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.
You've agreed to be monogamous
If you’ve been seeing your partner on a regular basis and you’ve both verbally agreed to practice monogamy, you can broach the topic—so long as you're confident that there's a solid level of trust between the two of you, says Sari Cooper, founder and director of the Center for Love and Sex in New York City.
Condoms are essential in non-monogamous relationships because they reduce the odds of either of you contracting a sexually transmitted infection (STI)—which is a definite possibility if one or both of you is sleeping with other people. If you suspect your partner isn't being honest with you and that they might be sleeping around, keep wrapping it up—your health could be at stake.
You're upfront about your STI status
Speaking of STIs, before you go condom-free, you both have to be honest about any infections you currently have. Never been diagnosed with one? You're not in the clear. Many STIs have few or no symptoms, and you could still be infected and simply not know it. For this reason, both of you should undergo a full STI panel, which tests for an array of common infections such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, and HIV. If either of you gets a positive result, your doctor will advise you on the next steps, for example, prescribing meds that cure or treat it.
The caveat to STI testing is that the blood test available to diagnose herpes is not usually recommended unless you show symptoms, partly because it can give a false positive. And though you can go to your ob-gyn to be tested for HPV (human papillomavirus), HPV testing for men is not recommended by the Centers for Disease Control, nor is an approved test available. While genital herpes generally doesn't lead to a more serious condition, HPV can. Some strains of the virus are known to cause cervical cancer and other cancers.
For this reason, some ob-gyns recommend playing it safe and sticking with condoms for longer than you might want to. Orlando-based ob-gyn Christine Greves, MD recommends waiting at least two years before stopping condom usage. Two years seems pretty long, but her suggestion is based on the fact that it can take up to two years to clear high-risk HPV.
Still, she realizes that this may be unrealistic for many couples. “If you choose otherwise, know that your ob-gyn is here for you and that you aren’t judged,” Dr. Greves says.
You have another birth control method in place
Saying good-bye to condoms isn't only a matter of your STI status. Since you don't want to have a baby yet, it’s important to have another contraception method at the ready. (And no, pulling out is not birth control.) No form of pregnancy protection is perfect for everyone, but between the Pill and the Ring, as well as longer-term options like the birth control implant and an IUD, you should be able to find a method that works with your body and lifestyle.
You feel comfortable talking it out with your partner
If you feel uncomfortable bringing up the topic, it might be a sign that your relationship isn't at a place yet where you should stop using condoms. "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,” Dr. Greves says.
But if you are, here are some pointers. Have the conversation on a date, at dinner, or somewhere you feel comfortable outside of the bedroom. Discussing in person, instead of firing off a text, opens the floor to both parties to share their STI history and where they stand in terms of having a baby, says Sherry A. Ross, MD, a Los Angeles-based ob-gyn and author of She-ology: The Definitive Guide to Women's Intimate Health. Period.
How to start this crucial convo? Let your partner know how much you care about the relationship, and also their health. Make it clear that you're ready to check in with your ob-gyn for testing and contraception, and that you expect them to step up and get tested by his doc as well. Hashing it out can be awkward, sure. But it will give you a sense of whether your partner sees the relationship the same way you do and that you're both on the same page.
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