By Marleny Huerta-Apanco and Sarah Rincon
Some conversations, no matter how hard, are worth having when it comes to safe sex. Whether it’s your first sexual encounter or not, we at Between Us want to advocate and help navigate these conversations so that we can all have healthy sexual experiences. Regardless of whether or not you are in a monogamous relationship, it’s important to understand the need to set boundaries and establish rules for intimate encounters that honor the values of both people and help promote the health of those involved as well.
A study in the United States found that those that are at highest risk for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) were sexually active youth. Approximately half of STIs reported each year are among youth ages 15–24, and those who contract STIs are also at elevated risk for acquiring HIV. Latino youth are at higher risk for STIs and HIV, compared to European Americans. This risk may be attributable partially to the higher rates of sexual activity among Latino males and the lower rates of condom use among Latino adolescents, compared to European Americans. Though all ethnic groups statistics vary, we know that through use of protection, risk of STDs, HIV, and unwanted pregnancies are preventable.
It’s common to find conversation about protection to be intimidating or awkward but they don’t have to be. We hope that some of these tips we offer can help make you feel more confident in navigating these conversations.
One of the most important ways to prepare yourself for conversations like this is to think about your own values and create a list of non-negotiables that you’d like related to intimate relationships or relationships in general. We all grow up with different cultural, spiritual, and social perspectives. Learning how those have shaped us and how they impact sexual experiences is tricky, but by reflecting on those influences, you will learn what is important to you, and then can communicate it to others more easily.
Based on a study looking at sexually active youth, learning about the consequences of having sex with no protection, and direct communication (talking or expressing it with body language) were effective strategies to obtain condom use, even among youth who perceived their sexual partners as not wanting to use condoms. Take time to become informed about different types of condoms (see the link to our article on condoms HERE) and once you’re ready, here are some tips to help you talk with your partner(s).
- Plan to have the talk to your partner(s) before engaging in any sexual activity. When it comes time to have the conversation, let your partner know that you want to talk about condoms because you care about their sexual health and safety just as much as you care about your own. Be honest about what you are willing to do with a condom and what you are not willing to do without one.
- Here is an example of a non-negotiable: “If we decide to have oral sex I will only want to give you oral sex if you wear a condom.”
- Consider having a ‘sexual agreement’ with your partner to work out expectations for condom use. This agreement includes discussing if you are having sex only with one another or plan to have sexual relationships or encounters outside of your partnership. If you decide to not use protection get tested prior to making this decision to ensure you are aware of your sexual health. Discuss having the opportunity to get tested together and regularly to protect you both.
- A sexual agreement gives all partners the opportunity to express their desires along with demonstrating their boundaries.
- Decide to work on this together and be detailed. Allow this to foster more conversations on all forms of sexual activities not just discussing condom use.
- Condoms are meant to not only prevent STD’s but additionally prevent against unwanted pregnancy… be open to discussing with your partner what steps they would want to take if it breaks, tears or falls off…” What kind of steps are you both comfortable taking in regards to taking plan B etc
If you have sex with an individual with a vulva, you can still pass on HIV, especially during oral sex or when sharing sex toys. This is why it’s important to discuss using dental dams. For more information, see this fact sheet on HIV Transmission.
If your partner says they do not want to put on a condom and you still want to have sex, you have options:
- Reinforce the boundaries that you agreed upon. If you agreed to always wear condoms, tell them you will not have sex without a condom: refer back to your sexual agreement and ask them what steps they are willing to go through if condoms are not used.
- Try a less risky way of being intimate – such as an erotic massage, mutual masturbation or outercourse.
- Explore taking pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP (for HIV prevention only)
Regardless of what your partner(s) say or how those conversations go, remember to practice self care for you as well.
- Role play how you would ask someone to use a condom. Practice on your own or with friends so you will be ready to say them when the time comes.
- Carry condoms with you, so you will be ready for any unexpected sexual situation, just be mindful to not store them somewhere very hot.
- Practice! Before being sexual with a partner, practice putting on and taking off a condom. Try with a banana, dildo, or vibrator. Also try inserting and removing an internal condom to see how it feels and how it fits. Studies show that people are completely comfortable with using an internal condom after at least four times or trying it.
It can be difficult to talk about things like safer sex. You might fear you will lose your partner(s) or potential partner(s)…but it’s worth it because your health matters. If conversations don’t go well, remember to keep trying. Just as important as consent is in a sexual encounter, so too is your health. We are all worthy of respect and protection.