties tested before you start fooling around. It puts it all on the table.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:37 AM on April 22, 2007

I am not straight and I have no idea if broaching these subjects with men is different than with women, so that is a disclaimer that I am giving advice from my own experience. I would do what Forktine suggested and make sure it does not get brought up in the throes of passion. When you guys are hanging out, say something like "Wow, this is going so well and I am so into you. There is one thing I've been thinking about because I am pretty careful about certain stuff...." is nice lead-in. I think the bottom line is that if this is a dealbreaker for someone, he is not realistic nor mature enough to handle sex with you. Move on to one who is. As christinetheslp said, you can tell someone is a "good guy" when they are honest and open about this stuff.
posted by sneakin at 5:41 AM on April 22, 2007

What you're doing is basic responsible behavior between adults. This is a conversation that should always happen with any sexual partner.

This guy failed; no girlfriend for him. Hurts you too, of course, but it's better to find out about this stuff early.

Protected sex is still risky. I think the advice above to have protected sex without a test is extremely unwise. Particularly in the younger population, there's a lot of nasty bugs floating around, and accidents happen. Condoms break sometimes, or get used wrong.

IMO, you shouldn't have sex AT ALL without a test. For maximum safety, get tested and have only protected sex for a couple months. If you're both happy and are monogamous, get tested AGAIN before converting to unprotected sex. That should prevent HIV infection, unless one of you is cheating.

It sounds like the guy in question took it personally, like you were calling him dirty or something. That's just pure ignorance on his part; many STDs have no visible symptoms, like HIV. Keep looking; there will be plenty of guys out there that are willing to undergo a little inconvenience for a blowjob. :)
posted by Malor at 5:43 AM on April 22, 2007

Oh, I didn't answer all your questions: your lab reports will have dates on them. You can both go to the same facility and have the test done at the same time. Each of you inspects the other's report, and assuming it looks good, jumping-of-bones ensues. :)

Giving blood alone isn't enough; it doesn't screen for things like herpes. It'll probably mean he's clean of HIV, but that's not the only disease out there. Herpes is VERY prevalent among the young.

Forktime is most emphatically right about timing.
posted by Malor at 5:48 AM on April 22, 2007

It should also be mentioned that there is (as yet) no test that can detect HPV--the most common STD out there-- in men. There are types of HPV that can cause cervical cancer in women. And it's not been proven that even the use of condoms is enough to protect either partner from contracting HPV. If you're not getting regular pap smears, do start now -- it's the one way you have of protecting yourself with regard to HPV.
posted by gsh at 6:40 AM on April 22, 2007

I'm sorry, but the guy you dated was a lemon. A blood test isn't an STD test, unless that's what they tested the blood for.

It's fairly common practice now to get tested anytime you start a new relationship. I would bring it up on the second or third date. Just say, "before we start being sexually active, we should both get STD tests." If he asks why or is surprised, just mention that that's what everyone and all your friends do today, then, raise an eyebrow and give him a questioning look, because no one should be questioning this during this day and age. It's simply standard. Act like it is, and he'll get in line.
posted by xammerboy at 6:46 AM on April 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

he's quite an asshole, and you're being a little too obsessive: if blowjobs killed there'd be piles of corpses everywhere
posted by matteo at 6:56 AM on April 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

"Charts aren't romantic."
"Neither is herpes."

posted by Partial Law at 7:02 AM on April 22, 2007 [4 favorites]

if blowjobs killed there'd be piles of corpses everywhere

Yeah, instead we have over 40 million cases of HIV.

I offered to show him the chart I was talking about online when we got back to my apt. I think that's where I went wrong. Because he said that he didn't want to look at charts, that it didn't sound romantic.

That's where he went wrong, not you. A short list of things that aren't romantic:
- HIV, herpes, chlamydia, hepatitis a, b, c, gonorrhea, HPV.

