Negotiating Safer Sex


Sexual activity can be a fun and connecting experience for partners. However, oralvaginal, and anal sex are behaviors that do come with risks. The most effective away to avoid the risks of contracting a sexually transmitted infection (STI) or having an unplanned pregnancy is to use contraceptives. Despite their proven effectiveness, contraceptives are not always a priority for individuals engaging in sexual activity. Not having protection at the forefront of the mind can pose a problem for partners or potential partners who have health and pregnancy concerns. By discussing preventative measures with partners prior to engaging in sexual activity, the risks of contracting possible STIs or unwanted pregnancy can be significantly lowered. This discussion may be easier said than done, and may come with stigma or awkwardness, but it is crucial to get passed these hindrances and begin to negotiate ways to practice safer sex. This article will cover the importance of effective communication along with some problems individuals have with discussing safer sex and ways to get around these difficulties.

a condom and its open wrapper against a red background

Importance of Communication

Communicating your concerns with your partner(s) is the first step. This task can be difficult because many individuals may not want to start an awkward conversation or are afraid that they may be offending their partner(s). Although the subject of safe sex may not always lead to a preferable conversation, revealing your personal values and concerns to your partner(s) may actually increase satisfaction levels. In many cases, most partners find that they have similar worries and are relieved that the subject was brought up before intimacy has occurred. Even though the topic of contraceptive use is welcomed by many, there are some instances in which a partner may try to argue or find an excuse that goes against your desire for safer sex. The following is a list of misleading responses that could arise when discussing safer sex:

1.     “I’m already on birth control.”
Hormonal contraceptives provide protection from pregnancy, but protection against STIs is needed as well. Although they are not 100% effective, barrier methods such as a male or female. condom can provide additional protection.1

A banana with a condom wrapped around it

2.     “It doesn’t feel the same with a condom.”
Even though sex with a condom may not feel exactly the same as sex without one, partners can enjoy sex just as much and may even forget a condom is being used if focus is centered on enjoying the experience instead. Condom use can also prolong sex and provide fuller gratification for both partners.

3.     “Are you saying I’m dirty?”
STI transmission occurs when a person comes into a contact with someone else who already has that STI. It does not mean the person is dirty. Remember that people can have an STI even if they have no symptoms or visible signs of an infection. Twenty million new STIs occur each year in the United States, half of these occur among individuals aged 15-24.2

4.     “Don’t you trust me?
Even though you may trust your partner(s), you have a right to question if you trust all of their previous partners as well. Your partner(s) might not know that someone else exposed them to an STI. Getting tested is the only accurate way to know if someone has an STI.

5.     “Birth control takes away the romance and spontaneity of the experience.”
A good method for dealing with this problem is to keep condoms nearby. Keeping condoms nearby makes it easy to use them more spontaneously. Using different types of condoms and lubrication can also add new flavors and sensations to sexual activities.

A man and woman holding each other in a romantic room lit by candles

When faced with excuses other than those from this list, it can be difficult to uphold your personal beliefs and be assertive about what you want. Sometimes, safer sex does require negotiation. Remember that you deserve the right to protect yourself from an unwanted pregnancy or infection. Especially since certain STIs such as HIV can be fatal, your own safety and, essentially, your own life is often put in jeopardy when safe sex is not practiced.  If any potential partner does not respect your request to use contraception, it may be in your best interest to step away from the risk or to find other means of sexual expression that do not involve the exchange of bodily fluids. A great way to avoid hurting a partner’s feelings is to suggest going to get tested at a free clinic together. In this case, both partners can receive confirmation that they are healthy and can engage in sexual activities with less worry. Getting tested can also be a great bonding experience for the partners.

Difficulties When Talking About Safe Sex

The topic of sex itself has a very taboo reputation, and many different factors can accentuate the difficulty in discussing such a touchy subject. The following is a list of concerns that could make talking about safe sex very difficult for some individuals.

