Four week relationship — Time to stop using condoms?

Originally Published: November 1, 1993 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: June 20, 2008
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Dear Alice,

I have been seeing my boyfriend for four weeks. He has told me all about his past relationships. Is it safe to stop using condoms now?

Signed,
One at a Time?

Dear One at a Time?,

Whether or not it's safe to stop using condoms with your boyfriend is a complex question. There are many important things to consider, and ultimately you are the only judge of what level of risk you are willing to take. Condoms are very effective at preventing  pregnancy and the transmission of many sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV. 

You said that you've spoken with your boyfriend about his past relationships, which is great.  Being able to communicate about each other's pasts is a key part of protecting yourselves in the present. If you're considering not using condoms, it's important to be aware of the fact that one of you could become infected with an STI during the course of your relationship. If you haven't already, you might want to discuss a game plan in the event that one of you has an unplanned sexual encounter outside your relationship. Also, even if someone is totally honest about their past and test results, there is always the possibility that they have an STI has yet to show symptoms. Most STIs have an incubation period during which they are undetectable by tests. For example, it takes from one to six months for HIV antibodies to be detectable in a test. (Read HIV Transmission: When does it show up on a blood test? in Alice's Sexual Health archives.)  Also, many STIs can be asymptomatic — meaning people can have them for months or even years without getting any signals from their bodies that they are infected (this can be the case with STIs like genital warts and genital herpes).

If you are using condoms as birth control and decide to stop using them, it would be wise to consult with your health care provider to determine when your new method will begin to provide reliable protection. Many common hormonal methods can take a week or more to become effective. If you decide to continue using condoms, and they are currently your only method of birth control, a backup method would do wonders to prevent an unplanned pregnancy as a result of breakage or misuse.

Another good thing to think about is whether or not you are participating in something called serial monogamy. Basically, that means you only have sex with one person at a time, for a limited period of time, and then you have sex with someone else. While serial monogamy is a perfectly normal relationship pattern for many people, the drawback is thinking you're safe simply because you're monogamous. But the truth is that this kind of monogamy lasts a relatively short period of time — four weeks, two months, a year — and then you start dating someone else. You begin to feel safe and comfortable with her/him, so you may stop using condoms, each time subjecting yourself to the risk of contracting or transmitting STIs. (Search through Alice's Sexual Health archives for more information on STIs.) 

It's important to ask yourself why you want to stop using condoms. Is it something you feel comfortable with? Are you ready to trust your partner that much? Do you have enough information to know that neither of you will be sharing an unwelcome STI? What are the benefits of stopping condom use, and what are the risks? These are all valuable questions to discuss as honestly and openly as you can with your partner.

Finally, depending on your sexual histories, it may be a good idea for both of you to get comprehensive STI tests done before you stop using condoms. While every relationship is different, four weeks may not be enough time to really know whether a partner or a relationship is worthy of that kind of trust. However, the decision to stop using condoms is ultimately yours and your boyfriend's to make; hopefully this response will give you enough information to continue the conversation you've already started. Best wishes to you,

Alice

June 9, 2008

21457

To Alice and the reader,

I fully agree with Reader #1. My boyfriend and I have been together over two years, I'm on the pill, and we've both tested negative for STIs. We still use condoms...

To Alice and the reader,

I fully agree with Reader #1. My boyfriend and I have been together over two years, I'm on the pill, and we've both tested negative for STIs. We still use condoms every time, because neither of us is ready for a baby. Good luck with your decision, and I hope you make the best one for you. P.S. if it's sensation you're after, try the ultra-thin style condoms — they are just as safe but transmit more heat and feeling.

June 6, 2008

21400

To the reader:

4 WEEKS??? No, keep the condoms!

#1 Preventiion of babies — even with the pill you still have chances of getting prego. Read the box!

#2 STI: Even if he was...

To the reader:

4 WEEKS??? No, keep the condoms!

#1 Preventiion of babies — even with the pill you still have chances of getting prego. Read the box!

#2 STI: Even if he was honest about the past relationships (everyone has a tendancy to fudge a little about the number of times/partners/safe practices...) he MAY NOT KNOW about an STI a partner had. Many men don't show symptoms on lots of STIs!! Plus symptoms do not always show up immediately (think of the last time you got a cold — it was probably a few days after you were in contact with a sick person).

Four weeks is hardly a month. Are you sure you know this person well enough to trust him/her to support whatever decisions you make if you did get pregnant?