Know when and how to talk to your partner about protection and other sexual health concerns.

Part of a healthy sex life is knowing when and how to talk to your partner about protection, birth control or any sexual health concerns. Clear communication can help you avoid sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Talking about sex isn’t always easy, especially with a new partner. Whether you are in a new relationship, had a one-night stand or are in a long-term relationship, this is your guide to discussing sex with your partner.

Am I ready for sex?

You may be facing pressure to start having sex, or to wait longer. Having sex for the very first time or the first time with a new partner is a big moment. The decision should be yours, and yours alone.

Find out more about knowing if you are ready.

Is my partner ready for sex?

It’s important that you are both ready. You might have made your decision, but is your partner ready? The main thing is to communicate with each other and respect each other’s decision, especially if your partner’s decision is not the one you hoped for.

Why talk about protection?

There are some risks involved in having sex. The main risks are unplanned pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). STIs are more common than many people think. People often catch them from a partner who doesn’t even know they have one. STIs include chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis and HIV.

The birth control pill can prevent pregnancy, but won’t protect you or your partner from STIs. That’s why condoms are the most effective form of protection. Condoms make it less likely you will catch an STI from your partner.

Knowing how to talk to your partner about protection can help you both avoid an unplanned pregnancy or the transmission of an STI.

Know the risks and decide what works best for you.

When to talk about protection and safer sex?

Everyone ends up having “the talk” (about protection). Ideally it’s great to talk about it early. That’s not always possible if things heat up quickly. Either way, it’s good to have some prepared things you can say. Here are some tips for different situations.

Before you begin a sexual relationship

Before you start having sex, you could bring up how common STIs are. Stick to the facts. You could mention that many people with STIs don’t show any symptoms or ever know they have one. This is what makes using condoms the best way to prevent STIs.

Here are some tips for talking to a new partner and starting the conversation.

In the heat of the moment

Usually the talk about protection happens after things have got going. Plan ahead and have condoms with you if you think you might want to have sex. Otherwise it could be easy to have sex without a condom “just this one time.” Here are a couple of things you can say:

  • “Do you have a condom, or should I get one of mine?”
  • “We can do other things if we don't have a condom.”
  • “It's important to me that we use condoms. How can we make it work for both of us?”

If you have already had unprotected sex

If you have already had sex with your partner but didn’t use a condom, you can change your mind and start using them. Talk to your partner about why using condoms is important to you. (As you had unprotected sex, consider getting tested.)

How to respond if your partner objects

Sometimes people don’t like to use protection. It can help to think in advance about how you would respond if a partner doesn’t want to use a condom.

Here are some possible objections and responses:

"I didn’t bring any condoms."
"I have some right here."

"I don’t have a disease! Don’t you trust me?"
"Of course I trust you, but anyone can have an STI and not even know it. I just want to make sure we’re both protected."

"I never used a condom with my ex."
"This is about the two of us, and I won’t have sex without a condom. Let me show you how good it can be - with a condom."

"Let’s just do it without a condom this time."
"It only takes one time to get an STI or to get pregnant. I can’t have sex unless I know I’m protected. Besides I would be stressing out about it and it won’t be enjoyable for me."

"But you (or I) are on the pill."
"That doesn’t protect us from STIs, so I still want to be safe, for both of us."

"I don’t like sex with a condom on, it doesn’t feel the same. I can’t perform."
"This is the only way I feel comfortable having sex and it can still feel good. It also lets us focus on the moment instead of having to worry about all the other stuff. We can also put some lube inside the condom to make it feel better for you."

"If you love me, you’d let me have sex with you without a condom."
"I could have used the same line with you and said, 'If you loved me, you would use a condom,' but I didn’t. I showed you valid health reasons. But I also told you how important this is to me, which means it should be important to you too."

Using condoms is about respect and responsibility — for you and your partner. If your partner still says no to condoms, ask yourself if you’re willing to risk having unprotected sex. If you have made it clear that using a condom is important to you, you may want to take some time to consider your relationship.

How to ask a partner to get tested

If possible, talk about STI testing before you have sex with a new partner. Here are a few ways to start the conversation:

“I think we should both get checked. Sometimes you can't tell, so I just want us to be safe for each other.”

  • “Let’s both get tested. Either of us could have something and not know it.”
  • “Just so you know, the last time I got tested was 3 months ago. What about you?”
  • “I think we should both get checked…want to go together?”

Even if you have already had sex, it's still a good idea for both of you to get tested. Or, if you have been tested since having unprotected sex with your partner and have an STI, it’s very important that you encourage your partner to get tested. Get some tips on asking a partner to get tested.