  • They may be worried that their partner(s) will make fun of them, put them down, or refuse to have sex with them.
  • They may be having sex with someone they just met so they may not feel comfortable enough yet to negotiate safer sex.
  • They may believe that talking about safe sex is very hard because of the potential awkwardness they may go through.
  • They may think that discussing safer sex will feel like a downer, or will kill the mood.
  • Their partner(s) may assume they are not at a risk of contracting an STI, which makes discussion even more difficult. In reality, everyone is at risk, and many individuals do not realize this.
  • They or their partner(s) may be unsure how to properly use condoms, dental dams, or gloves.
  • They may be drinking or under the influence of drugs.
  • They may feel as though they do not have the ability to ask for safer sex, especially if they are experiencing abuse in their relationship. (Going through an abusive relationship that discourages asking for safer sex can be very dangerous and violates one’s right to consent. It may be difficult to leave this type of relationship, but there are many resources available that can help individuals involved in abusive relationships. For more information regarding abusive relationships, please read our article about domestic violence and utilize our resources article to find hotlines and other websites that can help).

Thoughts such as the ones previously mentioned can seriously hinder an individual’s ability to practice safer sex. It is important to realize that problems negotiating safer sex may arise, but there are ways to tackle these problems.

Tips for Negotiating Safer Sex

As stated before effective communication is a key aspect to negotiating safer sex. Here are some tips to get around these difficulties and to start a conversation that should be very beneficial to each individuals well-being with regards to practicing safer sex.

  • Think about what you will discuss and how the conversation will go before you start the negotiation for safer sex. Research more on the safe sex practices that interest you.
  • Be considerate of your partners. If you have discussed difficult topics with them in the past, reflect on what went well and what went poorly to determine which means of communication your partner(s) receive(s) best.
  • Make sure the moment you bring it up is appropriate and that you are both in the right state of mind because effective communication can be hindered when either party is tired or having a poor day.
  • Clearly communicate your thoughts about safe sex to make sure there are no misunderstandings about what you or your partner(s) desire.
  • Consider using research or articles related to sex as conversation starters if being direct is not something you feel comfortable with. Bringing up an interesting line in an article could be a smooth way to get the conversation going

Overall, it is crucial to reach a clear agreement with your partner(s) about which safe sex practices you will use, whether your choice is getting tested together, wearing condoms, or communicating about personal choices. If you are not in a monogamous relationship, communicate about using protection when engaging in intercourse with other individuals.3

Hands holding a female condom.

Concluding Remarks

A hand giving a thumbs up with "Safe Sex" written across it

By researching safe sex, any sexually active person can become more aware of what they want and how to safely protect themselves. In fact, an individual is already on the right track to protecting themselves by reading articles, such as this one, on the topic. Safe sex is easier to practice when the whole sexually active community participates in it.4 The world as a whole could potentially benefit if each all individuals start collectively practicing safer sex. By doing so, we can drastically start to decrease the cases of STIs as well as unwanted pregnancies. Despite how unimportant they may seem in the moment, the possible life-long risks associated with potentially unsafe behavior (such as having unprotected sex with an unknown partner) do not always outweigh the short-lived rewards.

In some cases, individuals may even lie about getting tested or having knowledge of an STI, as well as the fact that they are on birth control or are using a quality condom. Unfortunately, for these reasons, it is your responsibility to be safe in all of your sexual encounters. If you communicate the safe sex practices you desire, but your partner tries to pressure you into having sex without the protection you express wanting, you may want to reconsider if this person is someone you would like to have or continue having intercourse with.3 The peace of mind that you are protecting yourself from the danger of contracting an STI or developing an unwanted pregnancy can relieve a lot of anxiety, especially while you are engaging in sexual activity, but also after the sexual encounter ends and potential concerns arise. Negotiating safer sex is a responsible way to engage in sexual activity and can even add to the overall enjoyment of your sexual experiences.

Two persons talking to each other while lying in bed


  1. “Condom Effectiveness.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 25 Mar. 2013. Web.
  2. “Reported Cases of STDs on the Rise in the U.S.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 17 Nov. 2015. Web.
  3. Talking about Safer Sex. Toronto: Planned Parenthood, n.d.Web.
  4. Smith, Melissa, Sarah Shannon, and Kathleen Vickery. “Preventing Sexually Transmitted Infections.” Health Actions for Women: Practical Strategies to Mobilize for Change. Berkeley, CA: Hesperian Health Guides, 2015. Print.

Last Updated: 9 May 2017.