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 AIDS or 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 STDs

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 chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and hepatitis B and hepatitis C.

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 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.

Since genital herpes may include sores on the genitals (or may be transmitted by a partner who has no visible skin lesions but is still shedding virus), and HPV produces genital warts, both of these infections can be spread when the infected skin in the genital area of one partner rubs against the skin of the other partner. Therefore, condoms may not prevent the spread of infection.

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