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IMAGE Are you totally comfortable becoming physically intimate with a new partner or do you have nagging doubts about sexually transmitted infections (STIs)? How can you bring up the subject without ruining the mood?

You are lying on the couch with a new lover getting hot and heavy, about to make the big move into the bedroom to have sex for the first time. Obviously not the best time to bring up the subject of HIV or other STIs. If you and your partner had already discussed this, you would probably just relax and enjoy the experience. But if you have not talked it through and you do go ahead with sex, be prepared for an experience that is less than perfect.

Open communication with a lover before you have sex is essential. Of course, talking about sexual issues is never easy. But it is less difficult when you take the time to get to know your partner and not rush into sex.

Talking About STIs

So how do you broach the subject of STIs? It may be easier than you imagine. Many people find it a relief when their partner brings up the subject since it is a concern for any responsible person. It shows that you care about your own health and your partner's.

Start by telling your partner how you feel about STIs and your experiences. You might say something like "It is gotten very complicated to be close to people these days. I feel really concerned about it so I have gotten tested for HIV and other STIs. What do you think about it? What have you done?" Or you could comment that you find it scary that people on TV and movies still seem to be jumping into bed without using protection and ask your date what he or she thinks.

If your date indicates that he or she is not being responsible in regard to STIs, you may want to rethink your relationship. Even if a partner assures you that he or she is careful, you cannot depend on that. You do not know his or her partners' sexual histories. The most prudent solution is for both partners to get tested for HIV and STIs before becoming intimate. Testing is readily available through your doctor or at clinics. You can choose to get an anonymous HIV test if confidentiality is a concern. You can also be tested for many STIs, like chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and hepatitis B.

Home test kits are available for HIV and hepatitis B. Make sure you know the risks and benefits of home testing and follow instructions carefully. Information on home test kits can be found at the US Food and Drug Administration website. Keep in mind that when you get your test results, you may need to discuss them with your doctor.

Practicing "Safer Sex"

Even when we know better, we may still succumb to temptation and jump into bed with someone we do not know well. In that case, you should absolutely practice "safer sex," since any exchange of bodily fluids is not entirely safe. Using a latex condom properly can help prevent HIV and other STIs. Men should remove the condom in a way that it prevents fluids from touching their partner.

It's important to keep in mind, too, that condoms do not offer full protection against STIs like genital herpes or genital warts. This is because a condom leaves part of the genital area exposed, and this exposure to your partner's skin may infect you.

If you do have an STI, you will need to tell your potential partners.

  • American Social Health Association

    http://www.ashastd.org

  • Johns Hopkins University AIDS Information Service

    http://www.hopkins-aids.edu

  • Sex Information and Education Council of Canada

    http://www.sieccan.org

  • Sexualityandu.ca

    http://www.sexualityandu.ca

  • Home use kits. US Food and Drug Administration website. Available at: http://www.fda.gov/MedicalDevices/ProductsandMedicalProcedures/InVitroDiagnostics/HomeUseTests/default.htm. Updated March 17, 2010. Accessed January 29, 2013.

  • Keller S. Methods work better when couples talk. Netw Res Triangle Park NC. 1996;16(3):10-11.

  • Sexually transmitted infections. American Academy of Family Physicians Family Doctor website. Available at: http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/diseases-conditions/sexually-transmitted-infections/prevention.html. Updated December 2010. Accessed January 29, 2013.

  • Sexually transmitted diseases. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what. Updated October 22, 2012. Accessed January 29, 2013.

  • Sexually transmitted diseases. Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/std/prevention/default.htm. Updated November 8, 2012. Accessed January 29, 2013.

  • Talking about sex and sexual health. American Sexual Health Association website. Available at: http://www.ashastd.org/sexual%5Fhealth/talking-about-sex.html. Accessed January 29, 2013.