So you’ve been in a relationship for a while now, and things are going well. That’s amazing!
If you’d like to be able to stop using condoms with your regular partner, this section on negotiated safety is for you.
Negotiated safety involves setting the ground rules for sex outside the relationship if you and your regular partner decide to stop using condoms after being tested for HIV and other STBBIs.
It’s important that you and your partner continue to use condoms or other safer sex strategies until after you get tested. When you go for testing, the doctor or nurse who examines will be able to give you information on how to proceed. You may have to wait for a period of time and to go back for additional tests in order to be sure that it’s okay to stop using condoms. Testing can only detect an infection after a certain amount of time has passed. This is known as the window period. This period can vary between a few days and a few months, depending on the type of infection and how your body responds to it.
The other key component of negotiated safety is an agreement between you and your partner. Take the time to discuss what you’re comfortable with in terms of sex outside the relationship. For example:
- Having sex with other people, but no anal sex
- Anal sex is ok, as long as condoms are used
- No sex with other people, in other words, being in a completely monogamous relationship
There are a number of possible options. The key thing is for you and your partner to have an open discussion and come to an agreement. It’s important to feel comfortable sharing your desires, wants, and needs, as well as your fears. This will help you to make clear, well-thought-out decisions that are based on respect for yourselves and each other. Don’t forget that, aside from getting tested, communication the most important part of this strategy. When broaching the subject, be sure to choose a place and a time when you know you won’t be disturbed and both of you are feeling calm and ready to talk.
It’s also important to think about what types of relationships you want to be able to have with other people (a regular fuck buddy? one night stands?). Your partner should also be open about his needs and preferences, so that together you can come to an understanding. Both of you will need to be in agreement about no longer using condoms with one another, and about the conditions under which you will have sex (if any) outside of the relationship.
This method can work if both partners respect the agreement. Studies have shown that many couples decide to use this method, but in a third of cases the agreement is not respected. For this reason, it’s also essential that you and your partner have a discussion about what you will do if one of you breaks the agreement. It’s also important that both of you continue to get tested regularly, particularly for STBBIs other than HIV.
If you and your partner have a limited group of people with whom you have sex, negotiated safety can still be a useful strategy. The same principles apply, but in this case, everyone in the group needs to participate in the decision-making and respect the following conditions:
- Getting tested for HIV and other STBBIs, with additional testing as required to confirm the status of each person
- Establishing a clear understanding on what’s allowed and what’s not allowed in terms of sex within the group and outside of the group
- Clear consent from each person to stop using condoms with the other people in the group
- Respecting the agreement and clarifying in advance what you will do if anyone in the group breaks the agreement
This method can work as long as the group remains a closed group and everyone in the group respects the agreement.