New service hopes people will be more likely to tell previous partners about STIs if they can remain anonymous
The STI testing company behind E4’s The Sex Clinic allows customers who have received a positive test result to anonymously email or text current or previous partners to let them know they might want to get checked.
Here’s how it works: Patients have a secure login to the online portal, which allows them to access their test results. If someone has tested positive for STI, they would have the option to send an anonymous text or email to recent partners to let them know. The person can enter either a mobile number or an email address for the person or people they wish to notify, select whether they wish to reveal their name or remain anonymous, and send - everything else is automated. The message tells the receiver a “person who cares about you has recently tested positive for an STI” and gives details about the STI and how to get tested. Once on the website, people can also find STI fact sheets, counselling and support, details on treatment and information on next steps.
The service, Better2know.co.uk, aims to boost people’s sexual health knowledge and make it easier for people to tell their partners about an STI. The company cites a Metro.co.uk poll that showed 67% of UK adults wouldn’t necessarily inform a partner if they had an STI - the majority (92%) of which saying they were worried how they’d be perceived.
A spokesperson for the service says they’ve heard from patients - who are anonymous - who have said they wouldn’t have notified previous partners if they hadn’t been able to do so anonymously. One patient told the service via its option to provide feedback that she wouldn’t have told her last two sexual partners that she tested positive for Chlamydia if not for the service and the ability to remain anonymous.
“STIs are often initially symptomless, so people need to know their status and how to get treatment - whether that’s communicated anonymously or face-to-face. Too often people fail to properly communicate to sexual partners once they have had a positive result. Sometimes patients want to avoid awkwardness or it is because they are upset at the implications of the results. Other times it’s down to apprehension about how a recent or short-term partner might react or feelings of guilt. We hope the text service encourages people to inform partners that they are at risk and that as a result, more people get the testing and treatment they need,” says Mike Asher, Chairman and CEO of Better2know.co.uk.
Mike says that how the person chooses to tell their partner, or partners, is a personal choice, but anonymous text messages could be a good way to go in situations where people are worried about their safety or wellbeing, or in situations where the person doesn’t know their partner very well. “We are always keen that both parties are first in a place and position where they feel safe and able to process information,” he said.
When thinking about how to inform a partner, Better2know recommend first considering:
The partner or partners’
- Temperament and sensitivity - it is a good idea to ask yourself how your partner(s) could react.
- Accept that you may not always know with certainty how a partner will react - especially if it’s a relatively new relationship.
- Think about what emotional support the partner(s) may need, how they could get this support and who is best placed to provide it.
- Remember the STI in question may have an impact on how the news is received. All STIs are serious but some have greater implications than others. For example, a positive HIV result, while far from a death sentence, may require more complex treatment and lifestyle changes than treatment for an infection, like Chlamydia.
- It is often advisable to have an open and honest conversation with a partner when in a long-term, committed or exclusive relationship, when and if it is safe to do so.
- Be aware that it may still be easy for a partner to deduce who an anonymous text is from if they have few or no other sexual partners.
- In an open or polyamorous relationship, or where a partner has otherwise been unfaithful, it is also vital to talk about how to inform others who may be at risk.
Lastly, it is important to consider how the partner(s) could get the testing and potential treatment they need. Make sure to impart factual information – and refer a partner to a health professional where you are unsure.
For more information about the service visit Better2know.co.uk.