Some of my women readers, newly in the dating game after divorce or death of a spouse, tell me that they feel uncomfortable asking a new partner to use a condom. "If I ask a man to use a condom, it sounds like I don't trust him," they say. "If I have them on hand myself, he'll think I sleep around."
My belief is that if you can't talk about safer sex with someone, you really shouldn't be inviting that person to be an intimate partner! But I know it's hard, especially if you've been in a long-term relationship and suddenly find yourself out in that scary world of dating, sex with new partners, and the risks that weren't a part of our zesty youth.
I recommend never waiting until the heat of passion to bring up the subject. Instead, when the sparks and kisses signal that sex is likely in your future, have the discussion. Then you've agreed to be prepared when you're ready for the next stage.
In my single past, these were some useful ways to approach the subject:
"I always use condoms with a new partner to protect us both."
"I'll buy the condoms -- do you prefer a special kind?
"Your condoms or mine?"
I've had occasions when a man refused, saying something like, "Sex with condoms interferes with my enjoyment."
I would reply, "Is no sex more enjoyable?"
At this point, of course, I knew the date was over, and I was glad to know in advance that he didn't value my sexual health or his own. If he was willing to go to bed with me without protection, then he did that with his last partners, and they did it with their last partners, and so on.
I don't claim that I used a condom with everyone all the time when I was single. In my younger days, the STDs we were likely to contract were either visible or could be cured with a prescription drug. But I got smarter with age, and became more demanding of barrier protection. If I knew someone well already, someone who had become a good friend, and I knew about his relationships and his sexual health status, we would get blood tests, and then feel comfortable about condomless sex. But that took deep discussions and friendship.
Let me hear from you -- what do/would you say to bring up the subject of condom use?
(photo of Miriam Schuler, known as "Condom Grandma" in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where she volunteers in the Senior HIV Intervention Project.)