Things that are romantic:
- caring enough about your partner to make sure you're not passing any of these things on.
posted by heatherann at 7:09 AM on April 22, 2007 [4 favorites]

matteo, there are other fates than death. Like the guy who walked into my boyfriend's health food store once with a ring of herpes sores around his mouth, all erupted at the same time. His boyfriend had herpes, but never had sores. They didn't find out about until the guy's face broke out.

anonymous, lots of good advice here. I agree with those suggesting that you bring it up during a non-cuddly time. This has been my approach in the past, and it always worked fine. Although, if they are willing to get testing, it's not important to ask about numbers of previous sexual partners. The clinic will do that, and different people have different ideas about how much of their past is up for discussion in a budding relationship.

In terms of feeling bad about asking for this: don't. I think it's pretty common to get testing at some point in a new relationship, and it certainly shouldn't come as a surprise or personal insult to anyone who hasn't had their head in the sand for the past 20 years. Keep in mind that if someone knows they are infected with something and wasn't planning on telling you, they will probably react badly. Not to say that this was necessarily the case with your boyfriend, but just to point out that a bad reaction reflects badly on the person being asked, not the person doing the asking.
posted by carmen at 7:25 AM on April 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

If any guy ever reacted like this with me after dating for just a few months I would have dumped him and found someone that actually cares about more than getting into my pants. Don't listen to any of these people that are saying you are being over the top. When we are talking just straight sex, you as a woman need to be 100% comfortable with the situation or you are not going to enjoy yourself.

STDs can be very serious and you can get some of them a lot easier than people seem to think. Yes, there are STDs you can get while wearing condoms so that is a really invalid excuse if you care about your health. Also, a large percentage of Herpes cases lie unnoticed for a very long time.

I'm not even going to say what I think about his comment about the blood test....
posted by trishthedish at 7:32 AM on April 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

If blowjobs killed there'd be piles of corpses everywhere

Yeah, instead we have over 40 million cases of HIV.

Anyone who thinks that blowjobs are a substantial risk factor for HIV transmission shouldn't be commenting in an HIV thread.

Yes, this guy is a jerk, but everyone here advising testing first is also doing a disservice by making it seem as if this testing is more comprehensive than it is. Basically, the irony of common STD tests is that they test for the STDs that are already most amenable to protecting yourself from with a condom. HIV, syphilis, trich, chlamydia, gonorrhea--these are all the STDs commonly screened for and most easily controlled with barrier methods. All of them can be asymptomatic, but most people have symptoms that probably lead them to treatment anyway.

Herpes and HPV are the two viral STD which are not commonly tested for, and which are frequently asymptomatic. There is an Herpes blood test, but it isn't offered at the STD clinic where I work, which is a very good and comprehensive clinic (PCR tests for HIV, for instance). There is no HPV blood test offered for regular screening. Both of these STDs are known to be transmitted regardless of barrier methods, and in the absence of symptoms. Herpes is routinely passed from mother to child and from lover to lover through kissing, so in carmen's morality tale above, kissing would have to be abstained from until a blood test was performed. HPV is routinely self-inoculated, by hand, even in the absence of symptoms.

My point is two-fold, and not meant to be at all critical. 1) Even if you go to get tested at "the clinic" together, you're going to have to find a place that blood tests for HSV, and even then you haven't eliminated all chance for STD transmission. 2) If you're going to be having sex you're going to have to get used to the fact that it isn't completely safe, and there is no way to make it so. Keep in mind that any sickness passed to a sexual partner is, in some sense, an STD, whether it's trich or the flu. When you share bodily fluids with someone you also share some risk, and for your own peace of mind you have to become comfortable with a certain level of risk. Otherwise, no kissing until marriage.

I work in a STD clinic, but not your STD clinic ;). I'd be happy to discuss this further by email, you can find mine in my profile.
posted by OmieWise at 8:18 AM on April 22, 2007 [10 favorites]

You did fine. He failed the test in the preliminary stage. Good riddance. No, giving blood is not equivalent to a blood test.
posted by Manjusri at 8:20 AM on April 22, 2007

Oh, I'm sorry, I also meant to say that while I think that having this kind of conversation with every partner is completely necessary, where I think you're patter sounds a bit off is in the question about how many sexual partners the guy had. In the first place, it's immaterial. All it takes is on infected partner, and in the case of HPV and HSV, it's often passed from mother to child, so it takes no partners at all. And given that, in the second place, it's really none of your business. You should be assessing potential sexual partners on factors that far exceed the number of partners they've had, factors which are more pertinent. Do they seem honest and forthright? (If not, they may be lying anyway about their partners.) Do they seem to respect you? Do they only seem interested in sex? (Not a bad thing, if that's all you're interested in too.) Do they appear to take care of themselves? Do they have visible sores and lesions?

