Birth Control

Your guide to bringing up sexual health with someone new

Are you drooling in the dating pool right now? Whether you’re looking for long-term connections or exploring physical relationships with new sexual partners, there’s so much fun to be had. But with longing of the new and mysterious came the complexities something new and mysterious.

Discussing sexual health isn’t as taboo as it used to be, but some people may still struggle to bring it up or may worry that it’s a vibe killer. We get it—talking to adults is hard. But the issues that can arise from not having this conversation are the ultimate vibe killers. These conversations are important and there are ways to approach them that won’t bring your sexy relationship to a screeching halt. Here’s what you need to know.

Don’t mix serious with steam

We recommend avoiding having serious conversations during smoky situations. Even questions as simple as “do you have a condom?” is best asked before removing any clothing.

When dopamine is high, so are emotions. Not only is your judgment clouded when you’re in the heat of the moment, but you’re in a very sensitive emotional state, so be sure to deal with these things before the situation gets too heated.

Don’t assume it has to kill the vibe

There are things that are good to know about someone before the situation becomes sexual. Some things, like their desires and fantasies, can be more fun to talk about than others, like STIs and trauma triggers. And while it’s best not to mix serious chats in the heat of the moment, you can absolutely mix fun conversations with less fun ones.

For example, consider saying something like, “I’m attracted to you, and I can’t wait to take it to a physical level. Let’s get to know each other a little.” Something like this can replace the more serious and scary sounding “before things go further, there are some things we need to talk about.” These conversations (ideally) pave the way for a fun and safer sexual experience, so there’s no reason they can’t have a sexy vibe.

De-stigmatize the subject

Conversations about sexual health can be triggering or uncomfortable for some. Be sure to avoid adding any unnecessary embarrassment or shame when bringing up topics related to sexual health. A good way to do this is to just put it out there a little awkwardly. That way, if the person you’re talking to feels uncomfortable, they’ll know they’re not alone. And maybe you can laugh about the awkwardness a little, which will help break the ice.

You also don’t want to imply that if one of you has an STI, everything has to stop. Using language like, “You don’t have an STI, do you?” may suggest that you think it’s a big problem if they do and they may be afraid to be honest with you. Instead, consider mentioning that STIs are very common and that you know there’s a lot of stigma around them, even though there shouldn’t be. You can also add that you are coming from a completely neutral place and are just hoping to have a discussion.

Offer information first

Remember: you don’t want this to be an interrogation; you want to be the talk. Instead of asking the interlocutor, consider giving information first. Try something like, “I put my sexual health first and I just wanted to let you know that I recently got tested.” This way, you show that you share responsibility with them, and you also let them know that this is a safe space to be vulnerable.

Put the “we” in sexual wellness

You are not against them in these conversations. You two are together. We suggest going with this with “to keep things safe and happy for both of us, would you mind if we chat about sexual health?” You can also ask if they would be comfortable going in for a check-up together.

Share (and be willing to hold) your boundaries

Let’s say you have strict boundaries about condom use, exclusivity, transparency, or anything else. In that case, it’s up to you to declare them as soon as it becomes clear that you can be physical this year. Knowing your boundaries is incredibly empowering, but they can only be understood and respected if they are communicated. Sharing your boundaries early will also give you a chance to see if there are any sexual disconnects, which you’ll be glad you found out about beforehand.

Remember that expressing your boundaries doesn’t mean the other person will respect them, and it’s up to you to enforce your boundaries if they don’t. For example, you may have a boundary about using a condom every time you have sex. That doesn’t mean the other person has to agree to use a condom every time. This means that if they don’t, you can choose to enforce your boundary by not having sex with them or by sticking to the types of sex that are safer when you don’t use a condom.

Leave no room for nuance

Last but not least, be direct. If you want to know if someone is living with an STI, you have to ask. “Have you been tested recently?” You might get some information, but it’s not the same as asking if they have any STIs. If you want to know something, ask it outright.

Advocating for your sexual health and sexual satisfaction is an ongoing process that requires shedding a lot of internalized stigma and taking the risk that things can get awkward at times. The main thing is to try to make your partner(s) feel comfortable and welcome, no matter what information they bring to the table. This type of conversation is rarely easy, but it’s worth it for your peace of mind and it will likely help you relax and enjoy sex more.

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