Condoms are imperfect. This is perfectly alright to admit.
What is not alright is ignoring the potential consequences of not using them. For most people, condoms are the most effective readily available method of STI and pregnancy prevention. Whether by malice, selfishness, or ignorance, many prefer to not use them even when they should and furthermore, they discourage their partners from insisting that condoms be used.
Here are some common excuses given for not wearing a condom, and why they’re bullshit.
A 2014 CDC study published in Contraception found that pulling out, otherwise known as the “withdrawal” method, has comparable effectiveness to condom usage in preventing pregnancy. For reference, withdrawal is explained by Planned Parenthood as “the man [withdrawing] his penis from the vagina when he feels he is about to ejaculate, or before he reaches that point. He ejaculates, or comes, outside the vagina, being careful that semen does not spill onto his partner’s vulva.”
When pulling out is practiced perfectly—that is, the penis-having participant successfully comes in entirety outside of the vagina in every instance of sex—it resulted in pregnancy 4% of the time(imperfect use took this to 18%). Condoms comparatively have a 2% perfect use/17% imperfect use failure rate.
These numbers are important, no question, and worth considering for sexual partners who have established trust and desire to seek out alternatives to condoms. For anyone else, the risks are extensive. The visible and tactile nature of condom use means that both partners can be more active in ensuring that they are used correctly. Broken condoms can be felt. Improperly placed ones can be noticed.
Withdrawal instead requires the receptive partner place all of their trust on the insertive one. While there is no shame in embracing consensual sex with people we haven’t known for a long time, it’s not a good idea to give that person so much unilateral power and responsibility over the method of contraception.
It may well be that the individual is telling the truth. It may also be that that person does not know their own status. The American Sexual Health Association estimates that half of sexually active adults will contract an STI in their lifetime, and many exhibit few if any symptoms until long after they’ve gotten it. Most doctors will not test patients unless they request it and a combination of stigma and lack of access means that not nearly as many people receive regular testing as they should.
Every major manufacturer sells a non-latex variety of their condoms. You can also find them online Non-latex brands are just as effective and affordable as their more mainstream varieties.
The pill, as well as non-oral medical contraceptives like the Nuva Ring or an IUD, is statistically even more effective in pregnancy prevention than condoms when used correctly. Setting aside all of the arguments in regards to STI-prevention (which still valid here, by the way), consider that by combining oral contraceptives with condoms, effectiveness jumps to 98.7% even when used imperfectly (99.99% with perfect use).
This is a tricky one. I mentioned that condoms are one of the more affordable means of birth control. That said, personal economics are just that: personal, and unique to you. I can admit to having shoplifted condoms while in high school, simply because it was easier than needing to sacrifice whatever else I was planning to spend that money on (knowing me at the time, this was likely something far less healthy and much harder to pick up in a Walgreens). For others, the expense can be much more of a sacrifice.
I can write here what I wish I had been told then though: there are other means. Local clinics, and hospitals regularly give out condoms for free, no questions asked. There is also no shame in sharing the costs of birth control between partners, regardless of which is “using” the product. A small bit of research, legwork, and communication goes a long way.
I don’t often advocate a “Tough Shit” stance on many issues—It lacks compassion and echoes heavily the kind of toxic masculinity I constantly criticize. For this and the next few entries, it feels appropriate however. We live in a culture that shames sex to such a degree that anyone should feel embarrassment at embracing sexual health. Movements like Radical Self Love, Body Positivity, Sex Positivity and Intersectional Feminism are making strides every day to combat these attitudes.
None of these truths are excuses for poor decision-making. Sex necessarily requires more than one person being involved, and if one party’s shame puts others at risk, there is nothing wrong with putting the breaks on the sexual encounter. No one’s self-esteem is your responsibility, and no one’s personal struggles are above your well-being.
I get it. There’s a weird coating of chemical-based materials interacting with our most private and sensitive materials. What’s more, frequent sex with condoms, especially if done without extra lubrication, can cause micro-tears in the tissue of the vagina or anus. The solution is not avoiding condoms, however.
Discomfort can be lessened by proper condom use. This is my favorite tutorial on how to effectively use condoms, but I’ll highlight two points I feel specifically address this issue:
I get it. Whether slow and passionate or animalistic and intense, sex is an experience—it’s the most natural act in the world. And how can you keep that going if you need to stop in the middle to roll on a condom?
The answer, plainly, is just doing it.
Again, it may seem insensitive for me to say “Suck it up,” but that’s what it comes down to. A pair of mature adults can handle the pause it takes to roll one on. Keep condoms nearby and practice to get them on quickly and without incident if you must. Do whatever it takes. A moment’s awkwardness can save everyone involved a lot of trouble later.
I hadn’t actually thought of this one until a female friend told me about encountering it. Most of my advice thus far has been geared towards casual sexual encounters, but this one is rampant after relationships reach a certain degree of seriousness. In plain language, this type of declaration is never alright. It is a form of emotional and sexual abuse and beyond making the sexual encounter inadvisable, it’s the sort of red flag that should signal second thoughts of the relationship’s health and/or if it should be continued.
Which brings me to my final point…
With the exception of #9, a perfectly worthwhile person who is just not a fan of condoms can give every single excuse I’ve listed here. Encountering an excuse once is not the hugest deal. Repeated opposition to condoms after you’ve communicated that they are necessary in your granting consent is different.
Ideally, sex should always happen on terms with which both partners are comfortable. Some compromise is reasonable—preferences on positions, music, lighting, etc. for example. Others can, should, and must default to one person’s “do-or-do-not” list.
If an insertive partner wants anal sex and the receptive is only comfortable with oral, the default selection is the receptive’s, or no sex should occur at all. If one wants an encounter in a public place and the other has anxiety about sex anywhere but home, default goes to the person whose mental safety is at stake, or no sex should occur at all. And yes, if one partner wants to use a condom and the other refuses, no sex should occur at all. No one is entitled to your body, especially on any terms other than your own. Your safety and health are first and foremost, and any attempt by anyone to place their sexual gratification above that is bullshit, no further argument necessary.