It’s often easier to have sex than to talk about it. When you’re in the heat of the moment, you may forget about all of the implications that come along with sex, like STIs, unplanned pregnancy, and how it can change your relationship. Having an in-depth conversation with your partner about birth control in the middle of getting hot and heavy? I don’t think so.
But talking to your partner about birth control is one of the most important things you should do when it comes to having sex — even more than using lube. According to a survey of 1,115 Gen Zers conducted by Her Campus in September 2022, 62% of respondents reported they were sexually active. However, 35% of those surveyed said they aren’t talking to their partners about birth control. And while the responsibility usually falls onto the person with a uterus, birth control is a two-way street.
Despite the risks, human beings aren’t going to stop having sex — so we might as well be safe about it.
Whether you’re having sex in a long-term relationship, with a situationship, a FWB, or simply experimenting with multiple partners, it’s essential to talk to your partner(s) about using birth control. And while this may seem like an extremely awkward conversation topic, it really doesn’t have to be.
Her Campus spoke to Dr. Nita Landry, board-certified OB/GYN, and Carmel Jones, relationship, sex, and dating expert and founder of the sex-positive site, The Big Fling, to learn some of the best practices for talking to your partner about birth control.
Know your options.
Before you even talk to your partner about using birth control, it’s best to know your options when it comes to contraception. Condoms were the most popular form of birth control among the 2022 Her Campus survey respondents, used by 42% of respondents, and recommended by 74%. Closely following is the birth control pill, used by 40% of respondents and recommended by 62%.
Other forms of birth control include the arm implant, IUD, the sponge, the patch, a vaginal ring, and so many more. When deciding what kind of birth control you want to use with your partner, it’s important to remember birth control is the most effective when you’re using two or more methods at once — like the pill and external condoms.
Before talking to your partner, consult your OB/GYN about the best kind of birth control for you.
Be up-front with your partner.
“When it comes to your body, health, and sexual autonomy, [birth control is] among the most important things to advocate for in a relationship,” Jones tells Her Campus. “You’re talking about the safety of your present and your future, both physically and emotionally. Your partner needs to be able to respect that and understand how serious and important that is.”
Jones also emphasizes the importance of finding the right time to bring up the conversation, when you know your partner can give you their full attention. Dr. Nita Landry agrees, and says the sooner you can talk about it, the better.
“Maybe not on your first date, but definitely before clothes are coming off,” Landry says. “You don’t want to find yourself in a hot-and-heavy moment unprepared and unsure of your partner’s health status. If you do find yourself in that situation, you have to hit pause and make sure you’re protected.”
Have a plan.
No, I’m not saying you should outline every talking point you want to make. However, going into this conversation with a bit of a plan can help you formulate your thoughts.
If you’re feeling nervous or scatterbrained, Landry suggests taking some time to really think about what you’re going to say to your partner, and approach the topic whenever you’re ready.
“Write down a few key points and practice saying them out loud,” Landry suggests. “If you have a friend you trust, you can practice the conversations with them.” Sure, the conversion is bound to shift in the moment, and you may forget exactly what you rehearsed, but having a general idea of what you want to say can make the difference between an awkward conversation and a meaningful one.
Bring it up casually.
Talking about this kind of stuff with your partner —especially if it’s a new partner — can be incredibly awkward, but it doesn’t have to be an intense (and tense) conversation.
“Think of it as a boundary,” Jones says. “Boundaries are devices used to allow people into our lives in a way that makes us feel comfortable, not a way to push people out.”
Jones suggests using a few key phrases to get the conversation going. “You could start by saying, ‘I want to talk with you about how sex can be more comfortable for me. I would feel more turned on and less anxious if we were using a form of birth control.’ Or you can say, ‘My doctor recommended birth control for my irregular cycle, and I think it’s a good idea.’”
Similarly, Landry also recommends bringing birth control up in a more casual manner. “It’s best to have this conversation when you’re casually hanging out. You can say something like, ‘I’m into you and I like where this is heading. I’m willing to get tested. Are you?’ or, ‘I think you should know I’m on the pill. But that obviously doesn’t protect against everything. Are you willing to wear a condom?’”
Remember that saying, “It’s only awkward if you make it awkward”? That applies here. Birth control is nothing to be ashamed of. And prioritizing your health should never be embarrassing.
Take your partner’s reaction into account.
When you’re sexually active with someone, it’s essential to know you’re on the same page with things like STI testing, birth control, and even abortion.
“Every person has a right to decide if and when they use birth control for pregnancy prevention,” Landry says. “A partner who doesn’t want you to use hormonal contraception is stripping you of that right. If they aren’t receptive to using birth control, you have a choice to make — you can choose to continue the relationship and abstain from sex, you can choose to end the relationship, or you can choose to take the risk [of STIs, pregnancy, and other complications].”
If your partner is receptive, or even enthusiastic to discuss this, take this as a good sign. A partner who respects your boundaries and wants to prioritize your health? Now that’s hot. “A truly supportive partner shouldn’t ask you to risk your health or pregnancy,” Landry says.
However, if your partner seems upset about the conversation, it might be your sign not to continue the relationship. “It might come down to ignorance or a lack of understanding. In that case, let them know that you’d like to educate them,” Jones says. “But if they totally shut down, act controlling, or angry, those are signs that this isn’t a safe relationship for you physically and emotionally, and it might be grounds for a breakup.”
Remember: Put yourself first.
While it takes two to tango, remember to respect your boundaries and to always put yourself (and your health) first. Birth control is personal, and finding the right type for you is a decision that only you can make. While talking to your partner, don’t forget — or feel too intimidated — to advocate for yourself.
“Talking about birth control isn’t just about preventing pregnancy — it’s about preventing sexually transmitted infections that can impact your fertility and overall health,” Landry says. While birth control is typically used to prevent pregnancy, it can also be used for acne treatment, heavy periods, and menstrual pain, amongst other things.
Landry adds, “While these types of conversations can feel awkward at first, this type of open and honest communication builds connection and trust… and isn’t that what you want in a partner?”
Bringing up birth control to your partner can be a great way to strengthen your relationships and mutually educate each other going forward — whether you stay together or move on to other partners. While it can seem scary, it’s an incredibly important conversation to have. And after you have it, then you’re free to get back to the good part… responsibly, of course.
Read the rest of the Her Campus Our Bodies, Our Rights project here.