Welcome to Hump Day, where award-winning psychotherapist and TV host Dr. Jenn Mann answers your sexiest questions—unjudged and unfiltered. Have a quandary? Email us anonymously at HumpDay@instyle.com.
DEAR DR. JENN,
I have an IUD so I stopped using condoms with this guy I've been sleeping with regularly. Thing is, we never actually had a DTR talk. I'm scared I could get an STD if he's still seeing other people; how do I backtrack to using condoms again? —No-Glove Love
The Talk is always difficult to have, and it sounds like you need to have two different difficult talks. The first is the birth control discussion, and the second is the DTR—define the relationship—chat. More awkward than the birds and the bees talk when you were little with your parents, this defining conversation is crucial. You don’t want to find out that he is still swiping right on Bumble while you are picking out China patterns. Or, if you are set on playing the field, you don’t want to lead him on if he is looking for something more serious. Not to mention, you are right on about the possibility of getting an STD from him since you don’t know if this is an exclusive relationship.
If we could go back in time, Terminator style, I'd suggest having the birth control conversation before ditching the condoms. This difficult conversation is a true measure of maturity because it requires us to advocate for our self-care and wellbeing over the romantic fantasy and hot, spontaneous sex we all desire (and ideally it should enable sex to be all the hotter). Asking a partner about their sexual health and history of high-risk behaviors is a tough conversation to have, even under the best of circumstances. Asking for STD test results is even harder. That said, these steps are a good measure of whether or not you are comfortable enough with someone to get naked and rub body parts together.
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Now that you want to bring back the condoms, you need to let him know. Keep it short and simple, and own your part in it. Let him know how you feel about safe sex in a way that is not disputable or negotiable. “I have always used condoms and practice safe sex, especially in new relationships. It is really what I am most comfortable doing for my wellbeing. I let the condoms slip away with you, but I realize that I am not ready for that step. Let's go back to using them.” It doesn't necessarily mean you're sleeping with other people or that you think he is. It doesn't mean that you have an STD or that you assume he has one. Even if you've already asked him about STDs and he's clear of any, that status could change. If you only started seeing one another recently and you need more time to figure out what you want out of the relationship, it can be as simple as that: Condoms are back on.
But you can also use this conversation to segue into the DTR conversation—and I'd advocate for it, whether you're looking to keep things casual or charge ahead into relationship territory. “This leads me to another conversation that we should probably have” is one good way to start. Here are a few tips to make that chat as effective and non-traumatic as possible.
1) Do it face to face. It is always better to have important conversations in person, where you can see body language, subtle changes in breathing, and micro-facial expressions. People pay more attention in person and are more emotionally connected.
2) Don’t freak your partner out. Giving him or her the “we need to talk” spiel in advance will fill them with anxiety. While you don’t want to drop a totally unexpected bomb, you don’t want to worry them either.
3) Location, location, location. Make sure you are someplace where you have enough privacy to have an open and honest conversation and can actually hear each other. A loud restaurant, movie theater, concert, or sports bar are not good places for a vulnerable conversation like this.
4) Do it sober. While you might be tempted to sip some liquid courage, don’t do it. Typically being under the influence makes these conversations messier and more dramatic than they need to be. Make sure you are clear minded.
5) Come with clarity. Make sure you are clear on what you want and don’t want before you have the DTR chat. This is not the time to be ambivalent or wishy washy. While it is important to be open minded and hear what your partner has to say, knowing what will or won’t work for you is an important part of self-care. That doesn't mean you need to know what you want out of this relationship in a year or even a month from now, but you do need to know what you want now, and if you have certain expectations and wants, or think you won't be able to fulfill the other person's expectations and wants, you do need to be honest with yourself and with them about that.
6) Seek to understand. If you are not at exactly the same place at the same time, which happens a lot, hear him out and try to understand his perspective and concerns. Look to converse, not convince.
7) Give it time. Don’t demand an answer right away. Sometimes, taking the time to sleep on it or digest a big conversation gives people new clarity and perspective. Let the conversation breathe.
8) Don’t give ultimatums. If you're looking for exclusivity, you don’t want to strong arm someone into it. Monogamy is a developmental step in a relationship. You can’t force someone into it. Typically, if you do, it does not go well.
Once both of those conversations have taken place, you can enjoy the spoils of safe, stress-free, and unrestrained sex.