Examining your partner’s genitals before coital, oral, or anal contact might reveal the symptoms of an STI. Herpes blisters, vaginal and urethral discharges, and chancres and rashes associated with syphilis, genital warts, and gonorrhea may be seen. In most cases symptoms are more evident on a man. (If he is uncircumcised, be sure to retract the foreskin.) The presence of a discharge, an unpleasant odor, sores, blisters, a rash, warts, or anything else out of the ordinary should be viewed with some concern. "Milking" the penis is a particularly effective way to detect a suspicious discharge. This technique, sometimes called the "short-arm inspection," involves grasping the penis firmly and pulling the loose skin up and down the shaft several times, apply­ing pressure on the base-to-head stroke. Then part the urinary opening to see if any cloudy discharge is present.

People frequently find it difficult to openly conduct such an inspection before sexual involvement. Sometimes the simple request "Let me undress you" can provide some opportunity to examine your partner’s genitals. Sensate focus pleasuring, discussed in Chapter 14, could provide the opportunity for more-detailed visual exploration. Some people suggest a shower before sex, with an eye toward examining a partner. This may be helpful for noting visible sores, blisters, and so forth, but soap and water can also remove the visual and olfactory cues associated with a discharge.

If you note signs of infection, you may justifiably and wisely elect not to have sex­ual relations. Your intended partner may or may not be aware of his or her symptoms. Therefore it is important that you explain your concerns. Some people may decide to continue their sexual interaction after discovering possible symptoms of an STI; they would be wise, though, to restrict their activities to kissing, hugging, touching, and man­ual genital stimulation.