Assess Your Risk Status and Your Partner’s Risk Status
As a result of informed concern about acquiring an STI, you may understandably focus on assessing the risk status of a prospective sexual partner. However, in doing so, you may overlook the equally important need to evaluate your own risk status. If you previously engaged in sexual activity with others, is there any possibility that you may have contracted an STI from them? Have you been tested for STIs in general, not just for one specific infectious agent? Remember, many of the STIs discussed in this chapter produce little or no noticeable symptoms in an infected person. If you care enough to be sexually intimate with a new partner, is it not reasonable that you should also be open and willing to share information about your own sexual health?
Some experts maintain that one of the most important STI prevention messages to convey to people is to spend time, ideally several months or more, getting to know prospective sexual partners before engaging in genital sex. Unfortunately, research indicates that effective communication about risk factors and safer sexual behavior seems to be "more the exception than the rule in dating couples" (Buysse & Ickes, 1999, p. 121). Research has revealed that individuals who are beginning or are involved in romantic or intimate relationships are often reticent to discuss past sexual experiences (Anderson et al., 2011). We strongly encourage you to take time to develop a warm, caring relationship in which mutual empathy and trust are key ingredients. Use this time to convey to the other person any relevant information from your sexual history regarding your risk status—and to inquire about your partner’s present or past behavior in the areas of sex and injection drug use. As discussed in Chapter 7, self-disclosure can be an effective strategy for getting a partner to open up. Thus you might begin your dialogue about these matters by discussing why you think that such an information exchange is vitally important in the AIDS era, and then share information about your own sexual history. Studies indicate that "reciprocal sexual self-disclosure contributes to greater relational and sexual satisfaction" (Anderson et al., 2011, p. 383).
Getting to know someone well enough to trust his or her answers to these important questions means taking the time to assess a person’s honesty and integrity in a variety of situations. If you observe your prospective partner lying to friends, family members, or you about other matters, you may rightfully question the truthfulness of her or his responses to your risk-assessment queries.
Research suggests that we cannot always assume that potential sexual partners will accurately disclose their risk for STIs. Various studies have shown that people often engage in sexual deceptions with their partner(s) that may include failing to reveal the number (or identity or both) of previous sexual partners, other current sexual involvements, or their own STI status, or making false claims about testing negative for HIV/ AIDS and other STIs. Several investigations reveal that it is not uncommon either to fail to disclose one’s STI status or to lie about it in order to have sex (Anderson et al., 2011; Marelich et al., 2008; Newton & McCabe, 2005; Sullivan, 2005).