In this case, part of your assessment included a completely legitimate conversation with the guy that he blew, but not because of the number of partners he's had, but because he doesn't sound mature about this issue. Regardless, I'd leave that question out of subsequent conversations about this, unless the information is volunteered.
posted by OmieWise at 8:30 AM on April 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

when you ask for someone to be tested, the only thing you have to be is kind about it. After that, it's up to them to be mature about how they want to handle it. But I will say this:

It's generally unfair, whether you're asking a man or a woman, to ask someone how many people they've slept with in the context of whether or not they should get an std test. It can make them think you're judging them, and until you've reached a greater point of trust (say, after they've had a satisfactory std test and you've become sexually and emotionally intimate) it's really just not your business. Obviously, it's not a totally forbidden topic, but it's bad timing to ask when you've asked for an std test.

Otherwise, just be nice about it and if they can't handle it, it's a problem with them.
posted by shmegegge at 8:39 AM on April 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

and one more thing:

you shouldn't have to show anyone any kind of chart. it has nothing to do with whether or not they think you're at risk from oral sex. they're either willing to accomodate your needs and take the test or they're not and they're not worth your time. You don't have to educate them on the dangers of sexual intercourse, and if they're trying to debate you about whether it's really all that bad then they're not going to do it one way or the other. Scrape 'em off, find someone better. (I bring this up also partly because showing someone a chart about how dangerous oral sex is is a pretty serious turn off. but on the other hand, they should be able to handle it.)
posted by shmegegge at 8:45 AM on April 22, 2007

forktine: you get tested before doing much of anything, even if you will then be using condoms, avoiding certain acts, etc.

That's always been my policy. I always brought it up, as forktine and others mention, whe just hanging out with the guy (not kissing or anything remotely sexual). Good thing too, considering one guy who was annoyed at having to get tested because, he said, "I'm low risk. I've only had one girlfriend before and we were monogamous. I've never had any symptoms."

But being a generally decent guy, he got tested because I made it clear testing was non-negotiable. (Your guy was an asshole. Someone who doesn't give a damn about your concerns or your health, or his own health - why is this person desirable? Good riddance. I consider the "How about us getting tested?" question a good asshole-filter.)

Anyway, he reported, looking stricken, that he was positive for chlamydia.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 8:50 AM on April 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

The emphasis on testing doesn't allow for the eventuality that one or both of you will test positive for something. While I always insisted on testing before unprotected sex with a man, I did have protected sex with men I had not gone to the clinic with. (As a data point, I have never in 30 years of partnered sexual activity become pregnant or contracted an STD. Yes, I gambled and won. We all gamble; each of us has to decide for ourselves what odds we can live with.)

Testing doesn't cure anything. Before having sex with someone, before asking them to get tested, you need to ask yourself: if my partner tests positive for something, how will that change things? Will I break up with them? Will I find a way to make things work anyway?

This thread - particularly Malor's statement that there are STDs that condoms don't protect from - smells suspiciously like abstinence-only sex ed. Not that Malor is wrong, but we're talking HPV here. If 44% of young people (only about 22% in my age group) carry HPV, then 44% of our OPs potential sexual partners will fail the test. She needs to be able to face the possibility that one day she may wish to marry someone who falls within the 44%. Or even have sex with such a person outside of marriage. What will she do then? At a guess, she'd marry her beloved anyway and then get regular Pap smears. Perhaps they'd use condoms to reduce (not eliminate) the risk and she'd get regular Pap smears.

