September 24, 2019

Tips For Negotiating Condom Use

How to talk about using a condom. What to say when you want to use protection. Ways to maximize pleasure when practicing safer sex.
Written by
Suzannah Weiss
Published on
September 24, 2019
Updated on
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Setting boundaries in the bedroom can be intimidating. Lots of folks have internalized the myth that communicating their needs ruins the mood, especially when it comes to boundaries like safer sex. 

But if your partner respects you, they’ll be glad you’re looking out for your health, and you’ll feel more comfortable knowing they care about your wellbeing and boundaries. As long as you both honor each other’s consent, the conversation can actually bring you closer. 

Why Use A Condom?

People use condoms to prevent both pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Condoms have an 85% effectiveness rate for preventing pregnancy. But that takes into account that people don’t always use them correctly. If used properly every time condoms are 98% effective at preventing pregnancy. 

People use condoms to prevent both pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). 

Condoms also play an important role in STI prevention. When a penis is making contact with a partner’s genitals, anus, or mouth, a condom prevents ejaculate or pre-ejaculate from transmitting STIs. You can also put condoms on sex toys to prevent the spread of any bacteria that may be in them, especially if you’re using the toy with multiple partners.

Deciding Whether To Use A Condom

Some people use condoms as their sole birth control method, while others who are on hormonal birth control or other methods use them for additional protection. When it comes to STI prevention people use condoms if they are unsure of their own or their partner’s STI status, or if they know that one of them has an STI.

But even if you’ve both tested STI-negative, there are some STIs that tests can miss, such as HPV. So, it’s still beneficial to use a condom. But ultimately, that’s a decision people have to make together based on how much risk each of them feels ok about.

Feeling safe helps you get out of your head and into your body to enjoy the physical sensations of sex, rather than worrying about possible STI or pregnancy risks. So using safer sex methods can actually make sex more enjoyable.

Asking To Use A Condom

Any partner, even a casual one, should be invested in your sexual health and listen to your preferences regarding condom use. Ideally, it’s best to discuss safer sex before you’re in the bedroom. This ensures you’re on the same page and know what to expect beforehand, and it’s easier to have the conversation when you’re not in the heat of the moment. 

“It’s important for me to use condoms, are you OK with that?”

You could say something like, “it’s important for me to use condoms, are you OK with that?” or just “are you OK with using condoms?”

If you don’t feel comfortable having this discussion or don’t have the chance to get to it, you can simply ask your partner in the moment, “Could you get a condom?”

Negotiating Boundaries

Just as you have the right to turn down sex without a condom, your partner has the right to turn down using one. They may decline to use condoms because they find them uncomfortable, are allergic to the material, or another reason. 

But in that case, they should be OK with either exploring other solutions that make you both comfortable, like getting tested for STIs and/or using another birth control method, or not having sex at all. 

If a partner makes you feel like you’re being unreasonable, guilts you, or threatens to withdraw their affections because you’ve asked to use a condom, they are engaging in verbal coercion. You should never be pressured into compromising your sexual boundaries. 

Nonconsensual Condom Removal 

Once your partner agrees to use a condom, it’s not OK for them to remove it without your consent. “Stealthing,” when someone takes off a condom without their partner knowing, is sexual assault. 

Consent must be informed — you have to know what’s going on in order to consent to it. And consent to sex with a condom is not consent to sex without one. Just because you’ve agreed to have sex with someone doesn’t mean they have the right to have whatever kind of sex they want, with or without your permission. 

Troubleshooting Condoms Challenges

Some people have trouble using condoms, which can make them not want to wear them. Here are some solutions to common condom problems to help remove the roadblocks when you’re negotiating condom use:

Problem: Reduced sensation of the penis

Solution: Find thinner condoms - although they may be a little more expensive the improved sensation is worth it. And add a drop of silicone lube inside the end of the condom, as well as lube on the outside of the condom when it’s on for added slide and sensation.

Problem: Uncomfortable on penis

Solution: There are so many different sizes and shapes of condom. Try out different ones - you can even try masturbating with them on to experiment - until you find the right fit for you.

Problem: Allergic to latex

Solution: Latex allergies are fairly common, you might not even realise it, but a minor latex allergy might be behind your discomfort. Non-latex condoms are easy to get and could make all the difference to your comfort.

Problem: Putting on a condom can ruin the mood

Solution: Up your dirty talk skills to make condom use hotter and more seamless - instead of it being an interruption why not grab a condom and say “I can’t wait for you to put this on so we can take it to the next level”.

Problem: Getting a condom interrupts things

Solution: Instead of breaking the flow and going to find a condom in the bathroom, or wherever, have condoms on hand. In bedside drawers, in your bag, in your car, or locker… just make sure you check expiry dates and dispose of any that have been exposed to sun or heat.

Problem: Losing your erection when using condoms

Solution: Try the internal condom. This is inserted in the vagina or anus rather than rolled onto the penis. When the penis feels less constricted it can be easier to keep hard.

Once your partner agrees to use a condom, it’s not OK for them to remove it without your consent. 

Troubleshooting condom use increases the pleasure potential of protected sex. Condom negotiation is easier when you have suggestions to improve comfort and ease. Find the condoms that are right for you, get confident using them, and go ahead and enjoy!

Reviewed for Medical Accuracy

Suzannah Weiss is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, New York Magazine, and more. She holds degrees in cognitive neuroscience, modern culture and media, and gender and sexuality studies from Brown University. You can find her on Twitter at @suzannahweiss or on Instagram at @weisssuzannah.

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