There are a few great reasons condoms are such a nightstand staple. They’re our best protection from STDs. They’re ready to use at a moment’s notice. And they don’t involve a trip to the doctor. But after dating for a while, many couples reach a point when their love for condoms starts to wane. “At some point, as people become secure in their relationship, many want to switch to another type of birth control and stop using condoms,” says John Green, social media director for The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. “And we know that many people are ill-prepared for that moment.”
Are you and your partner considering ditching the condoms? Here are some things to consider before entering the storm without your “rain jacket
Understand That Most STIs Are Not Visible
STIs are extremely common — half of adults will get at least one STI by age 25, and many experts believe that nearly everyone who’s sexually active will get human papillomavirus (HPV). You may remember seeing really freaky pics of STIs in your health class, but truth be told, it’s nearly impossible to tell if someone has an STI just by looking, because most have no signs or symptoms. You are not an STI test kit — just because someone is well-dressed, or you trust him or her completely, or even if you can’t see anything out of the ordinary on his or her genitals, it doesn’t mean that person doesn’t have an STI. “Viruses and bacteria don’t care about how great the person is that you’re dating,” says Julie West, vice president of education at Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “Testing is the only way to know for sure.”
Know Your STI Screening Basics
Anyone who has had vaginal, oral, or anal sex without a condom (or has shared a needle) is at risk for STIs. And since condoms don’t fully protect against all STIs, even if you have always used condoms, you could still be at risk. Which STIs you should get screened for depends on your sex, your age, and your sexual history. At a minimum, it’s recommended that everyone get tested for HIV at least once (and more often if you’ve had unprotected sex). And if you’re a sexually active woman age 24 or younger, you should get tested annually for chlamydia and gonorrhea. There are many other STIs you may want to get screened for, such as syphilis, trichomoniasis, genital herpes, hepatitis B and C, or HPV. So educate yourself about the options and talk with your healthcare provider about what’s recommended for you. The “educate yourself” part of that statement is important, because not all providers are up to date on what you should be screened for — so it’s best to walk in with some knowledge yourself.
Get the Tests You Need
“Just because someone has been to a medical provider doesn’t mean he or she has been tested for everything. Some tests are routinely done and some are not,” says West. For example, herpes is not routinely tested for, and guys can’t be tested for HPV. The definition of “everything” can vary from provider to provider, which is why it’s important to know exactly which tests you’re getting. It’s also important to make sure you’re getting tested at the right time, because many STIs aren’t immediately detectable after you have unprotected sex — in fact, it can take up to three months for some STIs, such as HIV, to show up on tests. (Other STIs, such as chlamydia, can be detected much sooner.) So be sure to talk with your healthcare provider about the best time to get tested after you’ve had unprotected sex. You might need to repeat some tests to be sure the results are accurate.
Discuss Your Results
You can get tested with your partner, or you can go on your own — it’s up to you. But you and your partner should both get tested for the STIs that make sense for you, and share your results with each other. And the reality is, it may turn out that one or both of you have an STI (remember earlier when we were talking about how common STIs are?). Bacterial STIs, such as chlamydia, can usually be easily cured with simple antibiotics. Viral STIs, such as herpes or HIV, may remain in your body forever, but they can be effectively managed with medication. If you do have a viral STI, it’s up to you and your partner to decide if you want to have sex without a condom; you can take other steps to reduce the risk of transmission. But whatever you decide, it’s important to know the risk you’re taking and make an informed decision.
Before you decide to stop using condoms, it’s a good idea to be in a committed relationship and trust the person you’re with, Green says. Whether you’re monogamous or not, you should be clear about what the arrangement is and comfortable with it. If you’re feeling squeamish about bringing up the DTR convo, that could be a sign that you’re not feeling totally comfortable in the relationship. And if that’s true, consider asking yourself: Am I okay having unprotected sex with someone I’m not able to have a relationship conversation with? Although how you choose to have sex is always up to you and your partner, most people have the best sexual experiences when they really trust the person they are having them with. Before you decide to have sex without a condom, ask yourself: Do I trust that my partner cares about my well-being? Do I trust that this person will tell me the truth about STI testing?
Make Sure You’re Doing It For You
Deciding to have sex without a condom is a big decision — so you want to make sure that you’re doing it because YOU want to. When you’re really into someone, it can be tempting to do whatever it takes to make that person happy. But if you don’t look out for your own relationship needs and health, just trying to make your partner happy can backfire and cause you to feel resentful, powerless, and generally unhappy. Remember, someone who cares about you isn’t going to pressure you to do something you’re not comfortable with. And not using a condom at your partner’s urging isn’t going to make your partner feel more connected to you or more into it than he or she already is. Having sex without a condom is taking a risk. And of course all of life involves taking risks, but down the line, the risks you can feel good about are the ones you’ve chosen because you wanted to.
If you’ve been relying on condoms as your main source of contraception, then you’ll want to find a new form of contraception before you stop using condoms. This means taking some time to plan ahead, outside of bed. “It’s easier to have non-romantic thoughts — like planning your birth control — at a time when you’re not having sex, which is why we encourage planning so much,” Green says. But just because you find another birth control method doesn’t mean there’s no use for condoms. “It’s really best for couples to use both an effective method of birth control and a condom,” West says. “To be really protected from an unplanned pregnancy, it’s best to use dual methods.”
Learn about ALL Your Birth Control Options
There is a wide range of safe, highly effective birth control methods that you can choose from. No one method is the best choice for everyone, so you want to learn about all of your options and decide which will be the best for you. “Most people still move from condoms to the Pill, but a lot of people don’t realize that IUDs and implants are even more effective than the Pill and can be used by teens and young adults even if they haven’t had a baby,” West says. “Both the IUD and implant are 99% effective, and people don’t have to worry about doing something every day.”
Hold Onto Your Horses Trojans
Found a new birth control method? Great! Just know that it can take up to a week for a new method to start working, so you should continue using condoms until your new birth control is fully effective. West warns: “One of the big places that unplanned pregnancy takes place is when people are switching methods.” Know this, and protect yourself by keeping up the condom use until you’re fully in the clear.
You Don’t Have to Ditch
If you’ve gotten to the end of this article and you’re thinking having sex without condoms feels like a little too much for you, don’t sweat it. You don’t have to stop using them if you don’t want to! Some people believe that using condoms is a barrier to intimacy, or a sign that you don’t trust your partner, “but really you can look at it in a different way,” West says. “Using a condom means caring about the health of your partner and yourself.” And with all the new styles out there, condoms can actually spice up your sex life. There are a ton of ways to feel more intimate and connected with your partner. There are also a ton of ways to have better sex. If those are the true goals you’re after, then ditching condoms does not have to be your solution.