How do I navigate safe sex with a new partner?

How do I navigate safe sex with a new partner? | Soho House

This week, our resident sexpert Olivia Petter, talks safe sex and how to bring up the condom conversation

Friday 18 November 2022   By Olivia Petter   Illustration by Vasya Kolotusha

This is a difficult question. And it’s one that, for me, I can’t answer without discussing the slightly murkier matters it conjures up. But I’ll get to that.

Let me start by saying that safe sex is a confusing phrase. It’s one of those terms we heard bandied around a lot at school without knowing what it really means. Wear a condom so you don’t get pregnant. Or catch chlamydia. Or anything else. Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? And yet, it’s so much more than that. Because this is a phrase that carries the burden of sexual shame more than any other.

How many of the men you know use condoms? I ask this because out of the ones I know, the answer is very few. There are exceptions – almost all of my gay male friends insist on wearing them – but generally speaking, the men I know say they’re uncomfortable, they don’t fit (pfft) and they can’t maintain an erection wearing one. This reluctance has been scientifically proven – a US government survey from 2017 found that just one third of men use condoms at least some of the time when they have sex.

I also know this to be true from personal experience. Out of the men I’ve slept with, just two have offered to wear a condom. The rest must have just assumed I was on some form of contraception and didn’t seem fussed about STIs.

The truth is, there have been occasions when, admittedly, I haven’t been fussed. I’ve been on the contraceptive coil for a while, so I know I’m protected from pregnancy. And while I would always rather use a condom, there have been times when I felt like asking would ruin the moment. Or that it might put this person off, or compromise their pleasure. Because I could sit here at my laptop and lecture you about how important it is we insist that partners with penises wear condoms. And it is. But you’re right: it can be awkward.

I wrote about this extensively in my book, Millennial Love, because to date I don’t think it’s discussed enough. Hence why so many of us feel so ashamed to ask a partner about contraception the second sex is on the cards. It’s also why so many men think they can get away with being so laissez-fare about using protection. And why many of us have been shamed into thinking that’s completely acceptable. It isn’t.

Trigger warning: the following contains mentions of rape.

This brings me back to my earlier point. The murky stuff. Because I once slept with someone who took the condom off without my consent – and I got pregnant. Colloquially known as ‘stealthing’, this is a form of sexual assault and is punishable by law. I’ve written about this before and I’m sharing this with you now because I don’t want it to happen to anyone else. For help and advice on sexual assault, visit

My point is that you have the right to safe sex. All of us do. Aside from the aforementioned example, my experiences with asking men to wear condoms has generally been great. A few flirtatious giggles here, the odd fumble there. It’s part of the fun. If a partner has made you feel awkward about asking them to use protection, they’re probably not someone you should sleep with anyway.

The quick-fire round

How do you deal with a guy who has been distant and says he isn’t himself, but hasn’t ended things? 
Don’t let anyone string you along. It might sound brutal, but in cases like these I think it’s worth harking back to that famous episode of Sex And The City, and subsequent film He’s Just Not That Into You. Whether it’s true or not doesn’t really matter, but if someone isn’t giving you the attention you want and deserve, don’t waste too much time waiting around.

If you want to get in touch, please email me at All submissions will remain anonymous. 
Olivia Petter is the relationships writer at The Independent and author of Millennial Love, which is out now in paperback with 4th Estate