Feeling uncomfortable in an intimate situation sucks. You should never be pressured to not use a condom and always feel empowered to speak up to ensure your safety. But that's easier said than done. For a long time, I found it extremely difficult to bring up protection in the middle of a hookup. I was afraid of alienating my partner by "nagging" him to do something that would inconvenience him. But I've learned that I should always be heard, and putting my sexual health first is not an annoyance, it's my right. And I should never be made to feed bad about it.
Still, speaking up can be feel intimidating and scary. You want to have the tools and confidence to advocate for yourself with sexual partners, but how, exactly, do you do that? I spoke with my friend Sarah Brown, who is both a sex educator and the director of marketing at the sex-positive and inclusion-focussed pleasure tech company Lora DiCarlo about the best practices for asking partners to wear a condom. She emphasises that it's important to "set your boundaries, and give people a starting point and script they can follow to get there." To start, she recommends framing your conversation around two main points:
- Why is it important to use protection? Sarah recommends that you be clear about why you want to use condoms to help focus the conversation: "Are you protecting against STIs? Pregnancy? Both? [At the end of the day], your reasoning and concerns are valid no matter how they might try to minimize. You both need to feel safe, relaxed, and excited, and if a condom helps with that, then that's all that matters."
- Talk about it early on, and don't wait until the heat of the moment. "Setting the expectation that you will only have sex with them with a condom makes it easier to hold your boundaries in the moment when lust and arousal is in full swing," she says. We need to bring the conversation of protection into the forefront. Protection, what kind you're using, whose responsibility it is to obtain it, etc. should be an automatic factor in the formation of any new sexual relationship (regardless of whether it's serious, casual, or anywhere in between).
Another thing she recommends keeping in mind is the condom itself. "Every penis has different proportions, so trying out a bunch of different brands, materials, and sizes is important," she says. "Some have reservoirs, some have more space at the head, some are wider at the base and narrow down toward the end — they really do come in all shapes and sizes. Polyurethane condoms, for example, are often thinner than latex condoms and can transfer heat better, so they feel more 'natural' in sensation, but they also stretch less than latex condoms, so sizing is a bit more limited." Try to keep the right materials around in order to make using protection as effortless as possible.
It's our right to feel comfortable with the things we're doing with our bodies, and if using a condom is what you want to do in a circumstance in order to feel your best, then that's what should happen. Thinking about this topic preemptively will equip you to make the best decisions in the moment. Now go out there, advocate for yourself, and have fun!