1. BYOC (bring your own condom). Don’t rely on a partner to have condoms, dams, or lube. Always have your own supply, and check the expiration dates before use. Temperature and light exposure can affect the integrity of safer sex supplies so always store them in a cool, dry place.
2. Role-play safer-sex conversations with friends. Brainstorming strategies for dealing with difficult responses and practicing what to say can help you to be more comfortable and assertive when the time comes to talk about it for real. The best input and advice may come from people who share your experiences and who truly understand your concerns.
3. Create basic limits and boundaries around safer sex in advance. Writing them down can help remind you that they’re important and nonnegotiable.
4. Avoid getting so drunk or high that you cannot make sound decisions. Always remember that drinking or taking drugs can interfere with your and your partner(s)'s ability to give consent.
5. Make safer sex part of sex, rather than something that interrupts sex. For example, put on male or female condoms together.
6. Don’t rush into higher-risk activities. First take your time with low- or no‑risk activities, which can help build trust and communication (and also feel really good).
7. If you have a history of sexual or other abuse and feel this interferes with your ability to be safe, seek the help of a therapist, counselor, or support group to assist you in your healing and to help you select partners and sexual settings that make you feel comfortable.
8. Choose partners who don’t put all the responsibility for safer sex on you. Look for partners who are comfortable putting safety discussions on the table and who see safer sex as a priority.
9. Work toward being able to talk more candidly about sex and sexual health with friends and partners. It’s easier to be safe when you don’t feel ashamed.
10. Don’t feel bad about yourself if you find this difficult. Many of us were taught that talking about sex isn’t “romantic” or "polite." But we can, and we do—and it gets easier with practice.
Adapted from the 2011 edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves. © 2011, Boston Women's Health Book Collective.