Well, all of us are supposed to be getting regular Pap smears. And we're all supposed to be using condoms with untested partners and partners with uncertain monogamy status. So a positive HPV test *wouldn't actually change anything at all.*

Of course, one has a greater commitment to a spouse than to a one-night stand picked up in a bar, and a greater motivation to make sex work with that person. That's where evaluating the risk you are personally comfortable with comes in.

You can get a herpes infection by kissing someone. How many people think it's reasonable to ask someone to get an oral swab at a clinic before a first kiss? Of course that would be ideal in a world where oral herpes is catastrophic and a low value is placed on kissing, or where kissing is reserved for couples about to become engaged, but in practice we hardly ever raise this possibility. Does that mean that in the world we live in, a cold sore is an ugly annoyance but not actually that bad? Does that mean that we recognise that people kiss and we think that being afraid of kisses is not good for us?

Why don't we extend this more relaxed attitude towards oral herpes infections to other STDs? (Yes, if you caught a cold sore from someone you kissed, your cold sore is an STD.)

Yes, you *can* reduce risks significantly by being smart. So be smart. *Do* insist on testing when appropriate. (Certain monogamy is one condition of being appropriate.) No, you cannot control the world. So don't obsess. Have a Plan B for when someone tests positive. And use that Plan B for anyone whose status you don't know for certain.

P.S. Even if I think your emphasis on testing first is misguided, I fully agree with the other commenters that your ex-boyfriend is an ignorant jerk and that you're better off without him.
posted by kika at 9:02 AM on April 22, 2007

For me, here's how the progression goes:

1) Think about having sex with someone.
2) Kiss and make out with them some.
3) Have Phase 1 of the talk: the one where I tell them that nothing goes inside me without latex on it. During this talk, we share some of our past sexual history, any known STDs, feelings about and preferences in safer sex techniques, etc. A nice place to do this is in bed while cuddling.
4) Over time, learn more about their past sexual experience, build intimacy and trust, maybe fall in love.
5) If and only if we both want to fluid-bond (which I have done with only one partner), we both get tested. Then, depending on our activities with others around that time, we get tested again three months later. We also make very clear agreements about sexual activity and safer sex practice with others.

So, to me, it kind of seems like you did it the hard way, i.e. by jumping to full disclosure and getting tested without having first built trust between the two of you.

Also, as many have said, lots of STDs are asymptomatic, so I find it simpler and safer to assume that all partners may have an STD and practice safer sex.

When you talk about STDs, a lot of people's minds jump to AIDS and other "bad" diseases, which can lead to defensiveness or an assumption of safety. Whereas for me, I'm more concerned about things HPV, chlamydia, and herpes. (I'm particularly careful about receiving oral sex for that reason.)

Anyway, it sounds like you did a good job of taking care of yourself, but the guy was not a keeper. Good for you both ways!
posted by ottereroticist at 9:48 AM on April 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

Hmmm.... I didn't mean my story as a "morality tale," although I can see how it came out that way. More just to point out that there's more than death to worry about.

OmieWise and kika make good points about having to accept a certain amount of risk with *any* sexual activity, and personally I'm with kika in not asking for testing until the monogamous, unprotected stage, now. But I became sexually active in the age of AIDS, and with my first boyfriend, I wanted testing before anything significant happened.

The poster has stated that she's a virgin, and inexperienced. Developing a sense of risk and your willingness to engage in risk takes experience and some time. Although past experience is not a future predictor with respect to risk for STDs, there are a lot of risks and things to worry about in sexual relationships that aren't related to STDs, and some of these do become easier to manage or even go away with time and experience.

Reducing the risk of STDs to a minimum at a very early point in the relationship can make the *totality* of risks and worries associated with the first time fewer and thus easier to deal with. I can completely understand wanting my first sexual experiences to be with someone I was reasonably sure didn't have any major diseases, even if we were going to use condoms. That doesn't mean that the person is "obsessing" or trying to control what cannot be controlled. While STDs fall into their own category analytically, their risks are part an experience that is not neatly segregated into categories. If early testing makes anonymous comfortable, then that is what she should ask for.
posted by carmen at 9:59 AM on April 22, 2007

I just want some idea of what is reasonable

What is reasonable is whatever level of safety and risk you are personally comfortable with. This is a decision that everyone has to make for themselves, and you shouldn't feel like there is a societal norm you must meet.

