If you suspect you have a sexually transmitted infection (STI), or you’ve recently had an STI test and received a positive result, you might be wondering what to do next and what the requirements are around telling other people. You might also be wondering whether your previous, current and/or prospective partners are legally required to tell you if they have an STI.
In Australia, each state has its own Public Health Act and people are required to abide by legislation specific to the state in which they and/or their sexual partner reside. This can be potentially confusing for people when trying to determine an individual’s responsibilities with regard to disclosing their STI health status.
STI disclosure laws in Australia
Relatively recent amendments to some of these state-based laws have removed the legal requirement for people with certain STIs to disclose their STI status to prospective partners. This does not, however, mean that there are no longer any legal responsibilities associated with STI transmission within the community.
Essentially, each state’s public health act considers STIs to be “notifiable conditions” (i.e., transmissible diseases or conditions that pose a threat to public health), meaning that everyone is responsible for protecting themselves and others from exposure to STIs, by taking reasonable precautions to limit the possibility of transmission within the community.
Generally speaking, the states’ public health acts stipulate that you have a responsibility under the law not to recklessly put someone else at risk of contracting a notifiable condition. In most states, if you ignore that responsibility and breach those sections of the respective acts, you may face a fine and/or gaol term.
Furthermore, if it can be established, under the relevant state’s criminal code, that you intentionally or deliberately transmitted a notifiable condition, you risk criminal prosecution and may be sentenced to a significant prison term.
What are “reasonable precautions”?
With respect to sexual activity, the reasonable precautions people are expected to take include always practicing safe sex (i.e., using water-based lubricant and barrier protection such as a male or female condom and/or dental dam) when having vaginal, anal, or oral sex, and being regularly tested for STIs.
When should you get an STI test?
If you suspect that you may have come into contact with, or that you currently have, an STI the first thing you need to do is arrange an STI test.
An STI test is the only way for you to be sure about whether you have an STI or not – this is because there are some bacterial infections whose signs and symptoms closely mimic those of STIs. Likewise, if you’ve noticed any signs or symptoms affecting your genital area, and you’re not in an exclusive relationship with your sexual partner, you are safest not to assume your symptoms aren’t related to an STI.
What do you need to do if you have an STI?
If the results of your STI test show that you have an STI, there are some steps you need to take to address your sexual health needs and protect the health and safety of your previous, current, and future sexual partners.
Organise a follow-up appointment with a healthcare professional.
We understand that it may be difficult and uncomfortable for you to discuss your sexual health with your GP or other healthcare professional, however – regardless of whether you have received a positive result on an STI test, or your STI test is negative but you are still experiencing genital symptoms – it’s important for you to arrange a follow-up appointment with a healthcare professional and seek treatment as soon as possible.
Advise your current and previous sexual partner/s.
It is imperative that you talk to your current and previous sexual partners and advise them of their possible exposure to an STI. Again, we know this can be a difficult conversation to have, but there are services and resources that can make this process much easier. If you need advice or assistance with letting past or present partners know – either personally or anonymously – consider using a service such as Let Them Know, The Drama Downunder or Better to Know. Head on over to our Resources page for more information.
Do not have intimate or sexual contact with anyone until you have completed treatment.
If your STI test results have shown that you have a curable STI, your healthcare professional will likely have prescribed you antibiotics to clear the infection. You must not have sex with anyone until you have completed your treatment and received a negative result on a second STI test.
If your STI test results have shown that you have an incurable STI, your healthcare professional will advise you on the most suitable treatment for your infection. You must not have sex with anyone until you have been thoroughly educated on your STI and the treatments available to you, and your doctor has provided you with information on how to best protect yourself and your partner/s from further infection.
Always use protection and practice safe sex.
The best way to be absolutely safe and protect yourself from STIs is to completely abstain from sex – but that’s not exactly practical (or fun!). The next best method of practising safe sex is to only engage in mutual masturbation – but make sure to practice good hand hygiene before and afterwards, and always use barrier protection (male or female condoms and dental dams) and a water-based lubricant. If you choose to continue to engage in intimate skin-to-skin or sexual contact with another person, always use barrier protection (as above) and water-based lube when having anal, vaginal, and oral sex. You might want to consider limiting your number of sexual partners too.
Get regular STI tests!
If you have tested positive for an STI, it may mean you are more susceptible to re-infection – particularly if your sexual partner hasn’t been tested or received treatment as well – so you need to have a follow up STI test after you’ve completed your treatment, and your sexual partner/s should get tested and treated too.
Additionally, where an STI has been left untreated for a prolonged period, you may be more susceptible to developing other infections (such as pelvic inflammatory disease). Having regular STI tests will mean that any STIs will be picked up earlier, which reduces your risk of developing further infection and future complications.