If you want to ensure that you remain STD-free — and that you behave as a responsible sex partner — then you must learn how to talk about the risks of AIDS and other infections. In our society, more people are willing to engage in sexual activity together than to talk about it, and a good deal of the blame for sexually transmitted diseases comes from this failure to communicate. In fact, a healthy, responsible sex life absolutely depends on this communication.

You all know the Golden Rule about doing unto others as you would have them do unto you. If you planned to have sex with someone, and they had a sexually transmitted disease, wouldn’t you want them to tell you in advance? The same applies to you: If you have a sexually transmitted disease, you have to tell any potential partners. And yes, if you tell somebody that you have an STD, that person may suddenly run in the opposite direction. If you have a disease such as herpes, which never goes away, you will face not only a lifetime of outbreaks, but also difficulty in finding partners. You have to accept that. You cannot go around infecting other people.

And it’s not merely a moral point, but a legal one as well. One U.S. woman was awarded $750,000 in court from her ex-husband because he gave her herpes, and the legal trend is to make people accountable.

Some of you may want to be honest but are saying to yourselves right now, “How do I talk to a potential partner about STDs?”

The answer is very simple: You just do it. If you have the gumption to have sex with somebody, then don’t say that you can’t work up the courage to open this subject. It’s not necessarily easy, but it’s not impossible, and you have to do it.

Timing your AIDS and STD talk

Because not everybody waits to form a strong relationship before having sex, the issue of STDs can come up before the two people involved are really a couple. They may have to ask some very intimate and personal questions of each other before they really know each other all that well.

Now you may believe that if a couple is ready to have sex, then they should be ready to at least talk about it. But these days sex can precede real intimacy so that a discussion about STDs must also be inserted at an earlier stage than it used to be. If both parties clearly want to go to bed together and really look for a simple assurance of probable good health, then this conversation may be no more than a speed bump on the way to the bedroom. But if one person is not confident of the other person’s desire to have sex, how should the discussion of AIDS and other STDs be handled?

The best plan is to take your potential partner to a nice dinner or at least a chat where things are unlikely to progress to sexual contact. It’s too easy to give into the moment when things heat up. Don’t wait until you’re in a situation where it would not only be embarrassing to suddenly pull back, but also almost emotionally impossible to resist going ahead. Especially exhibit caution when drugs or alcohol are involved. You have to be realistic about sex and know that your ability to resist temptation is not infinite. You have to protect yourself in many ways, not just with a piece of rubber.

Make yourself a resolution that you will never get undressed until you’re sure that doing so is safe. If he starts to unbutton your blouse or she grabs hold of your zipper, tell your partner to stop and explain why you’re stopping him or her. Tell him or her that your reluctance isn’t because you don’t want to become intimate — assuming that you do — but because you need to talk about safer sex first.

After having this conversation, you may both decide to renew your activities, possibly stopping at a prearranged point or maybe going all the way, depending on what you said. Whatever the final outcome, at least you’ll know that the decision was calculated and not left to chance.

If you wait until you’re already in bed to ask, it’s highly unlikely that a partner will admit to any STDs. Someone might even add, “Anyway, we have a condom.” That does not make it okay.

Condoms can break or fall off or leak. Even if a condom stays on in one piece, a condom still may not be enough to protect you from STDs.

It’s difficult to have the STD talk, but besides protecting yourself from disease, you gain another benefit from having this talk, and that’s what you’ll learn about this potential partner’s character. When you bring up the subject of being tested for STDs, you’re going to learn a lot about how honest, aboveboard, and caring this person really is. By the time the conversation is over, you will know whether you want to get extremely intimate with this person.

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