To play devil's advocate, I'd like to throw out another possibility in the "what was that tool thinking?" category. I have a couple of male friends who have dated adult female virgins, and regardless of the length of relationship and ultimate outcome, there was much early perception that dating a virgin came with a lot of potential baggage. Would you ever get to sleep with her? Was it worth the time if you weren't going to get to? If you did get to sleep with her, was it because she had marked you as The One and you were then committed to marriage? Was there some unusual emotional/physical reason she had waited?

While I'm not supporting any of these mindsets, I'm just pointing out that among my cohort (admittedly fairly homogenous), there is the idea that dating a woman over 20 or so who is still a virgin brings the potential of a lot of extra hassle. It's possible that it was the same for your ex, and that when you threw an additional STD test into the mix, he just said, "Aww, f$%k this, I don't have the time."

Again, not condoning, just offering a theory that he might have weighed what he perceived to be the ROI potential, and got out. And if he's that guy, better sooner than later, for you!

I think you could avoid problems in the future by making your health concerns open knowledge very early on. I have single girlfriends who successfully use this technique as a boyfriend-filter. On the second or third date, when there's any conversation about sex (not even necessarily about sexual preferences of the two on the date, but possibly using current events or celebrities or movie plots), she'll make it a point to lightly mention being "Queen Condom," how important it is for single people to be responsible and diligent about testing, "nobody wants the gifts that keep on giving, you know!"

That way, if the guy perceives her level of sexual safety concern/practice to be higher or more stringent than his, he gets to make an informed call very early on, and can decide whether to enter the longer-term relationship with an idea of what to expect when genitals come out. No surprises by the time emotions and lust are more involved.
posted by pineapple at 10:04 AM on April 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

"Why don't we extend this more relaxed attitude towards oral herpes infections to other STDs?" Well, because some STDs have more serious long-term consequences than oral herpes. Oral herpes is unsightly, but diseases like chlamydia, if left untreated, can do some rather serious and permanent damage, particularly to the female reproductive system. Furthermore, many of these other STDs can be treated. anonymous can't control the world, no, but she does stand a pretty good chance of avoiding the sorts of STDs that are rather more serious than oral herpes though, thankfully, treatable. It's reasonable to argue the timing of that first STD test, but there's good reason we don't treat everything like oral herpes.
posted by ubersturm at 10:08 AM on April 22, 2007

This is something of an aside, but, were I you, I'd consider running out and getting that HPV/cervical cancer vaccine. Granted, you'd have to wait longer for sex, but it could put your mind at ease.

As far as I can tell, the vast majority of people have been exposed to and have HPV, it's just asymptomatic in most people. However, as a virgin in 2007, you're in a unique position to avoid infection and chances of cervical cancer down the line.

I know, I know, "condoms." Here's the thing - eventually, they will break on you. Let's pretend there's only a 1% chance that the condom will tear or even have a little rip - after a hundred instances of intercourse, you've got a 63% cumulative chance of having one or more rips.
posted by adipocere at 10:20 AM on April 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

Hmmm.... I didn't mean my story as a "morality tale," although I can see how it came out that way. More just to point out that there's more than death to worry about.

Absolutely, and that's a really important point, and one I came back in to the thread to emphasize. I do think that one has to assess their own personal level of risk, taking into account the fact that only not touching is 100% safe. I'm not comfortable with not touching, personally, and I don't know many people, even in abstaining relationships, who don't at least kiss their partners. However, everyone is different and has to take their own personality into account. At the clinic where I work, largely with HIV positive patients, the most serious suicide threat I've encountered was from a woman who had just been diagnosed with Herpes. After I evaluated her it was clear that she had some pretty well-developed OCD tendencies that dovetailed with the sense that she was now permanently dirty, and made her want to kill herself. Her acceptable level of risk or infection was quite low.
posted by OmieWise at 10:51 AM on April 22, 2007

Just an FYI about HSV1, the virus that causes most of oral herpes (HSV2, which is mostly genital herpes, can cause oral as well):

Most adults have already been exposed to HSV1. They had one outbreak with one sore, probably when they were a child and don't remember it, and will never have one again unless they become stressed or immunocompromised. Kids spit on everything and pass it between each other--many infections occur then.

