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Sex Without Condoms In A Relationship: When Is It Safe?

Sarah Fielding
Author: Expert reviewer:
December 22, 2019
Sarah Fielding
By Sarah Fielding
mbg Contributor
Sarah Fielding is a freelance writer based in New York City covering a range of topics with a focus on mental health, sex, and relationships.
Kristie Overstreet, Ph.D., LPCC, LMHC, CST
Expert review by
Kristie Overstreet, Ph.D., LPCC, LMHC, CST
Clinical Sexologist & Psychotherapist
Kristie Overstreet, Ph.D., LPCC, LMHC, CST, is a clinical sexologist and psychotherapist with 12 years of clinical experience. She is a licensed counselor in California, Florida, Georgia, and Louisiana. She is also a certified sex therapist, certified addiction professional, and president of the Therapy Department, a private practice in Orange County that provides counseling services throughout the United States.
December 22, 2019

Sex without condoms in a relationship can be safe in certain circumstances, but only when you have taken steps to protect your health and communicate thoroughly with your partner about the relationship expectations and risks. If you're considering sex without condoms, here's what you need to know about not using condoms in a relationship and how to do it safely.

Why it's safer to use condoms, even in a relationship.

When you're in a monogamous relationship, not using condoms may seem like a logical next step; however, there are quite a few reasons it may still be safer for you and your partner to continue using them. "Condoms are a fantastic invention that allows folks enjoyable sex while protecting them from both unwanted pregnancy and transmission of STIs," certified sexual health educator Dee Stacey tells mbg. 

Here are a few reasons people in a relationship may still choose to use condoms: 

  • Condoms may be a couple's main form of contraception (if pregnancy is a possibility from the type of sex they're having).
  • One or both partners may have an STI such as HPV, HSV, HIV, or others that they do not want to transmit to their partner.
  • Someone may have had an STI without symptoms showing that's only discovered later in the relationship.
  • The relationship is not sexually exclusive. Even in a monogamous relationship, a partner may cheat and get an STI from another party. Maintaining condom use can be a way to protect your own sexual health in case something like this happens without your knowledge.
  • People in nonmonogamous relationships may have sex with other partners with unknown STI statuses, meaning condoms might still be necessary to protect all parties from possible STI transmission.
  • One or both bodies could be particularly sensitive when interacting with the other's body fluids, so they minimize their fluid interaction with condoms.
  • One or both people may simply feel more comfortable using condoms, which on its own is more than enough reason to continue using them.

If any of these factors apply to either of you, then, until there's a change, condoms are a great way to keep you and your partner safe, healthy, and less likely to conceive. 

Benefits of using condoms:

  • Condoms are designed to allow for safe and enjoyable sex while significantly decreasing the change of pregnancy or spreading sexually transmitted infections.
  • Condoms don't have side effects like other birth control options.
  • Condoms are available for a small or no cost at most doctors' offices, clinics, and pharmacies.
  • Condoms are easy to use with another form of birth control and come in all styles and textures to maximize pleasure.

When can you stop using condoms in a relationship?

Sex without condoms shouldn't be an impulse decision. Stopping condom use in a relationship requires certain steps to be taken and a realistic look at whether you still need to use them. Here are the conditions that should be met to maximize safety if you plan on not using condoms in your relationship:

  • All partners wholeheartedly agree on not using condoms, without pressure or coercion.
  • All partners have been tested for STIs and are either not at risk for transferring STIs to each other or have mutually accepted the risk.
  • The relationship has become sexually exclusive; all involved sexual partners have agreed not to introduce new partners into the relationship without reopening a conversation about safer sex practices.
  • All partners trust each other to maintain sexual exclusivity agreements.
  • If the type of sex you're having can result in a pregnancy, you're using an alternative form of birth control, such as a copper IUD or one of the many methods of hormonal contraception.

"Really, as long as both partners are committed to an exclusive relationship, have both been tested for STIs, and are using another method of contraception, then discontinuing condom use has little risk," Stacey says. 

Switching to another birth control method. 

If the type of sex you're having could lead to pregnancy (i.e., if penis-in-vagina intercourse is involved) and you don't want to be pregnant, you'll need to switch to another form of birth control.

If you or your partner is using a different type of birth control for the first time, it's important to allow the body time to adjust. For oral contraceptives, it generally takes seven days of continual use for them to start being effective, according to Planned Parenthood. Options such as an IUD, the ring, and the patch also take at least seven days to work, depending on when during a person's cycle it's inserted. If you choose to start an alternative method of birth control, confirm with your gynecologist when it will be effective based on your cycle. These methods of birth control can also come with side effects, so communicating with your doctor to determine the best option for you is important. 

As a reminder, the pullout method still leads to pregnancy in an average of about one out of five cases and is not effective at preventing the spread of STDs. If you're considering using this method alone, condoms are a much safer option for both of you. 

How to talk to your partner about sex without condoms.

If your relationship is ambiguous.

For some people, the conversation around not using condoms comes hand-in-hand with the "what are we" conversation. This provides an opening to discuss what your relationship will look like, including sexually. Stacey encourages using this exciting and vulnerable moment to discuss your sexual expectations and boundaries, including whether sex without condoms is right for you. You can discuss each of the above considerations together to see if not using condoms is a safe enough option for you as a couple.

If you're in a sexually exclusive relationship.

Start with laying out how you feel and why you'd like to stop using condoms. Make sure to clearly state that this would, of course, need to be a mutual decision, and you're open to your partner's point of view. Not using condoms affects both of you and should happen only if you and your partner are 100% sure that it's what you each want. "It's important to keep in mind that if one partner wants to continue using condoms that we should respect that choice and not guilt, badger, or coerce them into a different decision," Stacey says.

Safe, consensual sex means that both of you are comfortable and happy with what is happening. Even if you've been exclusive with someone for years and check all the other boxes mentioned to stop using condoms, that doesn't mean you should or have to. The key is to do what's comfortable for you.

If your partner is on board with not using condoms, make sure you talk through your sexual exclusivity agreements, all parties have been tested for STIs, and you're using an alternative form of birth control if pregnancy is possible from the type of sex you're having.

Stacey adds that the conversations should be "positive, empowering, and intimate and promote healthy communication in other realms of the bedroom and relationship." As with every aspect of your relationship, open and honest communication is key to ensure each person is heard and respected.

Sarah Fielding author page.
Sarah Fielding

Sarah Fielding is a freelance writer based in New York City. Covering a range of topics with a focus on mental health, sex, and relationships, her work has appeared at Healthline, The Huffington Post, Men's Health, INSIDER, Bustle, NYLON, and more. Fielding received her bachelor's in international fashion and business management from FIT, and also spent time living in Italy and Australia, writing as she traveled. She's the co-founder of Empire Coven, a space for highlighting trailblazing women across New York.