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close this bookWhere Women Have No Doctor - A Health Guide for Women (Hesperian Foundation, 1997, 600 p.)
close this folderChapter 12: Sexual Health
close this folderGaining More Control over Your Sexual Health
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentSafer sex for sexual health
View the documentMaking changes for safer sex
View the documentFeeling more pleasure from sex

Making changes for safer sex

Everyone needs to think about ways to make sex safer, even if you do not think you are at risk. How you make these changes will depend on whether you expect your partner to support your wish to have safer sex.

If your partner is supportive, it is best to talk together about the health risks of STDs. But this is not always easy! Most women are taught that it is not ‘proper’ to talk about sex - especially with their partners or other men - so they lack practice. A man may talk with other men about sex, but is often uncomfortable talking with his partner Here are some suggestions:


Practice talking with a friend first. Ask a friend to pretend to be your partner and then practice what you want to say. Try to think of the different things he might say and practice for each possibility. Remember that he will probably feel nervous about talking too, so try to put him at ease.

Talk with your partner. Do not wait until you are about to have sex. Choose a time when you are feeling good about each other and when you are not likely to be interrupted. If you have stopped having sex because you have a new baby, try to talk with him before you have sex again. If you and your partner live far apart or must travel often, talk ahead of time about what having other partners would mean for your sexual health.


¨ Work with your community to educate women and men about condoms and how to use them. This will help make condoms more acceptable.

Learn as much as you can about the risks of unsafe sex, and about safer sex methods and practices. If your partner does not know much about STDs and how they are spread, or about their lasting health effects, he may not understand the real risks involved in unsafe sex. If you give him this information, or encourage him to talk to a health worker about it, you can help convince him of the need to practice safer sex.

If you think your partner will not want to practice safer sex, you will need to be more creative to get what you want:

Bargaining for safer sex

Think about how you bargain for the other things you need. In these situations, you must know what you want and then talk to the other person in such a way that you get it. Start by asking yourself: Exactly what changes do I want my partner to make? Is there something I can offer him that will make him more likely to agree? What am I willing to offer?


Focus on safety. When you talk about safer sex, your partner may say that you do not trust him. Tell him the issue is safety, not trust. Since a person may have an STD without knowing it, or may get HIV/AIDS from something other than sex, it is difficult for a person to be sure he or she is not infected. Safer sex is a good idea for every couple, even if they only have sex with each other.


But if you or your partner has had or now has another sexual partner, it may be hard to talk about. If your partner is having sex with others now, do not use this discussion to punish him. Try to talk honestly about why you are scared and how each of you will behave in the future. If he is not willing to stop having sex with others, ask him to use condoms every time he has sex with you and with anyone else.

Use other people as examples. Sometimes learning that others are practicing safer sex can help influence your partner to do so, too.


Ask for help if you need it. If you are afraid your partner will get angry or violent when you talk, you may need someone to help you discuss safer sex with him. Ask someone you trust for help.

If your partner does not want to change

If your partner does not want to change his sexual habits, you must decide what to do. You may be able to choose not to have sex, to find protection you can control - like the female condom, or the diaphragm with spermicides - or think about ending the relationship.

What you must weigh if your partner is unwilling to stop unsafe sexual practices.