Another FYI--most herpes transmissions (HSV2) occur when the person is asymptomatic: ie, no active visible sores or lesions. Virus is still shedding even if there's no ulcer.
posted by gramcracker at 11:07 AM on April 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

The guy clearly had an STD. I'm not being glib - it explains the whole situation perfectly.
posted by reklaw at 11:35 AM on April 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

HPV: There's a vaccine for this now. It's hard to justify not getting a vaccine that stops sex from giving you cancer.

Of course, it'd be smarter if the FDC would license the stuff for men, too - since we are vectors for HPV, and represent a population that could incubate a vaccine-resistant strain.

FWIW> Your guy behaved like an ass. If wanting to be safe is a reason for breaking up, you're better off. If that particular question is asked, the correct answer is, "Yes, let's get tested."
posted by Crosius at 11:38 AM on April 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

Here's the thing - eventually, they will break on you. Let's pretend there's only a 1% chance that the condom will tear or even have a little rip - after a hundred instances of intercourse, you've got a 63% cumulative chance of having one or more rips.

Except that it's not even fucking close to 1% per sexual act. It's about 2% per year of sexual acts*. So after almost a hundred years of regularly frequent sex, the odds are no longer in your favor. Sounds like a good deal to me.

* with perfect use - something that is totally in your control
posted by phrontist at 11:43 AM on April 22, 2007

The above stats are for preganancy, though the same document goes on to say:

In a 1987–91 study of couples in which one partner had HIV, all 123 couples who used condoms every time for four years prevented transmission of HIV.

A similar 1993 study showed that using condoms every time prevented HIV transmission for all but two of 171 women who had male partners with HIV.

posted by phrontist at 11:45 AM on April 22, 2007

...he asked if I would want to try oral sex. I do and told him so, but said I also had concerns and wanted to be safe, and asked if he would consider getting tested. I also asked how many people he’d had sex with. I said I would get tested too – This confused him a little, I think, b/c I’ve told him I’m a virgin...

It's true that this guy doesn't sound very smart, and may have been hiding something. And of course, you should never feel guilty about wanting to be safe.

On the other hand, the specific situation that the OP describes is not black and white. If someone effectively said to me, "Before we have oral sex, let's both get tested, even though I'm a virgin, and I also have an STD chart at home," I would start to ask myself questions about her own level of STD awareness, her possibly obsessive interest in the subject, and her sanity. The fact that it's fine to broach the subject doesn't mean that some ways of doing so aren't a lot better than others.
posted by bingo at 12:06 PM on April 22, 2007

Except she didn't have the chart, she offered to find it online, and she offered to get tested to keep things equal. I personally would not interpret the poster's actions as being obsessive; cautious, yes, but reasonably so, imho.
posted by HighTechUnderpants at 12:55 PM on April 22, 2007

phrontist says:
Except that it's not even fucking close to 1% per sexual act. It's about 2% per year of sexual acts*. So after almost a hundred years of regularly frequent sex, the odds are no longer in your favor. Sounds like a good deal to me.

Ok so even when using that low number (2%) instead of the higher number (15%), lets do some math:

Five years of condom usage:
1 - (1 - .02)^5 = 9.6% expectation of failure

10 years:
1 - (1 - .02)^10 = 18.3% expectation of failure

15 years:
1 - (1 - .02)^15 = 26.1%

20 years:
1 - (1 - .02)^20 = 33.2%

I don't like those odds
posted by mulligan at 2:48 PM on April 22, 2007

Using the high number, after 5 years there is a 55% expectation of failure, 80% in 10 years.
posted by mulligan at 2:49 PM on April 22, 2007

ubersturm : ""Why don't we extend this more relaxed attitude towards oral herpes infections to other STDs?" Well, because some STDs have more serious long-term consequences than oral herpes. Oral herpes is unsightly, but diseases like chlamydia, if left untreated, can do some rather serious and permanent damage, particularly to the female reproductive system. Furthermore, many of these other STDs can be treated. anonymous can't control the world, no, but she does stand a pretty good chance of avoiding the sorts of STDs that are rather more serious than oral herpes though, thankfully, treatable. It's reasonable to argue the timing of that first STD test, but there's good reason we don't treat everything like oral herpes."

