The glow of candlelight, romantic music in the air, white wine chilling... and a few quick questions about your partner's sexual history. Knowing how to handle those awkward exploratory interviews with a new love interest could not only save your Friday night, but your life. So we talked to Dan Wohlfeiler, a spokesperson for the STD (sexually transmitted disease) control branch of the California Department of Health Services, and Ava Cadell, Ph.D., a clinical sexologist and member of the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists, to find out what you should say, when you should say it, and how not to kill the mood while doing it.
"Timing is everything," says Cadell. "Never—and I do mean never—start talking about or asking about sexual history on the first date or there's a big chance it'll be your last date. Keep it light and positive until there's some real chemistry."
Okay, note to self, don't pull out a sexual history checklist when greeting my date at the door, but what if you're at the point of considering a sexual relationship with someone? Wohlfeiler recommends that your top pre-sex survey questions include: How do you feel about using a condom?; Have you ever had a STD?; When did you last get tested for HIV? "You're going to have to judge which answers you can live with," he says. "But keep this in mind when you're thinking about what you're willing to risk: STDs can be asymptomatic and tests are imperfect."
Cadell, on the other hand, sees little value in asking. "If I were considering starting a sexual relationship with a man and he told me that he's only had one sexual partner, he was tested for HIV and the test was negative—I'd still want him to wear the condom. So what's the point dredging up the past and putting someone on the defensive?" Cadell recommends always using a condom and nonoxynol-9 or -15 spermacide (a detergent that kills HIV) and suggests having a little "condom talk" to keep things light. "Ask your partner what types of condoms he likes," she says. "Make a shopping trip of it and test out a few."