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Negotiating for Condom Use

February 2011

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Safer sex means using protection whenever you have sex. It is important to practice safer sex whether you are HIV+ or HIV-negative. The best form of protection is a latex or polyurethane condom.

Condoms are available in many places -- drug stores, grocery stores, sex shops, community centers, and doctor's offices. Getting a condom is pretty easy, but getting your partner to actually put one on can be tricky! By understanding the importance of condom use for your physical and emotional well-being, learning a little bit about condoms, and planning in advance what to say, you will give yourself a good chance of success when negotiating for condom use with your partner.

Condoms and HIV

Both men and women are at risk for sexually-transmitted diseases (STDs), including HIV, when they have sex without protection. However, HIV is transmitted from men to women much more easily than from women to men.

Women are at greater risk, but there are things that can be done to reduce that risk. This includes using reliable protection every time you have sex (oral, anal, or vaginal). A latex condom is a very effective means of protection. In fact, using a latex condom is 20 times safer than not using a condom.

One night of sex can change the rest of your life -- and the course of your health. So, whether or not you're in love with your partner or want to have sex with him again, using a condom is an important part of taking care of yourself and your health.

Using condoms can also help you:

Since you can't tell if someone has an STD by looking at them and it is possible for someone to have an STD without even knowing it, it is important to protect yourself.

Safer Sex Is for HIV+ People, Too

Safer sex is an important way to prevent new HIV infections. If you are HIV-negative, make sure to use a condom every time to stay that way. If you are HIV+ and your partner is HIV-negative, you should also use a condom to keep your partner from getting infected.

Did you know that if you and your partner are both HIV+, there are still good reasons to practice safer sex by using condoms? Using protection can prevent you from getting a new STD that can weaken the immune system. Condoms are especially good at preventing infections that are passed on through bodily fluids, like gonorrhea, chlamydia, and HIV. They also provide some protection against diseases that are spread by skin-to-skin contact, such as herpes, human papillomavirus (HPV), syphilis and chancroid. All these are potentially serious infections in HIV+ people. (See TWP info sheet on Sexually Transmitted Diseases.)

Even if you are already HIV+, it is possible to get re-infected with another strain of HIV if your partner is infected (and vice versa). This strain may be more aggressive than your own or it could be resistant to the HIV drugs you are taking. Re-infection could cause your drug regimen to stop working and reduce your treatment options later on. Regardless of HIV status, the best way to protect yourself and your partner is to always use condoms.

Some studies have shown that among couples where one person is HIV+, condoms -- if used all the time -- can be up to 98% protective in helping the HIV- partner stay negative.

Know What's Out There

When it comes to condoms, you have a choice of two kinds of products: the male condom and the female condom.

The Male Condom

The Female Condom

Oral sex carries less risk of HIV transmission than vaginal intercourse, but there is still some risk involved. You can use a condom without lubrication or a dental dam (a square of latex that is placed over the vagina or anus) to make oral sex safer. (See TWP's info sheet on Oral Sex.)

First, Think About Sex and Condoms

Talking about using condoms can be awkward, especially in the heat of the moment. The good news is there's a lot you can do to prepare beforehand. An important first step is to think about your views on sex, condoms, and relationships.

Spend some time thinking about your answers to these questions and, if you are comfortable, talking about them with a friend.

Next, take some time to think about how you feel about condoms and how you feel about taking risks during sex.

Once you are clear on what's important to you, it will be easier to express that to another person.

Next, Talk to Your Partner

"Honey, do you have a condom?" Asking your sex partner to use protection can be difficult. But now that you're equipped with information about yourself and different kinds of condoms, you're ready to have an honest conversation. Talking about your needs can help strengthen a relationship, in and out of the bedroom.

Plan to have the talk when you're not on the verge of having sex. Think about what you want to say in advance and identify a few scenarios when the conversation could take place. It might be hard to start the discussion the first time, so be prepared with a backup plan.

When it comes time to have the conversation, let your partner know that you want to talk about condoms because you care about him and you care about yourself. Be honest about what you are willing to do with a condom and what you don't want to do without one. Ask your partner how he would feel about different scenarios and think creatively.

If your partner says he doesn't want to use a male condom, you still have options:

Better Use of Condoms

While it's natural to worry about whether a condom can break, the good news is that 98 out of every 100 times a condom is used, the condoms hold up just fine. On the few occasions when they do break or slip, it's not because of the brand, cost, or quality of the condom, but rather, because it wasn't put on correctly. So the key with condom use is practice, practice, practice. Other things that will help are keeping them out of heat and sunlight and not keeping unused condoms around for too long.

It's also best not to use lubricants that are made with oils, such as petroleum jelly, shortening, mineral oil, massage oils, hair oils, body lotion, and cooking oils. These oils can weaken the latex of the condom and cause the condom to break. Lubricants that are water-based or silicone-based are less likely to cause the condom to break, and are a safer option.

It's also best to stick with condoms made from either latex or polyurethane, which keep out viruses and bacteria. Other types of condoms, such as those made from lambskin, should be avoided- these don't protect against HIV and other STDs as well.

Using Condoms Correctly

There are a few simple tips to follow when using condoms:

Taking Care of Yourself

Safer sex is an ongoing process that varies based on your experience and your partner. The goal should always be to use condoms whether you are HIV+ or HIV-negative. Here are some ideas on how you can keep the conversation about condom use going:

It is always difficult to talk about things like safer sex, especially when you are just getting to know someone. You may be worried that you will lose your partner or potential partner. But keeping yourself and your partner safe has to be your top priority. Even if you have trouble at first asking for what you need, don't give up. Put yourself and safety first. Remember, you have the right to ask for condom use!

This article was provided by The Well Project. You can find this article online by typing this address into your Web browser:

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