I agree with everything you say. I was replying specifically to the conention that condoms don't work against all STDs. They work extremely well against most STDs, so the ones we're tallking about are HPV and herpes.

The fact that condoms are not perfect is not a reason not to have sex. They are very good, and when used correctly reduce the risk of bad things happening (even very bad things happening) to levels that we find acceptable in other spheres of our lives.

A long time ago my mother observed, "You don't have to be married to have sex, but you don't have sex with someone you *wouldn't* marry if you became pregnant." Whether you agree with this assessment or not, this is a way of contextualising risk, acknowledging it without instilling exaggerated fear. I'm concerned that abstinence-only sex ed focusses on what can go wrong without creating a context for it.

I agree that our OP is absolutely correct in wishing to protect herself and in wanting to be able to talk about mutual protection with her sexual partners, including mutual testing. I love the part about going to the clinic together. I never did that exactly, but it's the right approach. A doctor I know did exactly this in her dating days. They got to know her at the clinic, and started asking "Do you really think you got AIDS in the three months since we saw you last?"

I agree that it's normal for the discussion to be awkward, especially for the inexperienced, especially for young women who may not be accustomed to asserting themselves with men.

I just want to broaden the discussion from "testing" to "prevention and testing." That's all. Prevention isn't perfect, but focussing on testing only is likely too limiting. Everyone has to learn to strike their own balance.
posted by kika at 4:09 PM on April 22, 2007

Bad news regarding the whole sores-not-showing up thing. Most STD clinics no longer tend to test for herpes because, uh, they can no longer differentiate between the kind you get down there and the kind that you get on your mouth. Apparently there's been too much cross-pollination or something. So while of course herpes is something to worry about, unfortunately it's not as easy to test for. Of course, this was just what my STD clinic said; YMMV.

Also, it sounds like this asshole just wanted to get down your pants and wasn't willing for the test to go through before getting some action on. In the future, you can always use condoms, even during oral sex, and that will keep you fairly well protected.

As far as making getting tested sounding sexy -- what could be hotter than the prospects of having loads of great sex once you both test negative?

It's generally unfair, whether you're asking a man or a woman, to ask someone how many people they've slept with...

Also, to add my own perspective to this: if someone asks you this question, and you're a dude, and the number is low, it hurts

Oh, and

If and only if we both want to fluid-bond

posted by Deathalicious at 5:50 PM on April 22, 2007

Unfortunately you've been brought up in a culture which has moved from framing sex as a moral issue to framing it as a health issue. And the less experience you have, the more you're inclined to believe the chicken littles. For instance ottereroticist's 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 is one of the most truly bizarre things I've ever read on metafilter.

Call up the guy and invite him over and give him a blowjob. You'll be okay.
posted by dydecker at 6:55 PM on April 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

You dodged a bullet by getting rid of the guy.

The only thing I think you did, that was a little off, was asking about how many previous partners he's had. That's redundant; you don't need to ask that if you're asking someone to get tested. (Maybe you should be able to ask that, if you're going to have sex with them -- i.e. if they're not comfortable sharing that, when they know you're a virgin, maybe it's a sign that you shouldn't go forward, but that's a totally different question which is more about psychology than STDs.)

So anyway, I applaud you for being safe. Who knows, maybe the dude freaked out because he had something to hide. You never know, but that shouldn't mean that you did anything wrong; you did the right thing in insisting he gets tested.

So anyway, you did right, just hold off on the 'how many partners' questions; particularly since you're a virgin and the guy may be far from it, asking that might come off a little Inquisitorial. But if you're going to have sex without a condom (oral, anal or PIV) there shouldn't be any weirdness in asking for a herpes+HIV test at minimum.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:16 PM on April 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

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