How To Know You're Ready To Stop Using Condoms, According To Sex Therapists

I spend a lot of time thinking about (and writing about) how important it is for young people to be empowered to make their own choices about which forms of protection and birth control they should be using. And while I am a big, big fan of condoms, since they protect against pregnancy and STIs, there may come a time when your sexual health choices could include the decision to stop using barrier protection. Which is why it's also really important to talk about how to know you’re ready to stop using condoms as well as how to do it as safely and responsibly as possible.

But before we get into how to stop using them, let's first talk about why you may not want to ditch them after all. According to Planned Parenthood, “Condoms and female condoms are the only methods of birth control that also help prevent the spread of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. Even if you’re already using a different kind of birth control to avoid pregnancy, it’s a good idea to also use condoms or female condoms every time you have sex to protect yourself from STDs.” But what are the odds that foregoing a condom would put you at risk of contracting an STI? Well, according to 2017 report by the CDC, “STDs in the U.S. [have reached] record highs,” with over 2.2 million total cases reported in 2017. The CDC adds that some groups are uniquely susceptible to the health consequences. “Chlamydia can cause lifelong damage to young women,” the CDC says. “Chlamydia is the most commonly reported STD, with approximately 1.7 million cases reported in 2017.” What’s more, young women are uniquely susceptible to the health consequences of STIs. “[They] account for nearly half (45 percent) of reported cases and face the most severe consequences of an undiagnosed infection,” the CDC reports. “Untreated STDs, like chlamydia and gonorrhea, put women at increased risk for pelvic inflammatory disease which may result in chronic pelvic pain, infertility, and potentially a life-threatening ectopic pregnancy. It is estimated that undiagnosed STDs cause infertility in more than 20,000 women each year.” The CDC also reports that one in six people have herpes. Clearly this is not a decision to be taken lightly.

While reading those stats can be scary, part of being ready to stop using condoms is being well informed about the risks associated with not using them. To help you know if you’re really ready to stop using condoms, I reached out to Dr. Misty Smith, a licensed professional counselor. Here’s what she had to say.

How to know when you’re ready.

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“This is a big decision with big risks,” Dr. Smith tells Elite Daily. But if this is something you want to explore, she says the first thing to do is for both of you to march down to the clinic and get tested. “First, both/all of you should have had testing for all STIs within the past three months,” Dr. Smith says. You may also have to ask for more detail than usual. “Please remember that HPV and herpes are not commonly tested unless requested, so be sure they are on the report,” Smith adds. If your relationship is a hetero one, there is also the matter of birth control, which is why Dr. Smith also says it’s important to talk both about what kind of birth control you’ll be using instead, and what the plan is if you do get pregnant.

When you definitely shouldn’t consider ditching condoms.

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There are some situations in which Dr. Smith says you should never consider not using condoms. “Reasons to continue condom use might include not being in a committed relationship, a partner not being able to provide recent testing results, or being in relationships with multiple partners or with someone who has multiple partners,” she explains. Your reasons for wanting to stop using them can vary, but Smith says there’s one thing to always remember. “It is absolutely never a good idea to stop using condoms because someone is pressuring you to do so. Everyone needs to be completely comfortable with this decision for it to be a ‘good’ one,” she says.

If you decide it's time, here’s how to do it safely and responsibly.

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If you’ve decided you’re ready to go bareback, Dr. Smith has one last thing to say on the subject. “Get tested! Be sure you are requesting testing to be done for a complete STI panel including herpes and HPV,” says Dr. Smith. “Communicate with your partner!”

That last part shouldn’t be overlooked. Communication with your partner is essential when you stop using barrier protection. Your relationship has just leveled up in terms of risk, so open, honest communication has to be a part of deal. If you feel like they aren’t willing to be open, you can always change your mind and reintroduce condoms to the relationship. It’s your body, your health, your mental and physical well being, and you get to decide how to take best care of it. Whether that means stopping using condoms or using them. (I vote using them, just sayin’.)