Some sex conundrums just can’t be solved over brunch. That’s what experts are for—to help us handle the most awkward and not-ideal relationship situations or sexual health challenges. We tapped our super-smart columnist, clinical sexologist and couple’s therapist Dr. Eve, author of the bestselling book Cyber Infidelity: The New Seduction, to help answer three new questions that had us all stumped. Whether you’ve been in one of these situations or are just curious how to advise a friend who’s going through something similar, here are Dr. Eve’s tips for telling new partners about STDs, rebuilding trust after cheating, and dating (way) older partners.
Want to submit your own question (or one “for a friend”) next month? Email WTF@stylecaster.com.
Q: How Do I Tell New Partners About My STD?
A: I wish that stigma and discrimination were not part of the physical and emotional pain of STIs. After all, research shows that they’re so common you could fill Madison Square Garden with a support group—if people weren’t too embarrassed to talk about them, that is. The negativity and shaming that our culture places on STIs is incredibly problematic, especially because a lack of openness can prevent people from getting educated about how to prevent them in the first place. But the reality is that on top of being a serious health hazard, STIs also bring sensitive social and sexual challenges.
First of all, once you stop shaming yourself, it will be much easier to approach new partners with this information without feeling like curling up and hiding—or avoiding sex with new people altogether. Who you tell, and when, will depend on what STI you have, and what your relationship is with the partner. Bacterial STIs such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis are easily treatable and curable, so if you’re experiencing itching, burning, bleeding, smelly discharge, or pain down there, don’t avoid dealing with it. That’s always step one.
When it comes to viruses like herpes simplex, human papilloma virus, and HIV/AIDS, these STIs stick around in your body for life, and while you can treat the symptoms, they often pop up unpredictably. Disclosing any details about your STI requires educating your partner about it and then letting him or her decide whether or not to go forward. Of course, you want to avoid slut-shaming and ensure your physical and emotional safety, so if, for instance, you’re considering having casual, short-term sex with someone new, and you know you’re not having an outbreak of symptoms that could be contagious, you’re not necessarily obligated to reveal a detailed sexual health history—provided you have safe sex, which means using high-quality condoms and lube every time, no exceptions. If you live by this ground rule, no one can ever accuse you of transmitting an STI.
On the other hand, if you’re dating someone you like and see it going somewhere, or have discussed becoming sexually monogamous, that’s probably a good time to consider opening up about your STI situation. Remember, if you don’t have shame about it, you’re less likelier to invite someone else to shame you—and given the statistics, chances are, this isn’t your partner’s first STI encounter, whether they have one themselves or have slept with someone else who does. The bottom line: You don’t want to get into a relationship with any partner who would rule out dating you on the basis of an STI, so if they aren’t kind about the news, you’re probably saving yourself some time in the long run.
Q: I prefer much older partners. Anything I should worry about?
A: For women, dating older can actually be an evolutionary instinct. It’s about seeking out that protector who can provide for you and your family. The idea of dating someone more established in life, whether it’s about financial resources, emotional stability, or simply more life experience, can definitely be a turn-on for some—not to mention that they’ve had a lot more sex than partners in their 20s, who are probably still figuring out what they’re into and how to please themselves and their partners in bed.
If it’s a relationship you’re looking for, keep in mind that equality is key for long-term happiness. It can be tough for couples to work out how to maintain a balance of power and responsibility. As the younger partner, you’re likely less skilled at negotiating these complexities simply because you’ve had less practice. You’re also potentially still sorting out who you are and what you want, which means there can be the potential to lose yourself in a partner or relationship that is overwhelming or has a stronger personality than you. I suggest you spend lots of time building self-confidence, a stable financial situation, independence, and emotional boundaries. Then dating older men an women will feel safer and sexier.
Q: I cheated, so my S.O. now reads my texts/emails to rebuild trust—but for how long?
A: First off, since I’m sure you’ve already beat yourself up plenty about the cheating, I want to give you credit for putting in the effort to make it work with your partner by implementing transparency after being unfaithful. It’s never easy to own up to or recover from incidents like this, whether you’re the cheated-upon or the cheater, so props to you both for trying.
After cheating, it’s hard to be rational—emotions and fight-or-flight instincts take over. The best way to go about rebuilding a relationship after infidelity, in my opinion, is with an experienced couple’s therapist, who can help mediate and foster calm communication. And yes, agreements about transparency and text/email sharing are often part of the trust-building agreement—but those should always be temporary and, if possible, voluntary, rather than mandatory. Secrets can kill relationships, but privacy is still your right.
To avoid feeling like you’re being monitored at all times—or making your S.O. feel like they have to monitor you—keep him or her in the loop of your online life. Be open if an ex reaches out, read a relevant message or email aloud, and be honest about how you responded, if at all. If anything makes your partner uncomfortable, cease and desist. This is the openness that will help make him or her feel that you’re trustworthy again, and don’t require constant babysitting.
To sum it up: Surveillance has a sell-by date. It cannot go on for long. Don’t allow your shame about cheating to remove your rights to privacy. Negotiate an end date to this sooner than later.