When can my partner and I have sex without a condom?

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Q: I'm wondering when it's okay to stop using condoms with my partner? I take the pill so the pregnancy risk is low, and we're both monogamous, so what are the risks?

First off I want to say I'm glad you said "low risk" rather than you thinking you're completely home free on the pregnancy thing because, as we say a lot in this blog, nothing with sex is 100% risk free.

Being on the pill is absolutely a great way to help prevent unwanted pregnancy, but it's not completely fail safe; there are all sorts of reasons that it might not work, and the consequences of that can be life altering.

With the STI risk, I'd say the best thing for you to do first is both to go and get tested on the same day and then continue to use condoms (just in case) until you get the results back. Remember, a test is only as accurate as the day it's taken until the next time you have sex, which is why it's important to use protection up until the results are back, just in case.

It is also pertinent and important for us to let you know that some STIs like herpes, syphilis and HPV are not only infections that can be there without any symptoms at all, but they also cannot be prevented by condom use, as condoms don't cover all the areas that can become infected. 

There's also no proper STI checks for HPV. The way it's tested is in cervical pap tests (if you are sexually active, and you have a cervix, you should have a pap test every three years unless directed differently by your doctor ) as it is an early indicator of the abnormal cells that can cause cervical cancer. It can disappear completely on its own, or can also present itself in genital warts in both male and females. 

It's also important to remember what we said about dormant viruses and the fact that, just because a positive result may come back on something like herpes, it doesn't necessarily indicate unfaithfulness. They could have had it in their bodies since they were a teenager (it's almost exactly the same virus that causes cold sores on the mouth and they can interchange in both areas) and never presented with any symptoms all.

So with all that in mind, the answer to your question is when you both feel you are in the right place - both mentally and physically (and health wise too) - to take the next step in your sexual relationship and are both ready, willing, and responsible enough to take on those small (but still there) extra risks, then you're probably ready to take off the raincoat and go out dancing in the rain.

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