How to Talk About Safer Sex with New Partners

by Emory Oakley

How to Talk About Safer Sex with New Partners

Most of us probably know that it’s important to talk about safer sex with new partners, but it isn’t necessarily an easy conversation. So, let’s talk about how we can start these conversations, but first, I want to talk about the term safer sex and the importance of de-stigmatizing STIs as STI risk is one of the main reasons for the conversation about safer sex. Interested in learning more on STI disclosure and defining safer sex boundaries? Check out Jems' STI Disclosure 101 and Boundaries Factsheet.

What is Safer Sex? And Why Use that Term?

In the past, folks have used the term safe sex to discuss the practices we engage in to prevent pregnancy and STIs. Realistically, no sex we engage in is 100% safe. So, many people now use the term safer sex to discuss the practices people engage in to lower risks. 

One important thing we can do to lower our risk is to talk with our partners about sex. 

De-Stigmatizing STIs

Before getting into the conversation of safer sex and how we can have these somewhat challenging or awkward conversations with new partners, let’s take a minute to talk about STIs and the importance of de-stigmatizing them. 

Getting tested regularly is the best thing you can do to stay healthy, particularly if you have more than one sexual partner. Even if we engage in safer sex, we risk contracting an STI. Additionally, it’s common for people with STIs to have no symptoms, which can result in passing one on unknowingly. 

Since STIs are common and mostly treatable, it’s important to eliminate the stigma. One thing we can do is to move away from using the term ‘clean’ to discuss a person’s STI status. Having an STI (or having had one in the past) doesn’t make a person dirty. Instead, let your partner know you tested positive or negative. 

How to Talk About Safer Sex with New Partners

Before the conversation, it can be helpful to take the time to think about your goals for the discussion and ensure you understand your boundaries regarding safer sex practices. 

Consider if you want to both get an updated STI test before getting intimate. Think about which safer sex practices are important to you, such as: 

  • birth control
  • condoms
  • dental dams
  • PrEP

Now, how do you actually talk about it? 

Start the conversation

If you start the conversation early, you can focus on getting sexy when you’re ready instead of discussing it for the first time in the bedroom. Talking about it early also gives you time to get tested.

Starting with yourself is a great way to open the discussion:

  • Hey, I’m excited to get sexy with you; I got a negative test on (insert date) and was wondering when you last got tested.
  • Hey, I think we are ready to move into the bedroom. Can we talk about safer sex practices? (or how do you feel about using condoms?)

Find a comfortable time and place to have the conversation

Remember that this conversation doesn’t necessarily have to happen in person, at least not all of it. You can start by letting your new person know you plan to get tested before you get intimate and request they do the same. You could even suggest going to get tested together. 

If you’re worried about disclosing your STI or HIV status, it may be helpful to do so before meeting to avoid potential issues and save time if that person isn’t interested in moving forward. 

Or you could give them a heads-up that you’d like to chat about safer sex because you’re looking forward to getting intimate soon. Bringing up these conversations virtually before you’re in person can give people time to process and prepare for the discussion, so hopefully, you can avoid some awkwardness. 

For some, disclosing their status in person may not be safe, so doing so virtually may be a safer option. But remember, safety is always more important than disclosure, especially for those who engage in riskier sex practices, like sex workers. 

While there may be instances where it’s unsafe to disclose, it’s important to keep all engaged parties safe so it’s critical to engage in safer sex practices that prevent the transmission of STIs. And some may choose not to engage in sexual activities during periods where they are unclear on their STI status. 

Discuss boundaries regarding protection

Don’t be afraid to bring up safer sex practices like using condoms. Remember, it isn’t always the person with the phalus’s responsibility to have condoms; if you want to have sex, bring your own condoms. If there is pregnancy risk, it’s also important to discuss what methods will be used to reduce that risk (birth control, IUD, etc.). 

Remember, you are entitled to your boundaries. If a new potential partner doesn’t want to engage in the safer sex practices that are important to you or have a conversation about safer sex, it’s okay to choose not to be intimate with that person. The same goes for a casual hook up. 

Talking About Safer Sex with Multiple Partners

Some people have multiple sexual partners at a time. Maybe they’re in an open relationship or are non-monogamous; no matter the reason, there are some other things to think about when it comes to having safer sex, when one party – or both – has multiple sexual partners.

  • Ensure everyone involved is aware you have multiple sexual partners. (Note: those who engage in sex work may not feel safe disclosing their participation in this work to other sexual partners.)
  • Be open about the safer sex practices you engage in with other partners.
  • Get tested regularly and keep all partners informed of your health status. Some people get tested at regular intervals and then also get tested before adding a new person sexually.

It would be best if you informed all parties so they can make their own decisions about their health. And always remember that it’s okay to ask questions pertaining to your safety. For example, if someone you’re going to be intimate with has another sexual partner, it’s okay to ask if they use condoms with that person. Choosing not to get intimate with them is also okay if they don't want to disclose. 

The conversation may be a bit awkward at first, but that’s okay; most of us have been taught to feel shame around sex and have the stigma associated with STIs ingrained. But these are important conversations to have for our sexual health. They will get easier over time and help us feel closer to our partners. 

Final thoughts

Sexual health is sexy! Don’t let anyone tell you that bringing up safer sex practices or condoms will ruin the mood. If you haven’t already talked about safer sex practices before entering the bedroom, it’s okay to start the convo and ask if they have a condom at any point. If they don't want to use a condom, it's your right to say no. Remember, a great way to practice boundaries and safer sex is to exercise coming prepared.