Top things to know about condom negotiation:
Asking about condoms will not ruin the moment
Start the conversation about condoms before you get into the bedroom
Setting boundaries is an important way of feeling comfortable during sexual situations
Rubbers. Raincoats. Protection.
Condoms are very effective at preventing pregnancy and the spread of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). They are a great birth control method because they are cheap and readily available. Despite this, many people are afraid to talk with their partners about using condoms during sex. They fear it may upset their partner and this may hurt or end their relationship (1). Bringing up the conversation about condoms may be difficult, but it is an important part of having safe sex.
We wanted to get all the details on the best way to discuss condom use with our partners, so we spoke to someone working on the ground in this area, Irma Garcia. She is a certified sex educator and case manager at Jane’s Due Process. Jane’s Due Process is a Texas organization that helps teenagers access legal abortions and birth control. Garcia also founded Dirty South Sex Education, an Instagram page dedicated to promoting unbiased sexual health information, sex positivity, and reproductive rights. “I find myself battling the misinformation a lot because once these young people start having sex they’ll get their information from the internet or friends. The internet is a great resource, but it’s also a black hole if you don't have the proper education to discern what’s accurate and what’s not,” says Garcia.
Why use condoms?
Using a condom is a great way to have safer sex. When condoms are used consistently and correctly, there is a significant reduction in STI contraction (2). They are also very effective at preventing pregnancy - 2 out of 100 women will get pregnant when they use condoms perfectly, and 13 out of 100 women will get pregnant when they use condoms typically, over the course of a year (3). Unwanted pregnancies can be complicated to deal with. Garcia has seen for herself how difficult it’s becoming for people to access abortion, “You don’t understand the politics surrounding abortion until you’re the one who has to navigate the system.” Garcia readily supports condoms as a quick and often free way to prevent any unwanted consequences of having unprotected sex. Working in Texas, Garcia finds that many of her clients are Black and Brown. Garcia said that she often has to battle misinformation about birth control. There are many inequalities in healthcare, especially reproductive healthcare. Quality and access to services are not the same for all people.
What is a condom?
Condoms can usually be bought in supermarkets or drugstores, but can also be obtained from family planning clinics, sexual health clinics or sometimes from a school nurse. There are internal and external condoms. Internal condoms are placed inside of a vagina or anus before sex. External condoms are placed on a penis or sex toy before sex. They are usually made from latex or plastic.
What do condoms do?
Condoms are used to prevent pregnancy and protect against STIs by preventing one person’s bodily fluids from touching another person’s body. Some STIs, like herpes, might still be spread despite using a condom (4). “You can still get pregnant or still get an STI while wearing a condom. But condoms are still the best way of preventing these things compared to not wearing them at all,” says Garcia. A condom might not work because it is used incorrectly, breaks during sex, or it does not stay on the penis. So, condoms will not protect someone against everything, but it significantly decreases the risk of pregnancy and STIs.
How do you ask your partner to wear a condom?
Using a condom should be the responsibility of both parties, but sometimes you might be the first one to bring it up. Once you know why and how you should use one, how do you bring it up? Ideally, you’d start the conversation in a non-sexual setting, so that you can have the talk without being distracted. Garcia says that preparation is key - “You have to be ready.”
How do you bring condoms up?
Garcia recommends starting the conversation about condoms outside of the bedroom. It can be difficult to bring it up during a passionate moment. It’s best to set expectations while both parties have a cool head. “You may think you’re just coming over for cookies, and then all of a sudden your partner wants your cookies!” says Garcia. She recognizes that the condom conversation will look different depending on the type of relationship, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. “It’s as simple as asking your partner if they have a condom. Don’t overthink it,” says Garcia.
Will asking about condoms ruin the moment?
Open communication is important in sex and relationships. Sometimes your partner may not be as willing to wear a condom as you would hope, and you may worry that asking them to wear one might “ruin the moment.” It’s important to understand that sex is about pleasure and feeling comfortable. In these situations, Garcia suggests having an honest conversation with your partner. “You could say that you don’t feel comfortable having sex without a condom, so sex would be more enjoyable for the both of you if you had that extra sense of security,” says Garcia. If your partner does not agree to what you are comfortable with, then it’s okay to not have sex. Never forget that sex is an agreement between both parties and should only happen when and how you want it to happen.
What if my partner takes the condom off without my consent?
Unfortunately, we live in a world where not everybody abides by the rules of consent. It’s important to recognize that conversations about condoms may not be possible in abusive relationships. There can also be situations where your partner says they used a condom, but you realize later that they either lied or removed the condom while having sex. This is called stealthing. “Stealthing is assault and abuse,” says Garcia. Any situation in which the original conditions of consent were dishonored is not ok.
How do I respond to condom excuses?
Asking someone to wear a condom should be easy, but your partner might have a million reasons as to why they don’t want to wear one. Garcia provided some responses to the most common excuses:
Having the condom talk will make sex safer and better
Asking someone to wear a condom doesn’t have to be scary or awkward. It can be sexy and used as part of foreplay to increase excitement and pleasure. “Condoms don’t have to be this mundane thing. It can be fun because there are so many different types and ways to get pleasure out of it,” says Garcia.
Always remember that sex is most pleasurable when both parties feel safe and comfortable. The best way to ensure your boundaries are respected is to have a conversation about what you need from your partner before you get into the bedroom. That way, you can explain why using a condom is important for you without getting “caught in the moment.” Garcia wants everyone to remember, “You should never have your boundaries disrespected, and your pleasure and safety should always be put first.”