Protect your relationship with a relationship agreement

Have you found a special someone (or someones), and you want to find a way to prepare your foundling relationship for the ups and downs of daily life? Perhaps a relationship agreement is just what you’re looking for!

Relationship agreements can help set boundaries and explore what both people are looking for. They can be very helpful in framing what’s important about your relationship and helping to work out how to meet each other’s needs.

When we’re finding a partner, be it romantic or sexual, many of us are drawn to others who share our interests and values. Many of us share interests in the same movies, do similar workouts at the gym or love a good brunch – but finding out if you’re the right match in other ways can be scary.

Consciously or not, some people avoid the question ‘What are you looking for?’, fearing they might be incompatible. The good news is that talking about your relationship can be one of the most positive things you can do and will help you both feel more secure.

While our relationships can take many different forms; open, monogamous, poly or something in-between, the ones that stand the test of time all share a few qualities. Trust and open communication.

There is indeed no shortage of articles or interviews with therapists on the internet about ways to practice open communication. However, one practical way you can start to build these qualities is by making a relationship agreement.

What is a relationship agreement?

It may sound formal, but a relationship agreement is just a conversation. No legal contracts with fabulous sea witches are required.

Relationship agreements are a series of agreements that support the emotional and physical safety of the people in a relationship.

These agreements can include things like:

  • the number of partners you both want – is it an open relationship, and therefore OK to have sexual partners outside your primary partner, or is it a monogamous relationship?
  • if the relationship is going to be open, is it OK for an emotional bond to form like in poly relationships, or does it need to be purely sexual?
  • what safe sex methods are used within your relationship? E.g. condoms with casual partners, PrEP and no condoms with all partners…
  • how will you and your partner test for HIV and STIs?

We think of this as an agreement because the idea is that you both come together and agree on the bounds of your relationship to have both of your needs met.

Now there’s no specific time you should have this chat, but it’s a good idea to start the conversation early, so you’re on the same page and not making any assumptions.

Another good thing to note is that this agreement is not something that you ‘set and forget’, rather it’s a discussion that you can come back to. Once in a while, it’s good to check in with your partner(s) to see if your agreement is still working, and if you or your partners want to tweak a few things.

Why is it important?

To start, talking about what you want can make you feel vulnerable. But talking about it will help build trust with your new or existing partner and strengthen your relationship.

We all bring our own expectations and assumptions into relationships, such as how sexually active you’ve been to date, and whether you and your partner are exclusive or seeing other people. The sooner you can share your needs and desires, the sooner you’ll know if you and your partner(s) are compatible.

One potential outcome of avoiding these conversations is that HIV or STI transmission occurs. A lot of cases of HIV transmission are from guys who think they are negative but have HIV and don’t know it. If you and your partner(s) don’t discuss HIV status and whether you’re getting tested, you won’t have all the information.

For this reason, it’s a good idea to have a structured approach to building trust with your partner before you decide to stop using condoms or PrEP with them.

Thinking of stopping condoms or PrEP?
Try the “Talk, Test, Test, Trust” method

When it comes to deciding on discontinuing condom and/or PrEP use in a relationship, guys can benefit from what’s known as a ‘negotiated safety agreement’.

Super sexy sounding – we know. But it’s an agreement that’s designed to protect you and your partner from HIV and STIs after you’ve stopped other prevention methods.

The way this often plays out in monogamous relationships is when you agree not to sleep with other people, aka the ‘So I’m not seeing anyone else, are you? Are we exclusive?’ chat.

A lot of guys might leave it at that, but it’s better to build trust and minimise the risk of any undetected HIV by following the “Talk, Test, Test, Trust” method:


To safely stop using condoms within your relationship, you need to be able to talk openly and honestly with each other about why you want to do it, what the potential benefits and risks might be, the ground rules for sex inside and outside (if any) the relationship and how you’ll deal with any problems that may arise.


Both of you need to have a HIV test which you can do together or separately. If you’re going to have anal sex without a condom you should both be totally sure you are HIV negative and aren’t going to put each other at risk.

If both of your tests come back negative, you should still continue to use condoms during the window period advised by your doctor or healthcare professional.


If neither of you has had unsafe sex throughout the window period then the second test will confirm that both of you are HIV negative. If this is the case and you still want to stop using condoms with each other you can then move on to the next step.


Maintain clear and open communication about your sex with each other and other people outside the relationship (if that’s what you’ve decided) and establish guidelines for dealing with any problems should they arise.

Trusting also involves coming back to the agreement and possibly revising it if you and your partner want to. You should as well consider what consequences might come if the agreement is broken at any point.

For people in open or poly relationships, you might choose to stop using condoms together by following the above steps, but instead, only use them when hooking up with casual partners. You can also consider the different ways you can use PrEP in your open relationship. Alternatively, you might choose to use on-demand PrEP to protect your play whenever you include a third. What matters is that you discuss it ahead of time to make sure all people in the sexual network are happy with the protection being provided.

What about testing once you’re in a relationship?

Testing doesn’t stop once your relationship kicks off, in fact, it’s a good idea to keep testing in most scenarios.

Especially in new relationships, it’s a good idea to share with each other how often each partner is getting HIV and STI checkups. If your partner’s getting tested regularly, it shows they’re engaged with their sexual health and they’re interested in looking after your health too!

In general, sexually active guys are recommended to test for HIV and other STIs every three months, and each time you think you may have been exposed to HIV. If you’re in a monogamous relationship, then you may prefer to test less frequently but we recommend at least testing once a year. This can help catch any asymptomatic STIs that you might have missed previously as well as demonstrate a shared commitment to each other’s health.