Updated: Mar 18
Talking about birth control, or sexual health in general, can be a bit of an awkward conversation. It doesn’t matter who it’s with, be it a 5+ year long relationship or a one night stand, when the birth control convo is started, it often feels… weird. However, in an unreasonable game of would you rather, if you had to choose between talking awkwardly about birth control or talking awkwardly about what decisions to make about an unwanted pregnancy, I *think* I know which one you’ll want to choose. So, let’s talk.
Why Should I Talk To My Partner About Birth Control
There is no clear path to this type of conversation because everyone has their own lives, safety, and comfort level to consider. With obnoxiously casual media representation of birth control being our only guide to this conversation (with the anecdote of quickly listed side effects, of course), starting this chat about birth control with a sexual partner can be, well, unsexy. Any and all sexual partners should be able to have this conversation comfortably and effectively. This topic doesn’t stop at intercourse with the ability to get pregnant, although the world is still learning that birth control isn’t just for pregnancy prevention.
Who should care about this?
Couples who have been together forever
brand new love affairs
young folks being sexually active for the first time
LGBTQIA+ community members
…the list goes on - if you’re sexually active, you’ve got to have the talk. Thankfully, it’s not as awkward as the birds and the bees chat that your parents tried to have with you when you were growing up… There’s nothing more awkward than that, I promise. If you’re in need of some fresh perspectives on all things sexual health - check out The Mar-Lowdown to get on their mission of shifting the “awkward to refreshing”.
So, you want to start having the talk. But what is it going to look like?
*Here are some polls from Marlow's community responses on their birth control experiences
Talking About Birth Control Goes Both Ways!
We asked some sexually active people between the ages of 21 and 33 what these conversations typically look like for them, and wow, does the world need to talk. The general consensus from those with penises was that it isn’t their problem. Thankfully, it wasn’t as blunt as that, but for the most part, it is up to the person with the ability to carry a baby to both make the decisions and start the conversation about birth control if it’s necessary. Some of the people with penises reported:
wanting to talk about it before sex to make sure that they don’t unwillingly become a parent
some reported frantically asking the questions after sex once they’ve realized the potential risk they just took
The good news is, for the most part, they care about being more involved in the conversation, the decisions, and the outcomes of how birth control can affect the person taking it (in non-pregnancy-related ways, like that long list of side effects we talked about). The overall tone from those with a uterus who have experienced this conversation (or lack thereof) is that it is their responsibility. It feels like it’s on their shoulders to concern themselves with birth control in the first place, and to start the conversation when necessary.
All of this to say, I guess we aren’t all having the conversation when, where, and how we need to have it to protect each other.
So, how do you start?
We’ll answer some of the burning (probably shouldn’t use that word when talking about sex, right?) questions you have about how to have this chat, using the real responses from the real people that have had real problems with this awkward conversation.
Question: Should I be talking to my partner about safe sex?
Answer: If safe sex is what’s important to you, yes. All people involved in any sexual activity should be comfortable and aware of the decision that they are making, and that includes knowing if/when birth control is involved and how. We’re not saying you should tell your sexual partners about every little detail (unless that’s important to you), but make sure everyone involved knows the risks.
Question: Why is this a tough conversation to have?
Answer: Nobody knows how to have it. Nobody has practice having it. And according to the folks we spoke to, it gets in the way of ~the mood~ (fun fact: it doesn’t have to).
Question: When and where should I have “the talk”?
Answer: You should have the talk when it works for you. I know that’s ambiguous, but it’s true. Have the talk before having intercourse, and have it with every new person you’re sexually active with, but have it when you’re ready to. For people with a uterus, the responsibility often falls on them to implement and discuss safe sex. So non-uterus owners out there, try making it your thing.
Question: How do I start the conversation?
Answer: Again, this isn’t a direct, step-by-step guide. It’s just a chit chat between pals about what’s important. Here we talk about why setting body boundaries is important. Starting the conversation will look different depending on who you are and who you’re with. Try bringing it up if the sexual tension vibe is already confirmed. This can be a tough one because inferring whether or not someone has intentions to have sex with you is… not the vibe. But if it’s been eluded, start the chat. You know how we’ve started to rewrite the consent narrative so that asking and confirming consent has become the sexy thing to do? Let’s do that for birth control and sexual health now, too. Bringing it up at the start of sex won’t ruin the moment, because caring for each other is sexy.
Question: Why is talking to sexual partners about birth control important?
Answer: Knowledge, comfort, health, consent, autonomy, decisions, the list goes on forever. It is important to take the pressure of birth control off of the one who can get pregnant. It is important to know what your sexual partner(s) is going through with their health (like birth control side effects, effectiveness, choices, etc). It is important that everyone involved understands their risks (I’m looking at you, penis people). Most of all, it is important that we break down the nuances of talking about sex in general, because it is the only way to ensure everyone is safe, comfortable, and enjoying themselves. Isn’t that all you could ever want?
*Community polls - "What were your main reasons for going on birth control?"
This is only the very beginning of what you should know and consider as a guide to starting to talk about birth control with sexual partners. Every person has their own unique preferences and comfort levels that can affect all aspects of sex life, so take this information as you need it, and just remember that safety is the goal here. Starting this conversation results in lower risk sex, which just sounds a lot more enjoyable if you ask me. Continuing this conversation will allow for a closeness between you and your sexual partner(s) that can eliminate any unwanted yucky feelings. Most importantly, this conversation can make sex safer for everyone involved. Now that you’ve explored how to talk to your partner about birth control, it’s equally as important to explore how to talk to your doctor about your birth control options. Head over to Marlow to learn more!