Dear Audrey, When in a relationship is it ok to stop using a condom? I'm on birth control, and neither my boyfriend nor I like condoms, really (does anybody?). When is a reasonable time to let it go?
You know, I've been hearing a lot of condom chatter since the oral sex and condoms question the other week. The gist of it seems to be like, "Hey, so I know we should all be using condoms all the time because AIDS and other STDs are a big deal but wah I don't wanna. Can I get a free pass?"
And duh, obviously the answer is no. Not only do you not know who has what, often people with STDs themselves don't even know they have them until they've had them for a while. So, the official Safe Sex Person answer is: never. The only way to be as sure as possible is to always wear a rubber (and not even then, because condoms break or some STDs can be transmitted anyway).
The next step down from that is sort of the party line, given that most people are not always going to wear condoms forever, all the time: only in a monogamous relationship, and only after you've both been tested at least six months after the last time you had sex with someone else. This of course involves some amount of trust, because SAYING you're monogamous and BEING monogamous are often two very different animals.
But, it's easy to sit up on a safer sex high horse and say "these are the rules, break them at your peril" (which has the sort of unspoken corollary "so if you get sick it's your fault," which is problematic in ways I don't have time to get into.) It is more complicated to acknowledge the reality that many people don't use protection as often as they "should," nor do they get tested as often as is recommended.
In the end, it all comes down to risk management. We all take risks all the time: not wearing seatbelts, crossing against the light, eating expired food, whatever. You have learned to weigh the benefit of taking a risk against possible consequences in other parts of your life. Sex is the same way: you have to decide for yourself how much risk you are willing to tolerate.
It's a very murky, adult, semi-scary kind of thing to think about. So much of it comes down to luck. Nobody can live entirely free of risk. Very often risk-taking in life leads to success. But at the same time, it's not "fair" the way consequences are doled out. One dude could fuck ten strangers au naturel and not get anything, and another could fuck someone he's been dating for a while one time and get genital warts.
I've known people who have done really stupid shit and turned out fine, and other people who thought they were being "safe" and gotten STDs with life-long consequences. I know people really want to hear, like, "well I know they say you should always wear condoms but really as long as you're both nice people it'll be fine."
Unfortunately, we all know that's not how it works. You don't need anybody's permission to take a risk, but your decisions, and their consequences, are your own. You are the sole owner and operator of your own body.