Making the Case for Condoms
Today is Valentine’s Day but I want to talk about a lesser known, unofficial holiday that took place yesterday: International Condom Day. In the words of comedian Neal Brennan, “sex is the most consequential thing we do with our bodies,” yet we’re reckless about it. We play Russian Roulette with our health for the sake of short-term gratification, disregarding the potential consequences of our actions.
The condom conversation is an increasingly uncomfortable one in my experience. When I bring up protection the first thought that usually comes to my partners’ minds is pregnancy. They try to persuade me to forgo the latex barrier by saying things like, “I’ll pull out” or “aren’t you on birth control?” (I’m not) without realizing that getting pregnant is not my main concern. I’m more preoccupied with the possibility of contracting STD’s but men don’t seem to think about those as much as I do.
Once when I was about to have sex with a guy for the first time he said to me, “I usually don’t use condoms because I get tested often, and I have sex with the same group of people.” The same group of people! Even if you’re on top of your own sexual health, you can’t account for the behavior of your multiple sex partners, folks. On another first-time occasion a guy said to me “I’m trying to be a good person” as he hesitantly put a rubber on. Later in the relationship he stealthed me. I know their behavior with me is no different than their behavior is with other women, and it’s disconcerting.
I’m not innocent in this narrative. Sometimes I feel like men are less likely to initiate future sex with me after they learn I insist on using condoms. I’ve gone through entire relationships from casually hooking up in the beginning, to eventually becoming exclusive, without using condoms at any point. It’s risky business. One time after I got a round of STD testing my then-boyfriend jokingly asked, “Babe, what do we have?”, as though he was depending on me to gauge his own health status. Even now as I’m meeting and dating new people, I sometimes slip up. There are times I forget to drop condoms in my purse or expect my partner to have his own. It shouldn’t be one-sided.
Can you imagine a world where both parties reach for their condoms at the same time? I hope we can move toward a social norm where people expect and prepare to use protection regularly, or at least have an honest, non-judgmental conversation about sexual histories and precautions. I don’t know what it feels like to have sex with a condom on my penis but I can’t imagine it’s worse than the feeling of getting a positive STD test.