You’ve been seeing each other for a few weeks now. The sex is great, you have a lot in common, he likes your cooking and you’ve stopped seeing other guys – could this be the start of a relationship?
And – more importantly – does this mean you can ditch the condoms and/or the PrEP now?
As tempting as it might be to just let your regular sexual health routine slide, it’s (unsurprisingly) not a great idea. Protecting yourselves and each other from HIV and other STIs is especially important at the start of a relationship, when your natural inclination might be to relax a little bit. You’re still getting to know each other and you’re both bringing a lot of unknowns into the mix, especially when it comes to your sexual history. While it’s probably not the sort of ‘intimate discussion’ you look forward to with a new boyfriend, talking openly about your sexual health is an important part of taking care of each other – especially if you’re looking to change things up .
So, when is it OK to stop using condoms and PrEP, and how can you do it safely?
First up – work out where you both sit on the monogameter
If you want to stop using condoms and/or PrEP, committing to monogamy is a practical way to protect each other from HIV and STIs — a strategy that kept many gay men safe in the early days of the HIV epidemic.
But monogamy isn’t what everyone wants, and it’s safer not to assume anything – the fact that you haven’t been seeing anyone else doesn’t necessarily mean he hasn’t. Have an open, judgement-free conversation about how exclusive you’ve been since you met and how exclusive you want to be in the future, and bring your preferred safety choices into the discussion from the outset.
Ready for monogamy? Establish your baseline
If you’re making it exclusive, make sure you’re starting from a common basis of understanding. That means you both need to know your HIV status and get tested (and treated if necessary) for any STIs. You should both be aware of when you last had sex with other people, and make sure you let previous partners know if any of your results come back positive.
But that doesn’t mean you can bin your safer sex kit straight away. All STIs have a window period during which current testing may not detect them. In some cases this can be up to 12 weeks, so even if you both test negative, you need to stick with your current HIV and STI protection strategy until you get tested again. This should be at least 12 weeks after your first test together.
Once you’ve both received a second round of negative results, you can safely replace your current strategy with committed monogamy. Make sure you send any unused condoms to a good home.
“…just like condoms and PrEP, monogamy will only work if you do it properly”
The most important thing to remember if you’re going to be monogamous is that you always need a strategy to protect you from STIs and HIV. Rather than getting rid of condoms and/or PrEP, you’re replacing them with monogamy – and just like condoms and PrEP, monogamy will only work if you do it properly.
Not keen on monogamy? Start your two-man sexual health plan!
If you want a relationship together but you’re still going to be having sex with other guys, the first thing to work out is the boundaries. Are you only going to play together, or only when one of you is out of town? Can you see other guys any time, or is it only for special occasions?
This isn’t just about respecting each other’s feelings. If you want to stop using condoms or PrEP inside your relationship, you need a clear strategy for protecting yourselves and each other from HIV and STIs. This means agreeing on how you’re protecting yourselves outside the relationship.
You might use condoms for sex with other guys, every time. Or if you’re not keen on condoms and you don’t want to take PrEP every day, you could consider some of the new ways to take PrEP. There are plenty of options to mix and match, but you need to be clear about the amount of risk you’re willing to bring into your relationship – don’t forget that PrEP doesn’t by itself protect against STIs other than HIV.
The most important thing to remember if you’re NOT going to be monogamous is that your sexual health is now a two-man plan. You’ll both need to keep getting tested and treated as necessary for STIs, and you’ll need to keep communicating about it. If either of you changes your sexual behaviour (or wants to), the other one needs to be involved in the decision so you can adjust your sexual health plan together.
Wherever you land with your choices, make a point of checking in with each other regularly on your sexual health – there’s no real ‘set and forget’ option. People’s feelings on monogamy can change, and you may find yourselves moving between different HIV and STI prevention options as your relationship changes.
The good news is that you’ve got plenty of choices, and with good communication, you can look after your sexual health and have the sex you want in your relationship.