9 Questions to Ask About Your Partner's Sexual History

Doctor William C Lloyd Healthgrades Medical Reviewer
Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Jennifer L.W. Fink, RN, BSN on September 8, 2021
  • Couple snuggling and holding hands in bed
    What to Ask Before You Have Sex
    We all know it’s a good idea to discuss our sexual history and preferences with prospective partners before becoming physically intimate. It might seem easier to skip over that potentially awkward conversation, but doing so increases your risk of sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy, while also dramatically increasing the likelihood of disappointment and dashed expectations. It’s a much better idea to honestly share the essential details of your sexual past and ask your partner to do the same. You can use this list of sexual history questions to guide the conversation.
  • Young African American heterosexual couple in bed looking at tablet
    #1: Have you ever tested positive for a sexually transmitted infection?
    Sexually transmitted infections (STIs, formerly called STDs or sexually transmitted diseases) are on the upswing. Since 2013, chlamydia cases have increased by 22%, gonorrhea has increased by 67%, and syphilis has increased by 76%, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). These diseases can cause health complications in both men and women. A past history of an STI doesn’t mean you should exclude that person as a potential sex partner. It means you need more detail: What infection? When? Did you undergo treatment? Has the infection cleared, or do you have lingering symptoms?
  • Doctor drawing blood sample from arm for blood test
    #2: When were you last tested for HIV?
    Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection is not the death sentence it once was, but it’s still best to avoid infection. The CDC recommends that all people between the ages of 13 and 64 get tested for HIV at least once. Among those who should be tested more frequently: men who have sex with men, people who have sex with multiple partners, people who inject drugs, people who have had sex with an HIV-positive partner, and people who have been diagnosed with or treated for hepatitis, tuberculosis (TB), or an STI. Ideally, you want to know your partner’s current HIV status before having sex.
  • Mixed race couple at pharmacy shopping together for condoms and contraception
    #3: How do you practice safer sex?
    Safer sex decreases the risk of transmission of sexually transmitted infections. For some people, “safe sex” means using condoms during vaginal or anal sex. But safer sex practices also include the use of barriers (such as condoms or dental dams) during oral sex and may include the use of PrEP, or pre-exposure prophylaxis. (PrEP is prescription medication designed to prevent HIV infection. It can be prescribed to HIV-negative people who have sex with HIV-positive individuals or those at high risk of infection.) Together, discuss which safer sex practices you’ll use to protect your health.
  • Couples Feet in Bed
    #4: If you have herpes, are you undergoing treatment?
    According to the CDC, more than 1 out of every 6 people ages 14 to 49 have genital herpes. There’s no cure for herpes, so for most people, it’s a lifelong condition. Although it’s best to avoid partnered sex during herpes outbreaks, it’s entirely possible for someone with herpes to enjoy an active sex life—without infecting their sexual partners. Using condoms during sexual intercourse decreases the chance of herpes transmission. People who have herpes can also take a daily medication that also decrease the odds of transmitting the disease to a partner.
  • Safe Sex
    #5: What birth control have you used in the past?
    Reliable birth control is a must (unless you’re trying to get pregnant). Asking about your partner’s past usage of birth control opens the door to discussing their preferred methods of contraception. It can also reveal their overall attitude toward birth control. Some men, for instance, don’t like to use condoms, so they skip them. According to the CDC, just 45.2% of men used condoms the last time they had intercourse; almost 1 in 5 men say they use withdrawal to prevent pregnancy, which is not an effective method. Carefully consider your level of pregnancy risk and talk about which type of contraceptive will put you most at ease.
  • Middle aged male Caucasian gay couple sitting together in booth laughing
    #6: Which sexual activities do you particularly enjoy?
    Learning your partner’s preferences can be a huge turn on for both of you! Your first time—and all subsequent sexual encounters—will be much more enjoyable if you know what gets your partner going. Ask about fantasies. Ask them how they like to be touched. Talk about preferred settings too: Does your partner like the lights on or off? Daytime sex or nighttime sex? If your partner doesn’t have much experience, ask which activities they’d like to try.
  • A couple laughs intimately with each other in bed
    #7: What are your sexual boundaries?
    Consent is extremely important. It’s also a good idea to discuss sexual boundaries. Some people like spanking during sex; others do not. Before becoming physically intimate, it’s a good idea to clearly outline which sexual activities you do not want to participate in. This conversation should be revisited throughout your relationship. It’s also a good idea to establish a “safe word,” or word that, when uttered, will end sexual activity. Choose a random but memorable word, such as “umbrella” or “treehouse.”
  • Young African American woman sitting on end of bed looking frustrated with African American man lying in background
    #8: Have you had any traumatic sexual experiences?
    Approximately 1 in 6 women and 1 in 33 men have experienced rape or sexual assault, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN). Many more were victims of childhood sexual abuse. These traumatic events can influence a person’s sexual response for years to come. Research has shown that people affected by sexual trauma may flinch from touch, experience sexual difficulties, or become emotionally distant during sexual encounters. Of course, everyone responds to sexual trauma differently, and many survivors of sexual abuse now enjoy healthy sex lives. Talking about past experiences allows you to be sensitive to your partner’s needs.
  • couple-dancing-outside
    #9: How has your health affected your sex life?
    If your partner has any health conditions that affect his or her sexual function, you need to know. A history of diabetes may lead to erectile dysfunction; understanding that in advance will help you respond compassionately and creatively. Past cancer treatment may have led to decreased sensation in some areas or increased sensation in others. Learning about your partner’s health history and physical ability—and sharing your own—will help you develop reasonable, realistic expectations for your sexual encounters.
9 Questions to Ask About Your Partner's Sexual History | Sexual Partners

About The Author

Jennifer L.W. Fink, RN, BSN is a Registered Nurse-turned-writer. She’s also the creator of BuildingBoys.net and co-creator/co-host of the podcast On Boys: Real Talk about Parenting, Teaching & Reaching Tomorrow’s Men. Most recently, she is the author ofThe First-Time Mom's Guide to Raising Boys: Practical Advice for Your Son's Formative Years.
  1. Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance 2017. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/std/stats17/default.htm
  2. Genital Herpes. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/std/herpes/stdfact-herpes.htm
  3. HIV. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/statistics/overview/index.html
  4. HIV Testing. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/basics/testing.html
  5. Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/risk/prep/index.html
  6. Contraceptive Use. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/contraceptive.htm
  7. Unmarried Men’s Contraceptive Use at Recent Sexual Intercourse, 2011-2015. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db284.htm
  8. Communication and Decision Making. Centre for Sexuality. https://www.centreforsexuality.ca/sexual-health-info/communication-decision-making/
  9. Bornefeld-Ettmann, P., Steil, R., Lieberz, K., Bohus, M., Rausch, S., & Herzog, J. et al. (2018). Sexual Functioning After Childhood Abuse: The Influence of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Trauma Exposure. The Journal Of Sexual Medicine, 15(4), 529-538. doi:10.1016/j.jsxm.2018.02.016. Retrieved from https://www.jsm.jsexmed.org/article/S1743-6095(18)30136-X/fulltext
  10. Zoldbrod, A. (2014). Sexual Issues in Treating Trauma Survivors. Current Sexual Health Reports, 7(1), 3-11. doi:10.1007/s11930-014-0034-6. Retrieved from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11930-014-0034-6
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Last Review Date: 2021 Sep 8
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