We’d used a condom – but what if we hadn’t? (Picture: Almara Abgarian)
‘Are you sleeping with anyone else?’
The early stages of dating are akin to a minefield – make the wrong move and boom, the romance is blown up in seconds.
And there’s a particular five-word question that seems to be more explosive than most.
With it being Sexual Health Week, I’m going to tell you why it’s not only valid but essential to find out if your potential sexual partner is having sex with others.
And why it is never too soon to have this chat.
As always, I’ll start by sacrificing a tidbit of my own.
Six or so years ago, I was standing in my kitchen, cooking a meal for a date – let’s call him Alfred.
Out of the blue – while I was in the middle of stirring the fancy cheese into the pasta – he confessed that I was one of three women he had been dating over the past few weeks.
Apparently I’d made it to the final two. Yay?
I can’t remember exactly what brought the conversation on, but Alfred felt guilty and wanted to be honest about the other players involved.
It stung to hear this news but I was also realistic about the situation. We hadn’t had any type of conversation about exclusivity and this was only our fourth date, so I took the whole thing on the chin.
The pasta was ruined though, which was somewhat upsetting. I don’t like wasting food.
It might sound odd but I wasn’t angry. I felt uncomfortable knowing that I was just a piece in a bizarre game of ‘dating chess’, though – so in the interest of protecting my own feelings, I broke things off.
Looking after your sexual health is never wrong (Picture: Almara Abgarian)
I moved on soon after, but there was one thing that niggled in my mind. We had already slept together by the time this conversation happened.
We’d used a condom – but what if we hadn’t?
It would’ve meant I’d have inadvertently put my sexual health at risk. Had this happened, I wouldn’t have solely blamed Alfred because it takes two to tango, but this isn’t just about strapping a ‘Johnnie’ on.
It’s about honesty and being open about your sexual activities so that all parties can make an informative choice.
I don’t believe in chastising people for forgetting to use protection; shame never helps, it only hinders.
But safe sex is important; new data from June this year, released by the UK Health Security Agency, revealed a 50% increase in gonorrhea and 24% rise in chlamydia since 2021.
Dear reader, if you’re shagging more than one person without using condoms, which is the only form of protection against multiple STIs, it’s your responsibility to be upfront about it.
This goes for non-penetrative sex acts too.
Take it from someone who got an STI many years ago simply by dry-humping while naked. Ironically, I was in my late teens. People didn’t talk much about STIs back then, especially more unusual ways of getting them, so it was pretty harrowing and I felt quite embarrassed.
But I received some great help from a non-judgemental sexual health nurse and eventually realised that this is just something that can happen.
It’s actually part of why I love writing about sex and sexual health; education is always needed and we need to lift the stigma around things that affect so many of us.
Yes, it really can happen, yes I’m fine now.
Usually, the key reasons people avoid sharing their extracurricular activities (read: other shags) with dates is because they don’t want the other person to walk away before they’ve had a chance to decide how they feel. Or because they are afraid that having this conversation will scare them off.
That’s why it’s important to ask people if they’re sleeping with anyone else – you can’t always rely on them to be upfront in the way I wish Alfred had been.
I can understand the rationale behind hesitating to ask your date if you’re their only sexual partner – they could interpret this as you asking for exclusivity.
I get it. It’s something I think about too.
But looking after your sexual health is never wrong and if your date doesn’t understand that reasoning, then you’re probably better off walking away regardless.
(Side note: there is also a small minority who play the field and don’t care about the consequences of their actions – these people are a**holes).
While I’m not angry at Alfred for keeping his cards close to his chest – especially since we used protection – the experience taught me to take ownership of my dating and sex life.
While it may not seem like it, there is a good, and subtle, way to have this type of discussion.
If you’re sleeping with (or want to sleep with) other people, you could express that you want to take things slow and not rush ahead in dating or be exclusive at this stage, which innocently suggests that there might be other dates/sexual partners involved.
Perhaps add that you are open to exclusivity down the line, if that is the case, so your date doesn’t think you’re blowing them off or just looking for casual sex.
And if you’re wondering about their sexual activity, you could veer into a general chat about sex and talk about how long it’s been since either of you had sex, as a kind of indication that you’re thinking about this sort of thing.
Or do the bold, brave thing and just ask the big question: ‘Are you sleeping with someone else?’.
It might not be easy but it is effective. And remember – in 98% of cases, so are condoms.