I know I’m supposed to talk about STDs & condoms with guys before sex, but it’s so awkward. How can I make it less weird and not ruin the moment?

It’s really great that you’re thinking about how to have these important (and sometimes difficult) conversations with your partners! Even though it can feel weird, talking about safer sex is important for both you and your partner’s sexual health. 15-24 year olds represent over half of all new sexually transmitted infections (STIs, also called sexually transmitted diseases or STDs). This means that talking about testing and barrier methods (like condoms and dental dams) is especially important.

Talking about sex can feel weird at first, and that’s ok. The good news is that practice makes perfect, and the more you talk about it the easier it will feel.

Talking about safer sex is easier if you know the facts about STIs and what your own boundaries are.

If you’re not already familiar, it’s worth educating yourself about the risk of different sex acts (remember, oral and anal sex is still sex!), how to protect yourself, how and when to get tested and how to put on a condom. It’s also worth keeping or carrying condoms, so you’re not always reliant on your partner having them (just remember to not store them in your wallet).

It’s also a good idea to think about your own boundaries. What will you do if your partner says they haven’t been tested, or doesn’t want to use a condom? What if they tell you that they have an STI like herpes or HIV? Thinking through these scenarios in advance will make it easier for you to respond in the moment.

As for the actual conversation, here are some general suggestions and conversation starters.

People often start this conversation as the clothes are coming off—but that’s not the best idea. When you’re in the moment, it can be harder to practice self-control and make the same smart decisions you would at other times. It can also feel difficult to interrupt the action, even if you know it’s the right thing to do.

You mention that you don’t want to “ruin the moment.” Talking earlier will help you avoid this, but remember that it is not up to you to keep the mood. Sex can be fun and awkward and all over the place, and that’s ok!

Try these conversation starters:

  • “I know we’ve been talking about going further, so I just wanted to let you know I was tested for STIs recently. When were you last tested?”
  • “Before this goes any further, I just want to check in—do you have condoms, or do we need to go to the store?”
  • “Just so you know, it’s really important to me that we use protection.”
  • “I feel like now might be a good time to talk about safer sex.”
  • “I don’t want to assume anything, but if we do end up having sex I want to make sure we’re safe.”
  • Some people find it easier to explain their boundaries in terms of their emotions rather than their health: “I know myself, and I’m going to be stressed out and enjoy myself less if we don’t use condoms.”

Of course, how you start the conversation can depend on your own personality and the specific situation you’re in. If you’re in a relationship with your partner, your conversation may be a bit different than with someone you don’t know as well. For example, if you’re in a relationship you might want to suggest getting tested together.

Talking about STIs isn’t the only conversation about sex you should have.

You should also talk about:

  • If you’re having penis-in-vagina (PIV) sex, talk about birth control to make sure you’re on the same page.
  • What do you like, not like, or want to try in bed? What are you comfortable and not comfortable with? No one is a mind reader and it’s ESSENTIAL to make sure that everyone is comfortable and excited about everything you’re doing together. This is called enthusiastic consent.
  • Ask yourself these 5 questions to check in with yourself. Consider talking about them with your partner, too.

If your partner pushes back (saying they don’t want to talk about sex, don’t want to use condoms, etc.), think about what this says about them. Remember that you deserve respect, and it is never ok to ignore someone else’s boundaries. Do you want to have sex with someone who doesn’t show you that respect? Do you feel safe being in a vulnerable situation with that person?

If you have any other questions about sexual health and are 10-22 years old and live in NYC, you can make a free, confidential appointment at the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center. We can answer any other questions you have, and we provide free, confidential STI testing & treatment, birth control and other comprehensive health services.

P.S.: These conversations still apply to people with vaginas who have sex with other vagina-havers!  Lesbians get STIs, too.