Receiving a Partner’s STBBI Disclosure: The Dos and Don’ts

It’s common to believe that STBBIs only happen to other people, and we have our fingers crossed that this belief pans out! But with 40,000 new STBBI cases announced every year by Quebec’s Ministry of Health and Social Services, there’s a good chance that you’ll have at least one partner in your life tell you that they tested positive for one. In a way, we hope this will happen to you, because not knowing is always much worse! So, how will you react when they tell you?

Now, you might be asking yourself: “Why should I react well?” Well, when it comes to sex, we share pleasure, but we also share responsibility for our sexual health by using protection, being transparent about our habits and practices, and informing our partners if we have contracted an STBBI.

If, for example, we had said earlier “To hell with condoms!” or “No need for a dental dam!” and consequently decided not to use them (consensually), it’s important to take that into account when we receive the bad news.

Being a good partner also means listening to our partner(s), whether it’s to find the spot that has them floating on cloud nine or to acknowledge and address more difficult subjects.

And as the saying goes, we reap what we sow: the better we react to an STBBI disclosure, the better we’ll feel when it’s our turn to announce a positive test result. If we each develop a positive attitude towards such disclosures, we’ll collectively contribute to reducing STBBI stigma and flatten the curve of transmission.

No one is immune to STBBIs, not even you. They’re not picky and they could infect anyone. Contracting an STBBI doesn’t mean that you are irresponsible (we invite you to consult the six STBBI myths to better understand why!).

Reacting well to an STBBI disclosure also means giving people a caring, trusting context in which to disclose their status with confidence. Besides, if you have ever received a positive STBBI diagnosis, you can surely understand how stressful it can be to not know how the person will react.

So that everything goes as smoothly as possible, we have compiled a list of dos and don’ts to better react to an STBBI disclosure.


Do breathe

We’re not all STBBI experts, so it’s normal to be surprised and perhaps even worried about the state of our health. The important thing is to not panic. If you do, you risk saying things you might regret. You can tell your partner that you need a moment to process the information; it’ll give you time to put things into perspective.

Do receive with openness

It’s not easy to disclose an STBBI, that we know. But the fact is, your partner has gone for a screening test (which is responsible as fuck!) and is now taking the trouble to tell you about it because they care about your sexual health. So if you don’t know what to say when faced with their disclosure, you can start with, “I can imagine that it wasn’t easy for you to tell me.”

Do consult reliable sources

There’s nothing like being well informed to be able to better protect yourself. Your partner may have received some information during their consultation at the clinic at the time of their diagnosis, so you can seize the opportunity to ask them some questions: “How do we better protect ourselves?” “What are the symptoms (if there are any, as STBBIs are often asymptomatic)?” “What do we do now?” If they happen to have the memory of a goldfish or if you feel like checking it out together, we have a super handy information section on STBBIs and testing on our website.

Do protect yourself AND get tested

Now that you’ve been informed of the risk of exposure, you’ll be able to better protect yourself. In the case of an infection that can be cured with treatment, this means using one or more barrier protection methods (condoms, dental dams, gloves) or abstaining from sex altogether until treatment is complete. Communicate your preferences to your partner(s) and do what makes you feel safe and comfortable. For more information on different types of treatments, check out the STBBIs’ “treatment” subsections on the DépistaFest website.

You must also (above all!) go get tested at a clinic near you. If you have symptoms, it’s best to skip the screening clinic and go straight to making an appointment to see a doctor.

Not sure you need to get tested? We have a quiz to help you decide.

In the event that your partner’s STBBI is there to stay because it’s incurable (as is the case with herpes, HIV, and HPV), talk about it together and ask a healthcare professional which protection method(s) to use and what the risks of transmission are. In the case of HIV, for example, taking daily medication and having regular checkups generally reduces the risk of transmission to zero.

When you go get tested, you can also get all the information you need from the on-site healthcare professionals to better equip yourself to deal with the situation. There are also support groups, but keep in mind that they are sources of emotional support, not medical information.

Do separate STBBIs from infidelity (at first)

Sometimes, an STBBI disclosure casts doubt on our partner’s fidelity or reveals the existence of other partners. But did you know that many STBBIs are asymptomatic? It’s therefore possible that your partner contracted a sneaky, silent infection before you became exclusive. It’s destabilizing news, of course, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that your partner has slept with someone else without your knowledge.

That said, if an STBBI disclosure does reveal an infidelity, it may be best to address one issue at a time. Starting with “I thank you for caring enough about my sexual health to tell me, but I think we need to have a talk…” will allow you to open the discussion about infidelity without losing sight of what needs to be addressed right now—the STBBI.

Do take your time

Has this hit you like a ton of bricks? Are you wondering if you even want to continue seeing your partner after being informed of their STBBI status? Do you feel like you might be overreacting, but that you also want to protect yourself? Take a moment to think about it. Your partner will hopefully understand. It’s time to get tested and get informed before making a hasty decision.

If it’s too much and you need more space, make sure you do it with respect. It may have taken a lot of courage for them to reveal this to you, and it was the right thing to do. So let’s be kind, shall we?


Don’t make accusations

STBBIs aren’t selective, and your partner didn’t necessarily engage in risky behaviour either, and… surprise, it can happen to you too! Hell, it happens to roughly 40,000 people in Canada every year. So there’s no point in making a moralizing speech and condemning your partner: the important thing now is that you know it, that you can protect yourself, and that you can get tested and treated if necessary.

Don’t broadcast live on Instagram

It’s okay to freak out. Breathe, inform yourself, and repeat. There’s no point crying foul. Even if you feel wronged or betrayed by your partner’s announcement, shouting it from the rooftops is not the solution. It will reinforce negative stereotypes, such as the belief that people who have an STBBI are irresponsible and should be avoided, which in the end will only perpetuate STBBI stigma and discourage people from disclosing their STBBI status in the future. It’s a vicious cycle!

Also, if you think this person should tell other partners about it, don’t hesitate to tell them so and encourage them to do it themselves. Because, no, now is not the time to do it for them out of anger or a desire for revenge! Volunteering information about someone’s health without their consent is just… not cool.

If the need to maintain anonymity arises, you can inform them of the existence of anonymous partner notification services, such as the Quebec VIH/AIDS Portal.

Don’t search up Google Images

The internet is a gold mine of information, but also of… misinformation. Your first search results could worry rather than inform you. So, do yourself a favour and avoid Google Images like the plague! Instead, consult reliable sources like these:

Don’t give as few fucks as you did about your outfit during the pandemic

The world has entered a new millennium. Having sex without protection before the end of your treatment or before getting tested is this festival season’s biggest faux pas. Protecting yourself means protecting others.

If you have multiple partners, be sure to protect yourself with all of them or, even better, abstain from having sex until you receive negative test results to avoid the risk of transmission. (Besides, a little break never killed anybody!)

If you receive a positive diagnosis, you may also have to tell your partners about it. But don’t worry, we wrote guidelines to help with that too.