a couple holding a condom

Discussing Contraceptives with Your Partner

Waiting until things are "hot and heavy" before talking contraceptives with your partner is like going grocery shopping when you’re hungry; impulses can take over in those moments, and acting on them may lead to regret in both cases.

Admittedly, talking about contraceptives and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) with a potential sexual partner can feel a bit awkward at first, but you owe it to yourself to have a plan. Here are some ways you can start up and continue safe-sex conversations throughout the course of your intimate relationships.

“You’re the only one for me.”

This opener might be a nice way of suggesting, “Honey, I care for you exclusively. Let’s not make a baby.” There are many birth control methods available:

  • Hormonal Methods: Oral contraceptives, i.e. “the pill,” are the most common nonpermanent hormonal options although injections, patches, and rod implants are choices as well.
  • Barrier Methods: Male and female condoms are popular disposable, over-the-counter contraceptives that protect against more than just unwanted pregnancy; they also prevent the spread of STIs. Diaphragms and cervical caps are barriers that must be obtained through your physician.
  • Intrauterine Methods: Intrauterine devices (IUDs) are placed into the uterus by a medical practitioner and can last up to five years.
  • Sterilization Methods: Male sterilization, or vasectomy, and female sterilization, or tubal ligation, are permanent surgical procedures resulting in less than one percent of all pregnancies, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Will you and your partner double up on a few or rely on just one form? If pregnancy is unwanted now, would you like it to be an option in the future? Your long-term goals may limit your contraceptive options now. It is good to remember that many methods, such as oral contraceptives and intrauterine devices (IUDs), that prevent unwanted pregnancies will not protect against the spread of STIs. Currently, the most effective methods for doing both are abstinence or male and female condoms.

“I’ll show you mine, if you show me yours.”

While this conversation starter could imply something quite arousing, here it refers to STI test results. Asking for this information doesn’t have to be offensive. You can let your partner know that while you are interested in taking your relationship to the next level you also care very much about sexual health. Suggest getting tested together and make a date out of it. Be up front about your latest STI results, and offer to show yours first. This lets your partner know you care about their sexual wellbeing and that STI information is important to you as well. If you want to be sure your partner is STI-clean, then ask for a printout of his or her most recent test results.

Before contraceptives were designed for preventing pregnancy, the first goal was protection against disease and infection. Being honest about STIs is critical to forming a healthy sexual relationship that is built on trust. Disclosing an STI doesn’t mean your relationship is doomed. But having one does mean you should discuss what sexual activities you’ll be comfortable with and what barriers to use for each. Even if you or your partner use pregnancy prevention measures such as the pill or an IUD, you may also want to consider additional contraceptives for infection prevention purposes.

“It’s my way or the highway.”

If condoms are your preferred contraceptive of choice but you have a latex allergy, you should definitely consider discussing allergy-free contraception before your relationship heads toward sexual intimacy. Chances are, having an allergy makes you a more cautious label reader than your partner, so providing your own allergy-free barrier is the best idea. Non-latex condoms have been produced since the 1990s and are made from polyurethane. Generally, female condoms available on the market are latex-free and are often made of silicone.

More likely to break and more porous, non-latex condoms may be less effective in preventing unwanted pregnancy and protecting against STIs, including HIV, so you may want to consider a combination of contraceptive methods. In general, spermicide labels should be read carefully to ensure they are safe for condom use because certain spermicides can weaken the condom and cause leaks, tears, and breaks during intercourse. 

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