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Reframing Safe Sex Negotiations - Safe Sex or No Sex

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Updated February 03, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Some people find it really hard to negotiate safe sex. They go into a new relationship with the best of intentions but still find themselves having sex that doesn't include barriers or agreeing to intimacy before the test results have come back.

It's one thing when someone chooses to skip the pre-sex discussions because safe sex isn't important to them and they are, rightly or wrongly, not concerned about risk. However, what should you do if safe sex is important to you, but you can't seem to communicate that to your partner?

Change the options.

The trick to being able to consistently negotiate safe sex is deciding that you will not have sex in any other way. The options you give yourself and your partner shouldn't be "safe sex" or "maybe this time it would be OK, because (s)he is really cute and I'm horny." They should be "safe sex" or "no sex." In other words, if a potential partner is unwilling to have safe sex or otherwise conform to your safety standards, walk away -- no matter how attractive you find them or how much you want to be intimate.

My impression is that most of the time, given those options, most people choose safe sex over no sex, even when it isn't their ideal. The exception may be those individuals who feel as though any particular partner is interchangeable and that if one person turns them down they can just as easily move onto the next. However, if someone tells you that if you insist on using a condom they'll just find someone else to hook up with, I highly recommend using the opportunity to question why you wanted to sleep with them in the first place.

In other words, effectively negotiating safe sex requires you to be willing to say no -- even when you want to say something else. You have to decide that protecting yourself, both physically and emotionally, is more important than any particular moment of physical intimacy. You have to agree that the right thing to do is go home and take a cold shower, or masturbate frenetically, when the only thing holding you back from jumping into bed with someone is the fact that neither of you had the foresight to buy a condom while the stores were still open.

In other words, you have to take control over your body and decide that you are only going to have sex when you want to, with the people you want to, in circumstances that feel right. That may mean that you miss out on some exciting evenings, but you're also likely to miss out on a lot of regrets.

Things You Can Do To Make It Easier To Say No (or Yes)

  1. Decide whether you want to have sex with someone before you head out - rather than trying to be logical in the heat of the moment.


  2. If you think you may want to have sex, then bring protection so you are prepared.


  3. Determine how someone's screening results will affect your sexual decision making before you hear them (they may not affect you at all, you may decide to wait for more information, etc.), and accept that how you feel about any particular test result is likely to be different for different people at different times in your life.


  4. Think about whether oral sex is an important component of your sex life, and make an informed decision about whether you want to use barriers for it in advance.


  5. Embrace the power of masturbation. Sexual frustration ceases to be a good excuse for poor decision making when you know you can always just go home and have sex with yourself.


  6. Remember that no evening of amazing sex is worth your self respect. If you're going to wake up tomorrow morning hating yourself or the person you're in bed with, then just say no. Sex should bring you joy, not regret.
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