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Skills for Youth

All Skills for Youth

Talking With Your Partner About Protection

It includes the following sections:

Once youth have received information about sexually transmitted infection (STI) prevention, they need to learn how to talk with their partners about protection. The following student skill provides youth with a three-step process for deciding how they want to protect themselves from STIs and how they can communicate their decision to their partner(s). The educator may want to take two to three sessions to discuss this information and practice the skill.

Teaching the Skill

Notes for educators:
* Draw suggestions and ideas from youth whenever possible.
* Use scenarios and character names that are culturally relevant and current.
* Be sure to give examples and make each step relevant to your population of youth.

Review the following three steps with youth:

Step #1: Decide which method of protection is best for you.

Currently there are two main methods for preventing STIs. These methods, addressed in this activity are:

  • not having sexual intercourse/genital contact (abstinence)
  • preventing the exchange of body fluids (vaginal, semen or blood) through the use of barriers such as dental dams or condoms every time you have sex.

You can also explain to the youth that there are ways to avoid getting HPV as well as ways to behave responsibly within a monogamous relationship. These methods include:

  • getting the HPV vaccine for young women
  • getting mutual testing and treatment for STI within a monogamous relationship

The first step in protecting yourself from an STI is to decide which of the first two methods is best for you and why. One way to do that is to write down the two methods and list all the reasons why each method might be the best one for you at this time.

This activity can be done individually with each person writing answers in two columns on a sheet of paper. To help youth think through what would be best for them, ask them to finish the following sentences with as many reasons as they can generate and record them on their paper:

  • "Not having sex is the best way for me to prevent getting an STI because......."

    Some possible reasons for not having sex as a way to prevent getting an STI might include: 1) I'm not ready to have sex yet, 2) I've promised my family I would wait until I'm older, 3) I'm not serious about anyone right now, etc.
  • "Using condoms or dental dams is the best way for me to prevent an STI because......."

    Some possible reasons for using a condom or a dental dam as a way to prevent STI might include: 1) I am having sex and don't want to get an STI, 2) condoms give good protection against STIs, HIV and pregnancy, 3) having sex in a responsible, safe way is being grown up.

After youth have listed as many reasons for each sentence as they can think of, have them review each list and decide which list has the most important reasons on it for them. (They can do this on their own or in partners.) State that their choice will be the best way to protect themselves. Encourage youth to make a decision to act on that choice. Knowing the reasons for one's choice will make it easier to stick with it.

Step #2: Talk with your partner(s) about your choice for protection.

Once youth know how they want to protect themselves, the next step is to talk with their sexual partner(s) about their choice. The conversation will be easier and more successful if they use the following tips:

  • Timing: Have the conversation at a time when you are not in a romantic or sexual situation. It is difficult to talk about your decision and feelings in "the heat of the moment." For example, having the conversation while you are taking a walk or having lunch together might be a good time. Having the conversation while you are "making out" would not be a good time.
  • Give a clear message: Keep your message about your decision clear and to the point. For example, you might say, "I have decided not to have sex because I don't feel ready, and I don't want to risk getting an STI or getting pregnant." Or you could say, "I want to have sex with you, but I won't unless we use protection."
  • Repeat your message: If your partner resists or pressures you, it often works to repeat the message. For example, you might say,"I feel like you aren't hearing me. I have decided not to have sex yet because I don't feel ready and I don't want to risk getting an STI or getting pregnant." Being firm can be difficult because we often want to please the people we care about.
  • Act on your decision: Following through on your decision will be an ongoing process. When you are in a romantic relationship, the decision about sex and protection will come up many times. If your decision has been "no sex," you will need to continue your commitment in spite of your own sexual feelings and/or pressure from your partner. If you choose to use condoms or dental dams, you will need to always have a supply on hand and use them every time you have sex.

Step #3: Revisit your decision from time to time

Revisit your choice from time to time to see if it is still the best one for you. For example, you may have broken up with your partner and started seeing someone new. You know you aren't ready to start having sex again, so your decision might change from using protection to no sex. You will need to decide how you will talk with your new partner about your choice.

Practicing the Skill

After you have taught the three steps above and have encouraged youth to share examples of how and when each step should be used, it is time to have youth practice communicating with their partner.

You should write the tips from Step #2 on newsprint or the blackboard so youth can use them as reference points while they practice (e.g. timing, give a clear message, etc.) You can have youth make up possible scenarios or use the examples below. If youth make up the scenarios, make sure they include both options: saying no to sex and using a condom.

Practicing the skill should include youth deciding:

  1. what the best choice in the scenario is
  2. why it is the best choice, and
  3. what words they would use to communicate this choice to their partner.

Youth can practice in several ways, including:

  • Youth individually write out their responses to the scenario and share them with the whole group. The group can check to see if the response includes the suggested tips in Step #2.
  • Youth work in pairs or small groups to respond to each scenario.
  • If the group is small, approach each youth with a different scenario and have them practice talking to a partner in front of the whole group. The educator and group can coach each youth if he/she gets stuck.

Scenario A:
Tracy and Jeff, both age 15, have known each other since elementary school and have been going out for three months. Tracy thinks she wants to wait until marriage before having sex. Jeff is ready now and is pressuring Tracy. Tracy really loves Jeff and wants to please him, but she knows the risks of having sex including STIs, HIV and pregnancy. What is her best choice for protection and why? What words should Tracy use to communicate her choice to Jeff?

Scenario B:
Gina, age 17, and Kolby, age 19, have been going out for one year. Gina's parents are out of town so she invites Kolby over for pizza and a movie. They have come close to having sex many times. This could be the big night. What is their best choice for protection and why? What words could they use to communicate with each other?

Scenario C:
April and Jasmin, both age 16, have been going out for three months. Both have been in previous relationships, but for April this is her first relationship with another girl. April now feels ready to have sex with Jasmin, but doesn't want to risk getting an STI. What is her best choice for protection and why? What words should April use to communicate her choice to Jasmin?

Scenario D:
Maria, age 15 and Julio, age 14, have been going out for six months. They are hanging out at the park and have been talking about having sex sometime soon. Maria and Julio know about the risks of STI, HIV and pregnancy. Maria had a pregnancy scare in another relationship and doesn't want to repeat this with Julio. What is her best choice for protection and why? What words should Maria use to communicate her choice to Julio?


  • To maximize the effectiveness of practicing "Talking to your Partner about Protection," we suggest you:
    • Circulate among the pairs or small groups and coach individuals as they practice, giving them suggestions from Step #2.
    • Have youth use a checklist that outlines the suggestions in Step #2 so they can gently coach each other as they practice.
    • Start with scripted role plays for practice so youth get used to using the words. As youth become comfortable, have them practice without scripts.
    • Debrief after each practice session identifying what went well and provide coaching around the stumbling blocks or barriers.
    • Connect the role plays to real life by making sure the situations and language used are relevant and realistic. Ask youth for feedback, and make adjustments accordingly. The more they participate, the more they will learn and be able to apply the skill in actual life situations.
  • This lesson focuses on communication about protection. Youth should also learn the skills for correctly using a condom or dental dam.
  • For more details about using role play and scenarios for behavioral practice, see Role Play for Behavioral Practice under Skills for Educators.