When Can My Partner and I Start Having Sex Without a Condom?

You may not want a baby—at least not right now. But you've been part of a couple for a while, and you're both really tired of having to take that awkward break between foreplay and the main event to fumble around for a condom. In fact, it's becoming a serious buzzkill. When, you wonder, can we stop using them?

The decision to ditch latex is different for every couple, and the right time to do it depends on many factors. But it's an issue that eventually crops up in just about every serious relationship. To help you figure out when it's time for you and your partner to consider going condom-free, we asked sex and relationship experts to outline a few healthy ground rules.

When to Stop Using Condoms

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You Feel Comfortable Talking About It With Your Partner

Having a conversation with your partner about ditching condoms is important to discuss any potential risks of going condom-free – like STIs and pregnancy. "If you're not ready for that conversation or what could happen if you don't use a condom, then there is nothing wrong with waiting," says Orlando-based ob-gyn Christine Greves, MD.

Try having the conversation on a date, at dinner, or somewhere you feel comfortable outside of the bedroom. During your conversation, you should make it clear that you both need to get STI testing and share any STI history. If pregnancy is possible, you should also discuss how you want to handle birth control or having a baby.

Even if you've never been diagnosed with an STI, you're not in the clear. Many STIs have few or no symptoms, and you could still be infected and simply not know it. Using condoms can help lower the risk of passing an STI onto your partner—though it doesn't eliminate that risk completely. If you or your partner refuses to get STI testing, it's probably not the right time in your relationship to stop using condoms.

You and Your Partner Get STI Testing

Before you ditch condoms, both partners should undergo a full STI panel. This tests for common infections like syphilis, chlamydia, gonorrhea, and HIV.

Before getting tested, you should also discuss your sexual history and any potential STI-related symptoms with a healthcare provider. Pain while peeing, itchy or burning genitals, genital sores, and unusual discharge or bleeding are all red flags. Again, even if you've never had an STI, you could have an infection without symptoms. 

Most routine STI testing will involve taking blood or urine samples, but your healthcare provider may do a swab test to confirm any STIs. You can expect to get your results within a few hours or days, depending on the type of test and the lab used for testing.

You Understand There's Still STI Risk

The caveat to STI testing is that some STIs are tricky to test. So even if you and your partner are in the clear after testing, there's still some risk of STIs like genital herpes and HPV (human papillomavirus).

The CDC does not recommend folks get tested for genital herpes unless they show symptoms – like sores or blisters. This is because the blood tests available often give false positives. So, it is possible to have herpes and not know it. However, if you had a sex partner with genital herpes, a blood test may be helpful since you're more at risk.

There is also no simple blood test to determine if someone has HPV, the most common STI. There are different types of HPV, and most strains resolve on their own. However, some strains can cause genital warts and cancer. Some folks will discover they have HPV if they're diagnosed with genital warts.

Because ditching condoms puts you at higher risk of HPV, some healthcare providers recommend playing it safe and sticking with condoms longer than you might want to. Since it can take up to two years to clear high-risk HPV, Dr. Greves recommends waiting at least two years before stopping condom usage.

People with vaginas can get tested for HPV during cervical cancer screenings. But, these tests are typically only used after an abnormal Pap test result or during a cervical cancer screening for folks 30 years old or older. If you have a penis, there is no approved HPV test available. However, some healthcare providers may offer anal Pap tests if you're at risk of anal cancer, which would test for HPV.

You're Upfront About Your STI Status

Both partners must be honest about any infections. If either of you gets a positive result, your healthcare provider will advise you on the next steps. Depending on the STI, this may involve taking medication that can treat or manage the infection. You'll also want to abstain from sex (even with condoms) during STI treatment to avoid passing it to your partner.

STIs can linger from past partners, so getting a positive test doesn’t necessarily mean your partner is sleeping with other people. If you test positive for an STI, your partner should get screened as well.

If either of you has an STI that cannot be cured, you'll need to discuss the next steps on staying safe. This may include medications and using condoms.

You Have Another Birth Control Method in Place

Condoms do more than reduce the risk of STIs, they can help prevent pregnancy too. So if you decide you want to ditch condoms but don't want to get pregnant, you should use another birth control method. 

The best birth control method depends on your preferences, health, and if you want to become pregnant in the near future. Short-acting hormonal birth control methods include:

  • Pills you take daily
  • Vaginal rings inserted monthly
  • Patches applied monthly
  • Shots you get every three months 

If you prefer a method that doesn't require remembering to take a pill or change a ring, long-acting reversible contraceptives may be a better choice. These include:

  • Hormonal birth control implants, placed in the upper arm, which prevent pregnancy for up to three years 
  • Hormonal intrauterine devices (IUDs) that last three to eight years, depending on the brand
  • Copper IUDs that last for up to 10 years

Talking with your healthcare provider can help you determine which method works best for your body and lifestyle.

You Establish Relationship Expectations

Being in a monogamous relationship doesn't necessarily mean it’s safe to forgo condoms. It's important to establish relationship expectations – like being mutually monogamous or practicing safe sex with outside partners – that can decrease your risk of getting STIs from other people.

Hashing it out can be awkward, but discussing relationship expectations helps both partners ensure they're on the same page regarding commitment and STI risk. If you suspect your partner isn't being honest with you, it's not the right time to stop using condoms.

A Quick Review

The decision to stop using condoms should be mutual, and neither partner should feel pressured to ditch condoms. If you're not ready to stop using condoms, that's completely OK. If you and your partner decide you’re ready to stop using condoms, getting tested for STIs beforehand can help ensure you continue to practice safe sex.

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Sources
Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  3. Workowski KA, Bachmann LH, Chan PA, et al. Sexually Transmitted Infections Treatment Guidelines, 2021MMWR Recomm Rep. 2021;70(4):1-187. doi:10.15585/mmwr.rr7004a1

  4. CDC – Genital Herpes Screening.

  5. STD Facts - Human Papillomavirus(HPV).

  6. STD Facts - Human Papillomavirus(HPV).

  7. STD Facts - HPV and men.

  8. Birth Control Methods | Office on Women’s Health.

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