Future heterosexual spread of HIV will in part depend on the efficiency of transmission from men to women and from women to men. We studied seventy-eight female sexual partners of men infected with HIV and 18 male sexual partners of infected women. Participants were interviewed concerning sexual practices, use of contraception and other risk factors for HIV infection. Fifteen out of 78 (19.2%) female partners and one out of eighteen (5.5%) male partners were seropositive for HIV antibody. All couples had practised vaginal intercourse. Seropositive female partners did not differ significantly from seronegative partners with regard to length of relationship, number of acts of vaginal intercourse, other sexual practices, stage of clinical disease in the index case, or numbers of other sexual partners in the last five years. In two women, seroconversion was documented after one act of unprotected sexual intercourse. The majority of infected female partners (eight out of 15) had sexual relationships with men who were asymptomatic and did not practice anal intercourse. Biological factors such as variability in infectivity of the index case and susceptibility of the contact, as well as behavioural variables may be important in determining transmission.