Before s*x: what to ask your partner

Whether you’ve been together for years or you’ve only just met, if sex is part of your relationship or is going to be, it’s important to talk about it. Here’s how.

Mid section view of man and woman holding hands

Talking about sex doesn’t have to be difficult or embarrassing. If you feel that it is, there are ways to make it easier.

Discussing issues such as contraception, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), or what you like and don’t like, lets you both share your thoughts, expectations, and worries. It can help you make decisions together that suit you both.

The information on this page is for people who are talking to a new partner about sex and want to know how to discuss their sexual history, contraception and using condoms.

When to talk about sex

Don’t wait until you’re already having sex. You might make hasty decisions or take risks you wouldn’t normally take.

Talking about contraception and condoms in advance lets you know your options, so you can make a considered decision.

Choose a time and place where you can talk openly without being disturbed.

How to say it

Some simple ways of bringing up the subject of sex and safer sex include saying:

  • “How do you feel about sex?”
  • “Would you want to have sex with me?”
  • “I’d like to have sex with you, do you feel ready?”
  • “We should talk about safer sex if we’re going to have sex.”
  • “We could go to a clinic and find out about contraception together.”
  • “Do you like a particular type of condom? We need to get some.” (Condoms are the only contraception that protects against STIs.)

It’s important to discuss safer sex, regardless of who you’re having sex with. Infections can pass between two women and two men, as well as between men and women. For more information on safer sex for same-sex partners, see sexual health for women who have sex with women and sexual health for men who have sex with men.

Mentioning contraception

If you want to avoid pregnancy, finding out about the different methods of contraception together can be a good way to discuss sex.

You could also visit a contraceptive clinic together. Staff will be happy to discuss your options with you and can help you choose the method that’s right for you.

Talking about sexual history

Find out about your partner’s sexual history. For example, find out whether they have any STIs that might put you at risk. You could say:

  • “Before we have sex, there’s something I need to ask you: have you ever been checked for STIs? Have you got any STIs that you know about?”

Or you might need to tell your partner something. You could say:

  • “Before we have sex, there’s something I need to tell you.”
  • “Can we talk about something before we have sex?”

A doctor or nurse at your community contraceptive clinic, sexual health clinic or genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinic can discuss safer sex with you, including condom use. Find sexual health services near you, including contraceptive clinics.

This is particularly important if you or your partner have an infection and need to stop it spreading. If you have an infection or condition, having leaflets about it could help you talk about it together.

You only have to have sex without a condom once to catch an STI that could affect you for life.

A one-night stand

If you think you might have sex with someone you’ve just met, carry condoms with you. Make sure that you use them if you have sex.

Bring up the subject of using them before you’re actually having sex. Don’t wait until there’s contact between your genitals and your partner’s genitals. This is too late. Put on the condom before there’s any genital contact and before using sex toys.

Think in advance about when you could mention using a condom. In your mind, establish a line that you won’t cross until you bring up the subject. For example, you could think to yourself “my zip can’t be undone if I haven’t talked about using a condom”.

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