You should know by now that forgoing condoms during sex puts you at heightened risk of unintended pregnancy and contracting STDs. But according to a new study in the Journal of Adolescent Health, it seems that most American women haven’t gotten the memo—or just aren’t that concerned.
The research found that women who start using hormonal contraceptives (think: the pill) for birth control typically stop using condoms. Ignoring the fact that non-monogamous skin-to-skin sex is like an open invitation to sexually-transmitted ickiness, it gets worse: The study also found that when women go off the pill, they don't tend to return to regular condom use, leaving them and their ovaries vulnerable to disease, yes, but also unintended pregnancy.
But here’s the thing: for some monogamous couples, going without condoms isn’t always an invitation for trouble. There are times when condoms are necessary, and times when you can skip them (in a responsible way). Women's Health expert Shari Brasner, M.D., OB/GYN, and assistant clinical professor at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, says that deciding whether to forgo condoms depends entirely on the context of your particular situation.
So here are four questions to ask yourself—and your partner—before making that decision.
Are you both monogamous? Research shows that people with concurrent sexual partners (meaning: people who are sleeping with multiple people during the same time period) are more likely to contract STDs than those who engage in monogamous sex. Don’t skip the condom unless you know for sure that both you and he are seeing each other exclusively.
When was the last time he was tested? Before going condomless, ask him to get tested for STDs – Chlamydia, gonorrhea, HIV, and Syphilis, and also ask him if any of his previous partners have ever had herpes or HPV. HIV tests are only accurate up to three months after last sexual contact, so depending on the last time he had sex with someone other than you, wait three months before he gets tested. Only then can you be totally sure he’s safe.
Do you have a method of protecting yourself against pregnancy? If you’re not on the pill or employing some other form of birth control that prevents pregnancy, you should not forgo condoms—it’s the only barrier you’ve got between yourself and that positive sign on a home pregnancy test. For more information about birth control options, check out our birth control center.
Is this someone you’re willing to accept the consequences for? “At some point, inevitably, you are going to ask yourself: Do we need to being using both condoms and the pill?” Brasner says. And the answer to that has to hinge from the question of whether or not you’re on board with the baggage that could come from stopping condom use (namely: babies and STDs), she adds. These things don’t just have physical tolls on you; they have emotional—and financial—tolls. So it better be worth it.