It's never too soon or too late to talk with your partner about being tested for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Even though the best time is always before your first time having sex with each other, an honest discussion is key to safeguarding your health and well-being.

Preliminary data released in August by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed that reported STD cases increased in the U.S. for the fourth consecutive year in 2017. The diagnosed rate of gonorrhea increased by 67 percent between 2013 and 2017 and the rate of syphilis increased by 76 percent. Many more STDs go undiagnosed, but one out of two people will contract a form of STD in their lifetime.

Syphilis, chlamydia and gonorrhea are all treatable with antibiotics, but first, you need to be tested. Having an open and honest discussion about being tested can be tough, so when is the right time to do it and how do you make it less awkward?

When to have the conversation

There are nearly 20 million new cases of STDs every year in the United States, according to the CDC, with half affecting teenagers and young adults. Forty-five percent of the chlamydia cases diagnosed in 2017 were in women between the ages of 15 and 24.

Women can have chlamydia, but not have symptoms, and can unknowingly pass it to partners. But untreated chlamydia — even if it is asymptomatic — can lead to infertility and chronic pelvic pain, among other problems.

Be proactive. By asking your partner if they've been tested, you may be doing both of you a favor, even if it is awkward. If your partner doesn't want to talk about getting tested or won't share their results, you might want to consider whether that's the right kind of relationship for you.

The sooner you're both tested — and treated, if necessary — the sooner you can enjoy safe, worry-free sex.

What questions to ask and what to share

Knowing what to ask your partner about their sexual health and history can be difficult. You might be embarrassed at first, but let them know you care about both your health and their health. Here are a few ways to frame the questions before you begin a sexual relationship:

Ask your partner if they've been tested for an STD. Try framing the question by letting them know that you've been tested and acknowledge the topic can be awkward.

If both of you have had multiple sexual partners, ask how frequently they are tested and the results of the most recent test.

If you and your partner are newly exclusive, let them know you're not trying to accuse them of cheating by asking for an STD test. Some diseases can take months to show up on a screening, so they could have caught something in a previous relationship. Suggest going to get tested together.

Telling your partner you have an STD is also tough, but it's your responsibility to alert them to any risk. Let them know how you plan to have safe sex and what they need to do to protect themselves.

How to get tested and how often

Women can ask their gynecologist or obstetrician to run an STD check during a routine appointment. Be aware that the only STD your regular Pap smear checks for are strains of the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) that cause cervical cancer. You must specifically ask to be tested for other STDs if your doctor doesn't recommend it.

Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas has locations across the state that offer STD testing services. You can sign up for an appointment online or over the phone, and testing is non-invasive. Once you're there, all you have to do is provide a urine sample and a cheek swab.

The CDC recommends sexually active women under the age of 25 be tested annually for gonorrhea and chlamydia, especially if you have new or multiple sexual partners. If you're pregnant, you should ask for a full battery of STD tests, including HPV and hepatitis B.

Men who have sex with men should be tested every year for syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia and the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), or every three to six months if you have more than one sexual partner.

Prevention tips

Safe sex practices can help protect you and your sexual partner or partners.

The correct and consistent use of latex condoms prevents the spread of STDs and HIV, although the best way to avoid catching a disease is to practice abstinence or have only one sexual partner.

One common misconception is that women can't spread STDs to other women, but oral sex can put you at risk of catching herpes. Talk to your partner about using a dental dam.

Many people with STDs don't have symptoms, but if you or your partner have them, don't have sex until you've been cured. If you have an incurable STD, like HIV, then use condoms or dams every time you have sex with someone.

Remember, you and your partner's health could be at stake.

]]