sexual health

3 Conversations You Should Have Before You Go Condom-Free

Another winner for Illustration by Cecile Dormeau. 

Many monogamous relationships grow from love. Many other, less lame monogamous relationships grow from a desire to stop using condoms. The DTR (define the relationship) conversation is a great time to talk about having unprotected sex, but the reverse is also true: A conversation about unprotected sex often leads to a conversation about Us. Physical sensation aside (going condom-free also feels fantastic for women), it’s a bonding experience. A newly condom-less relationship is cause for celebration. Forget wedding invites, start designing your invitations to your “we don’t use condoms anymore” dinner party. There’s emotional intimacy and a greater physical connection in becoming fluid-bonded, but that also means your genital germs are becoming your partner’s genital germs. For the sake of your relationship and the general public’s health, there are three conversations you must have before you toss out your rubbers.

1. Test Results

You have the right to do whatever you want with your body. You can get as many tattoos as you want and smoke as much weed as you want. Those things don’t really hurt anyone else, and they might even make you look really cool. But you gotta get tested. Talking about viruses and bacteria of the loins we may have picked up from sexual decisions past may make you squirm. The joy of being a grown-up is that we can drink beer, have sex, and stay up late, but the downside is we have to talk about the clap.

Worrying about your STI status is kind of like when you were a kid and you worried you’d get abducted by aliens. You probably thought you were the only freak kept up at night by that thought, but so was every other kid in the class. Rest assured your partner has not practiced perfectly safe sex his or her entire life either, so just take advantage of the mutual anxiety and say, “Let’s get tested, because I really want to make love to you without either of us having to stress about anything.” Skip the “I know I’m clean” route, without getting tested, because ya don’t know. It can also be a surprisingly romantic experience to get tested together. Go out for ramen after.

2. Birth Control

Some people think children are a source of love and joy, but I think babies are the most dangerous sexually transmitted infection of them all. They affect your lifestyle the most, they’re expensive, and they’re bad for the environment. I doubt you clicked on this article because you’re ready to become a parent, but if you have a functioning penis, you can make babies. Is she on the pill? Would a more long-term method be a better option, such as an IUD? Are you on the same page about reproductive rights? You don’t have to decide if you ever want to have kids there and then. Just check in with your lady lover with an easy “Are you happy with your birth control? Because as beautiful as our babies would be, I’m not there right now.” Offer to split the cost of her birth control. If she’s going to be the one dealing with side effects of hormonal birth control or the pain of an IUD insertion, it’s the polite thing to do.

3. Monogamy

Having sex only with each other, after getting tested and discussing birth control, is the safest way to bone without condoms—end of story. You just have to talk about it. If you know you’re into monogamy, say, “I’d love for us to only sleep with each other, how do you feel about that?” But that’s not always how it goes down. Some people prefer open relationships. If you’re non-monogamous but you want to talk about unprotected sex, say, “Hey, I trust you, so if you’re comfortable with it, I’d love to talk about us having sex without condoms.”

There are plenty of couples who agree to not use condoms with each other, but with anyone else. If you go this route, just please make sure that everyone else you’re sleeping with knows that you and your primary partner do it raw, so they can decide how they feel about that. Remember that some STIs, such as HPV and HSV (herpes), can still be transmitted from skin-to-skin contact, and that condoms only reduce the risk. Condom companies love to brag about how they are 98 percent effective, but that’s not factoring in human error.


TL; DR: If you’re in an open relationship, communicate with everyone and accept the risks before quitting condoms. If you’re monogamous, actually be monogamous. Cheating is always more trouble than it’s worth.


A Love Letter to Planned Parenthood

Dear Planned Parenthood,

When I was in 10th grade and my friends and I were beginning to discover the power of the blowjob, we heard rumors that this hot senior, who I’ll call Mike, had chlamydia. One of my friends had gone down on him and was scared she had the clap in her throat. I quickly drew out of a chart of our high school’s web of hook ups and concluded that if she had the clap in her throat, I most certainly did too. We were panicked and uneducated and couldn’t go to our parents, so we went to Planned Parenthood. None of us has chlamydia, but everyone was really nice, taught us all about chlamydia and safe sex practices, gave us a fuck ton of condoms, and we left feeling a little more grown up. I don’t think it’s a reach to say that first visit and what I learned about safe sex (they taught me a lot more than my high school was) helped inform what would become a career largely based on writing about sex.

Over a decade later, I still go to Planned Parenthood, now in New York City, for all my reproductive health needs. They do my annual pap and HPV test (although now it’s recommended only once every three years). They do my breast cancer screening, they answer all my anxious questions. They test me for STIs and HIV about once every six months (most people don’t go that often – but I am mega-OCD when it comes to my health). They also provide me with affordable birth control (as a freelance writer I’m on a form of Medicaid so it’s free) and give me heaps of condoms for free too (that shit’s expensive).

To get (extremely) personal here, I’ve (knock on wood) never contracted an STI or experienced an unwanted pregnancy, despite having a rather active sex life for over a decade now. Many people I love have, to no fault of their own, it just happens sometimes. STIs are sneaky and pregnancy is what women’s bodies were designed to do, so sometimes we get pregnant. Maybe I’m so used to taking pills for other reasons (lol), one more at the same time everyday is no biggie for me. But the whole damn reason I have access to the birth control and thus have never needed an abortion is Planned Parenthood! Thank you, Planned Parenthood. Why don’t more people talk about this side of it?  During Friday’s debate, Trent Franks, R-Ariz showed Congress a graphic poster of an aborted fetuses in Congress (I’d like to see a graphic poster of a 17-year-old child who lives in low-income housing giving birth to a ten pound kid after getting knocked up by her mom’s boyfriend. Then I’d like to ask Congress about the funds we’ll need to take care of her and her child, and if they play the “work hard and get a job” card to bitch about welfare, let’s talk about income disparity for women – especially women of color – and how we’ve created an education system and low employment rates following a crash caused by, guess who, rich white men, that more or less sets children birthed to such parents as the aforementioned 17-year-old up for failure and a life of crime, oh and if there’s time, we can talk about how much prison costs the taxpayers. End rant). Oh one more rant – do we show graphic posters of all the dead civilians (dead babies too) before approving war missions and drone strikes? Anyone? Bueller?

The legislation approved Friday would end federal payments to Planned Parenthood for a year, during which some time investigators will snoop around and see what they can find out to be true from those edited videos, basically. As a freelance writer, ending federal payments will directly affect me and my ability to love and fuck the way I want and I am outraged. Yet, I recognize my privilege. I’m a cis white girl with supportive parents and a Dad who is a lawyer. If something happened and I needed an abortion, they’d make sure I was able to see someone safe. I am one of the lucky ones. The majority of the women and families who need Planned Parenthood don’t have parents with the funds to step in in such a scenario.These politicians are using overtly edited videos for political gain, and imposing some condescending moral high ground that is completely unsupported by science pretty much because they think it makes them look cool to their Republican constituents and twisted version of God. It’s evil.

Planned Parenthood, I thank you for keeping me healthy, safe, educated, and not pregnant for the whole time I’ve been having sex. I love you, and I stand by you.


Sophie Saint Thomas