Dear Alice,

I've been going out with a girl here at my school for the past six months. Last weekend I went home (out of state), and fooled around with an ex-girlfriend. She called me last night and told me that she might have an STI. She went to the doctor this week and told me she would let me know when she finds out for sure. We didn't use a condom.

My problem is, what should I tell my girlfriend? I really love her and don't want to ruin things because of this stupid fling I had. But I can tell she's annoyed that I've avoided her all weekend. I can't exactly tell her next time we get together that I don't feel like fooling around, but I don't know how long it will be before I know if I'm infected. And what do I do if I am? Help!

— Desperate

Dear Desperate,

This is a difficult situation and unfortunately, there’s no simple solution. It may not be easy, but in order to protect your partner's health and relieve some of the anxiety you're experiencing, an open and honest conversation might be the key. Along with dealing with your relationship, it might also be a good idea to schedule an appointment to get tested for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) rather than waiting for your ex to get back to you. Although your heart may be hurting, your physical health could also use a checkup — and doing so may give you at least some peace of mind moving forward.

When it comes to initiating the conversation with your partner about the fling you’ve had, you may want to think about how she might feel when you tell her so you can prepare for any reaction. She may be angry, hurt, jealous, or scared. Or, perhaps she will be forgiving and understanding. Your partner may also have questions for you, so consider thinking about your answers beforehand. Why did you want to hook up with your ex? Why didn't you use protection? How will you prevent this from happening in the future? Preparing for these questions may help you talk with your partner openly and honestly. You might also check out I've been cheating — Tell my partner? in the Go Ask Alice! archives for more information and tips for how to have that type of conversation.

As for how, when, and whether to tell your current partner about your ex and your STI concerns — well, it's up to you. Talking to a partner about a potential STI scare can be difficult, but it’s possible that the communication might actually improve your relationship. The Q&A How to tell partner about herpes may give you some ideas on how to broach the subject. Although they may become angry or upset with you, not telling your partner could lead to bigger issues (such as STI transmission) down the road.

Lastly, getting tested and knowing your status is a necessary first step to knowing how to handle a potential STI diagnosis and to reduce the risk of passing it along to your partner (it might also be wise to avoid sexual contact during this time). During the testing appointment, you can explain your recent experience, your reasons for concern, and any specific information your ex may have given you (e.g., what STI they may have and any reported symptoms). No matter what the outcome, getting tested will likely relieve some anxiety just by knowing what you’ll be confronting. If you do test positive, then your health care provider can determine an appropriate treatment plan and help you identify ways to reduce the risk for passing it to your girlfriend.

Hopefully this will help you to determine if, when, and how you’ll talk with your partner.

Best of luck to you,

Alice!

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