How to Have the Birth Control Talk With Your Partner
In a 2016 survey published by the Urban Institute, more than 8 in 10 people of reproductive age responded that an unplanned birth would negatively impact at least one area of their life, with income, education, mental health and career being the areas that would face the most impact.
The ability to prevent an unplanned pregnancy and birth with contraception has widespread health, social and economic benefits for people of reproductive age.
While the beginning of a relationship might be full of excitement and dates where you talk for hours about "nothing," it's also a necessary time to have the birth control talk. Talking to a partner about birth control is paramount, whether you hope to get pregnant someday or not. If birth control should fail, it's essential to have a backup plan in place before you need it.
When should you talk to a partner about birth control?
Relationship expert and sex and intimacy coach Leah Carey, from Portland, Oregon, said the birth control talk needs to happen before clothes come off. Sex and birth control are intricately linked, and it's good to get these subjects out in the open as soon as possible.
Carey explained that it can be hard to discuss something like condoms or what form of birth control you're on in the heat of the moment.
"If you haven't talked about birth control in advance, you are likely to make a choice, like having sex without a condom, that you'll regret in the morning," Carey said.
"Another good reason to talk about birth control before things go too far is that it gives you an opportunity to feel out the other person's sense of responsibility," she added. "If they are willing to take the conversation seriously, that's a good sign. If they treat it as unimportant or try to bypass it entirely, that means they're not taking your health and safety seriously, and that's a big red flag."
You can strike up the conversation over dinner, on a walk or whenever the opportunity arises. But it is helpful to talk about birth control sooner rather than later.
What to include in the conversation
Birth control conversations should include key talking points, such as what method you use to prevent pregnancy, if you like that method and whether it's effective for you. You can revisit birth control conversations as frequently as you like, especially if your method or family planning goals should change.
Carey explained the conversation doesn't need to be complicated or long-winded.
"A woman could say to a new male partner, 'I have an IUD for birth control and I ask new sex partners to wear condoms. What about you?' Or a man might say to a new female partner, 'I prefer to not wear a condom, so what type of birth control are you on?'" Carey said.
There are no right or wrong answers to birth control questions, Carey explained. But if a new partner has different feelings about it than you do, you'll likely want to know this information upfront so you can make an informed decision about how you'd like to proceed.
"Your answer will be entirely dependent on your risk tolerance and risk factors. If you don't line up with someone on how to deal with birth control, it may be a sign that you shouldn't be having sex with them," Carey advised. "Be especially cautious of people who agree to wear a condom under duress because it may put you at risk for stealthing [removing a condom during sex]."
If a new partner has different feelings about it than you do, you'll likely want to know this information upfront.
It's also essential to discuss plans for protection against sexually transmitted infections (STIs), Carey noted.
"If you or your potential partner have an active STI or is in treatment, that's likely to affect your choice about protective barriers during sex," Carey said.
"While there is not a 'one-size-fits-all' approach, having an open dialogue about family planning goals is important for couples before they are sexually active," said Erica Montes, M.D., a board-certified OB-GYN in Phoenix, an Organon spokesperson and the founder of the Modern Mujer, a bilingual women's healthcare platform.
It's also OK to switch methods if the birth control you're on doesn't seem right. It's essential to know how to protect yourself during the transition period so there is less risk of unintended pregnancy, Montes advised.
Talking about birth control and side effects
"In my practice as an OB-GYN, the side effects that women experience may vary depending on their health background and birth control method. Discussing the side effects that they are experiencing with their partner can help couples better navigate their sex life," Montes said.
"It's important to ask your healthcare provider about any side effects that you may be concerned about. If there is a misconception, your physician can address it with reliable information," Montes added.
Sometimes people note decreased sex drive, irregular bleeding or difficulty achieving orgasm due to certain birth control methods.
It might also help to think about a contraceptive method that aligns with your and your partner's family planning goals, whether you are hoping to get pregnant in a year, three years from now or never, Montes explained.
"Some of the options they may discuss include short-acting contraceptives such as pills, patches, vaginal rings and injections, long-acting reversible contraception [LARC] such as intrauterine devices and implants, and permanent options such as sterilization," Montes said.
Another popular option for people sensitive to side effects is the nonhormonal copper IUD.
Understanding a patient's health background, lifestyle routines and what they are looking for in contraceptive options can help narrow down the most appropriate birth control option, she added.
"Other things I consider include effectiveness, safety profile, availability, cost and frequency of administration, among other things. I usually start by asking my patients what methods they have heard about or are interested in to begin the conversation," Montes said.
"As of late, I've heard that some of my patients' daily activities and family planning goals have changed. It continues to be important that women prioritize their reproductive health, and I encourage women to work with a doctor or healthcare provider to discuss their options and family planning goals," Montes advised.
If birth control fails
While contraception dramatically reduces the chances of unplanned pregnancy, sometimes contraception fails. If a birth control method fails, it can be helpful to have a plan in place before you go through it. That way, everyone involved knows their responsibility and what they've agreed on beforehand.
If birth control should fail, people might opt for emergency contraception or abortion. Ironing out the nuances, such as whether or not a partner will be partially financially responsible, can help people better navigate the circumstance if it should arise.
When you put all the potential outcomes on the table, you can decide whether or not you align with a partner's feelings about contraception, even if it's just a casual relationship. Ultimately, the choice around birth control is yours to make.