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Ask Debby: What's a foolproof pickup line?

This is why you shouldn't Google-image "herpes."

Q What’s the best pickup line to use on a girl, a line that works most of the time?
A There’s no such thing. Hi is a good start. (Seriously.) You never know what will work; you kind of just have to go for it. Once, while working in a family planning clinic, a guy I was interviewing had just finished telling me he’d had more than 150 partners and, when asked, it became clear that he didn’t know his girlfriend’s last name. Then, after testing positive for gonorrhea, he asked me out on a date. He wasn’t particularly my brand of attractive, but he had guts and I left seeing why he had had so many partners. He was brave enough to ask. Another time I was sitting next to a guy on an airplane and we started the normal small talk you engage in when you’re stuck beside each other for a few hours. He ended up asking me to be his “weekend girlfriend” during his trip. Had I not had a committed boyfriend at the time, things might have gone differently. Other lines and introductions have worked on me—and for me. Start practicing small talk with everyone you meet (the person who delivers your mail, a bartender, waitress, barista, etc.) and you may find that your sex/dating introductions get easier, too.

Q Can you provide the pros and cons about using female condoms for anal sex? I don’t understand why the use of female condoms for anal sex is not recommended. It would seem like there would be better protection and better sensation.
A “Would seem like” and “is known to” are very different things and, unfortunately, we’re in the dark about the safety and efficacy of using female condoms for anal sex. There has been extremely little research conducted on using female condoms for anal sex whether between men or between men and women. Some men prefer using female condoms. Others prefer male condoms and, among the cons of using female condoms for anal sex, have cited noise, irritation, bunching up or difficulty with insertion. In theory, female condom use for anal sex could offer advantages: They may be a good option for men who feel too constricted by using male (penile) condoms, or who want to feel as if they’re barebacking (even if they’re not). Female condoms­­—if used correctly—may even protect more skin/tissue than male condoms, thus offering more protection against HPV and herpes. The huge “however,” though, is that until scientific research is conducted to examine these issues, it’s all theoretical. We don’t know if it holds up in practice for anal sex. Do you necessarily want to hang your STI risk on theoretical musings? Or on evidence? I’d love to see more research on condom use and anal sex, and I’d also like to see more people in the general public asking for female condoms to be available to them. I’d like to see more health-care providers talking with their patients about them, too. Female condoms are not widely available in the U.S. even though they’re popular in some other countries. Ask your drug store to stock them and/or your local clinic to sell them or distribute them for free. Urge funders to fund research on their use for anal sex. Check out cdc.gov and plannedparenthood.com for more info on male and female condoms as well as reducing STI risk.

Q I have been with someone for about four months now, and a few days after our first make-out session (which involved a lot of sucking of the lips), my new partner developed blisters and irritation around her lips. Recently, she has blisters on her lips again, and an outbreak on her chin (which looks like herpes on Google images to me). I read that herpes is common in the U.S. I also read that testing is not very accurate for herpes. Is it safe to kiss her? Also, she said that she would get cold sores even when she was younger, and that she recently tested negative for sexually transmitted infections (STIs). It seems that after our make-out sessions, she has outbreaks. I’m concerned about whether I can catch herpes—or already have it!
A The Internet is a wonderful thing, but it’s not good for diagnosing much of anything, including STIs. If you’re wondering if your partner has an STI, the best thing to do is go get tested for STIs together. Also, yes, herpes is common. However, there are two types—Herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV1, most commonly found on the mouth) and HSV2 (most commonly found on the genitals). Most Americans have been exposed to HSV1. However, fewer Americans—about 16 percent—have genital herpes. The best wayto know for sure whether your partner has herpes, is to get her to the doctor when she has visible symptoms. Testing for herpes can be challenging, but it’s far easier to get an accurate read when there’s an outbreak going on.

Her blisters may very well stem from herpes and, if so, you can catch herpes from kissing her, whether or not she currently has a breakout. There are medications she can take to reduce the frequency and severity of her outbreaks. Some health-care providers will also prescribe such medications to the noninfected partner to help reduce the risk of getting herpes. Also, health-care providers rarely test for herpes as part of general STI tests, so the fact that she tested negative for STIs recently doesn’t necessarily mean she tested negative for herpes. It’s more likely that she was just screened for things like HIV, chlamydia and gonorrhea. I would encourage testing if you’re concerned. Learn more at cdc.gov.

A note from Debby...
I’m sad to say that this is my last column for TOC. Writing In & Out has been among the most meaningful (and fun) work I’ve ever had the honor of being a part of. I’ve loved reading your e-mails, answering your questions and meeting many of you around town. Going forward, you can find me on my blog, on Twitter and in my next book, Great in Bed, due out this month. Here’s wishing you fantastic sex!

Debby Herbenick, Ph.D., M.P.H., is a research scientist at Indiana University, and a sexual health educator at the Kinsey Institute. She will continue to answer reader questions on TOC’s blog, timeoutchicago.com/blog.