I. Key Findings

  • 26% of people who tested positive for an STD didn’t notify their sexual partner(s)
  • ‘Embarrassment and shame’ is the most cited reason for not disclosing positive STD test results
  • 24% of sexually active American adults have never been tested for STDs

II. 1/2 of singles didn’t disclose their STD before one-night stand

Individuals who are having casual sex are more likely than those in committed relationships to remain silent about their STD status.

Forty-nine percent of people who had a one-night stand while infected with an STD did not inform their partner. Similarly, 40% of people who were intimate with a casual sex partner did not disclose their positive STD status.

Of all relationship categories, married individuals are the most likely to tell their partner about an STD, although disclosure isn’t unanimous even among this group. Eleven percent of married individuals did not tell their spouse they had an STD.

Seventy-one percent of people dating, 70% of people with a life partner, and 68% of people who are engaged notified their significant other that they had an STD.

In the April report Raul Romaguera, DMD, MPH, acting director for CDC’s Division of STD Prevention, asks the general public and health experts alike to remain vigilant despite the conversation around public health still primarily being focused on COVID.

“STDs will not wait for the pandemic to end, so we must rise to the challenge now,” Romaguera warns. “These new data should create a sense of urgency and mobilize the resources needed, so that future reports can tell a different story.”

III. 1/2 of singles didn’t disclose their STD before one-night stand

Individuals who are having casual sex are more likely than those in committed relationships to remain silent about their STD status.

Forty-nine percent of people who had a one-night stand while infected with an STD did not inform their partner. Similarly, 40% of people who were intimate with a casual sex partner did not disclose their positive STD status.

Of all relationship categories, married individuals are the most likely to tell their partner they have an STD, although disclosure isn’t unanimous even among this group. Eleven percent of married individuals did not tell their spouse they had an STD.

Seventy-one percent of people dating, 70% of people with a life partner, and 68% of people who are engaged notified their significant other that they had an STD.

IV. Why aren’t people disclosing STDs before sex? ‘Embarrassment and shame’ cited most

We asked respondents to identify all of the reasons why they did not inform their partner of their positive STD status. The answer selected by the highest percentage of respondents (35%) is “embarrassment and shame” over their diagnosis.

Twenty-seven percent of respondents kept their diagnosis a secret out of fear their partner would tell someone else, while a fear of rejection kept 25% of individuals from revealing their status.

One in four (25%) didn’t disclose their STD because their partner didn’t ask. Seventeen percent indicated they kept their status a secret because they wanted their partner to get infected.

V. 1 in 4 sexually active American adults have never been tested for STDs

Also contributing to the increasing rates of STD infections is the fact that, according to our second survey, roughly one-fourth (24%) of sexually active American adults have never been tested for STDs.

Fifty-four percent have been tested within the last three years, while the other 22% were last tested four or more years ago. When asked why they have not been tested, 54% of respondents say it is because they never had any symptoms of STDs.

However, Dr. Erica Zelfand, a licensed family physician, says that regardless of whether they exhibit symptoms, sexually active individuals, particularly those who have multiple partners, should be tested regularly for STDs.

“If left undetected and untreated, STDs can cause damage over time,” she explains. “Early detection can make all the difference with regard to treatment success, especially in the case of HIV.”

VI. STD disclosure: A demographic breakdown

Below is a more detailed look at how the rates of STD status disclosure vary among different demographics, including men and women, younger and older Americans, those of different economic and educational backgrounds and a look at which states are facing the biggest battles against STDs.

1/3 of women kept STD status a secret

When broken down by gender, women are more tight-lipped about their STD status than men; 33% of women with an STD did not tell their sexual partners, compared to 20% of men.

Older Americans least likely to disclose STD

Among different age brackets, older individuals are less likely to notify their partner(s) about a positive STD status. Thirty-five percent of people 55 and older did not tell their partner that they had an STD, the highest percentage of any age group.

Americans ages 35-44 are most likely to disclose they have an STD, with 82% of our survey respondents in this age bracket reporting that they let their partner(s) know they had an STD.

The rates of disclosure are similar among individuals 18-24 (70%), 25-34 (70%), and 45-54 (68%).

Higher educated more likely to disclose STD

When looked at by education, individuals with a postgraduate education are most likely to inform their partners if they have a positive STD test.

Ninety-one percent of individuals with this level of education notified their partners of their STD status, compared to 64% of people with a college or vocational education, and 66% of people with a high school education.

Nearly all high earners informed partners about positive STD status

Survey respondents who earn more than $150,000 annually are the most likely to let their partner(s) know if they have an STD. Ninety-two percent of individuals from this income bracket told their sexual partner(s) that they had an STD.

The rates of disclosure are similar among individuals in other income brackets: between $100,000 and $149,999 annually (74%); between $50,000 and $99,999 annually (76%), and less than $49,999 annually (79%).

States with the most STDs per 100k residents

Using the CDC’s April report, we built a state-by-state breakdown of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis case rates. The map also provides an overall ranking of states with the most STDs. All rates are based on cases per 100,000 residents.

VII. ’Empowerment, responsibility, communication’ key when it comes to sexual health

  • Zelfand encourages sexually active individuals to be proactive in learning about their STD status, and communicating with their partner, saying “Empowerment, responsibility and communication are important.” She lays out the following tips on how to take responsibility for keeping you and your partner safe.
  • Have the conversation before foreplay starts
  • Begin by asking your partner what they like, don’t like, and anything they want you to know about their sexuality. Use this to transition into a conversation about STD status and protection
  • If your partner discloses that they have an STD, find out how they are treating it, and what steps both of you can take to lower transmission risk. If you have an STD, inform your partner of your course of treatment, and agree to safety measures to lower transmission risk
  • If you and/or your partner has not been tested for STDs recently, suggest getting tested together by using a home testing kit, or visiting an STD testing clinic
  • Be respectful and non-judgmental

Methodology

The data in this report comes from two online surveys designed and paid for by Testing.com, in collaboration with online survey platform Pollfish. In a survey conducted April 25-26, 2021, Testing.com polled 1250 Americans ages 18 and older who have tested positive for an STD regarding their sexual behavior, and whether or not they disclosed their positive STD status to their sexual partner(s). Individuals who did not disclose their status were asked to identify all the reasons why they did not tell their partner(s).

In a separate survey conducted on May 17, 2021, Testing.com asked 1250 sexually active Americans about the last time they were tested for STDs. Individuals who had never been tested for STDs were then asked to identify the reasons why they had never been tested. Both surveys contained both single-answer and multiple-answer questions.