Breaking Barriers: When Should You Decide to Have Unprotected Sex?

February 17, 2012  |  

Whether it’s 6 months into a relationship or 6 years, there comes a time when partners may question if it’s even necessary to use condoms anymore. Unfortunately, this is a decision that is often made casually and unclothed in the heat of the moment, but there are some people who invest the consideration and thought into this major health decision that it deserves.

Whether it’s lack of access, relationship status or the most popular reason, “It just feels better,”  the decision not to use protection opens a sexual relationship to a variety of risks.  Many women feel that as long as they’re on birth control if they’re in a monogamous relationship with a man they trust there’s nothing wrong with losing the latex after some time.  Others simply don’t ever take the thought of using condoms that seriously whether they are having sex with someone they’ve known for a day or a decade.  In fact, in 2010 an article published by Reuters entitled, “Condom Use Routine for U.S. Teens, not Adults”, states that teens are more likely to use condoms than adults over 40.  In a study, public health officials found that one in four acts of vaginal intercourse involves condom use, and among single adults that figure is one in three.  Condom use is higher in African-Americans and Hispanics than whites, and lowest among all races for people over the age of 40.

Many are quick to assume that single people are the only ones who are gambling with their sexual health by choosing to have unprotected sex and for most people it’s almost a given that there’s no point in using condoms when you’re married.  The truth is that exchanged vows and a wedding band can only protect you so much from sexually transmitted infections.  Like any relationship, some partners are asymptomatic and without being tested are unaware that they have anything to infect their partner with, whether that partner is a wife or a girlfriend.  And while we’re being honest, marriage doesn’t guarantee monogamy, which means that even in a marriage the decision to not use protection is something that involves a lot of factors, namely trust.

So how much do you trust that your partner is only sexually active with you?  One of the first steps you can take is any sexual relationship is having open, honest communication about sexual history and values.  While we all know that “men lie, women lie, numbers don’t.” Give your partner an opportunity to tell the truth about the number of partners he/she has had in the past and keep in mind that the more partners someone has had, the more likely it is that he/she has been exposed to an STI.  The next important step is to get tested together.  It’s important to not just take things at face value; all too often, people rely on the fact that someone “looks” healthy and become too complacent to take an active step to get tested.  By getting tested together (and hopefully receiving negative results) you both start off with a clean slate; this way if STI symptoms do appear, you know that somewhere along the line someone was unfaithful.   Before getting tested, talk about how the results (whether negative or positive) will affect the relationship.  The last step that a woman can take is making sure that even if she is protected against unintended pregnancy by choosing a form of birth control that works for her particular lifestyle.

Since marriage itself can’t always guarantee fidelity, is there ever a right time to not use condoms? When it comes to sexual health we are often bombarded with messages of safer sex that place emphasis in using condoms correctly and consistently, but it’s important to remember that it’s not enough just to use condoms, you also have to make a well-informed decision about the person with whom you choose to have sex as well.  Also, don’t fall victim to the belief that once you’ve had sex without a condom there is no turning back.  Relationships and people grow and change, and although you may have initially agreed to not use condoms, this decision should be addressed from time to time to make sure both partners still feel the same way.

Regardless of what type of relationship you’re in and for how long, by choosing not to use condoms you are placing your health at risk.  Essentially, you’re leaving your sexual health in the hands of someone else.  Hopefully that person is someone you trust, and for most people trust is built throughout a long length of time and based on more than the physical pleasure and sexual attraction.

Consider the following before making the decision to break down your barrier method:

  • What kind of relationship am I in?  You may think you’re in an exclusive relationship, but your partner may have other ideas about exactly what qualifies as monogamy and/or cheating.  You may think cheating is doing anything sexual with anyone besides your partner, but he may believe 0-ral sex doesn’t count as cheating, leaving your health at high risk.  Be clear and specific about what’s expected in the relationship.
  • What type of birth control works for me?  Some women may find that after they’ve made a decision to not use condoms, they experience difficulty in finding a method of birth control that works for them.  Some women experience uncomfortable side effects with some hormonal methods.  If pregnancy is an issue for you, make sure to give your body time to adjust to a method that you are sure you can use correctly and consistently BEFORE choosing to not use condoms.
  • Do I trust my partner?  If you’re in a relationship where you feel constantly compelled to check his social networks and cell phones for signs of infidelity, you probably shouldn’t be thinking about losing the latex just yet.
  • How long have I known my partner?  Although time doesn’t necessarily guarantee trust, you definitely increase your chances of making well-informed decisions about sex and contraception when it’s with someone you’ve known for several years as opposed to several days.
  • Am I being pressured to not use condoms?   The decision to not use condoms should be something that both partners agree on.  Partners shouldn’t feel pressured because one partner feels like condoms mean they aren’t “trusted” or because they think condoms are uncomfortable.
  • Can I communicate honestly with my partner?  A conversation about sexual values and history can quickly turn uncomfortable, and you may hear things that you don’t like.  Although your partner may reveal some questionable things about their sexual beliefs or history, try to appreciate their honesty.  A tense and touchy conversation about sex is always better than a non-existent one.

Toya Sharee is a community health educator who has a passion for helping young women build their self-esteem and make well-informed choices about their sexual health. She also advocates for women’s reproductive rights and blogs about everything from beauty to love and relationships. Follow her on Twitter @TheTrueTSharee.

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