Author Archives: Lara

Lara_Profile_Pic_Condom_hot

About Lara

I am co-founder and contributor at Condom Monologues, specializing in queer approaches that aim to affirm sexuality. My graduate work includes digital storytelling research with feminist organizations at the American University in Cairo. I am in a loving relationship. I prefer traveling over settling. I sneeze whenever I eat dark chocolate.

Why We Still Need #CondomWeek

What is condom week?

Condom week is a national campaign to raise awareness not only about the importance of safer sex, but also how condoms can add to your sexual pleasure. Yes, contrary to popular belief, condoms don’t make sex less good. Many studies have found that those who report condoms reduce pleasure are men and women who do not use condoms, or don’t use them often. In other words, people who use condoms often- because they approach it with a better attitude and because they’ve learned what condoms they like- report greater pleasure with protected sex. Attitude, condom education and experience all play a role in sexual satisfaction.

That, my friends, is why we need National Condom Week.condom week

Condom Week lands at a time in our calendar when people are puckered up with Valentine’s sweets. From Valentine’s Day to February 21st, while the air is plush with intimacy, what better time to integrate safer sex into the national conscience and give out lots of free condoms!

Condom Week originally began at the University of California in the 1970s, and has grown into a educational event for high schools, colleges, family planning organizations, AIDS groups, sexually transmitted disease awareness groups, pharmacies and condom manufacturers. Planned Parenthood and Advocates for Youth are just a few of the hundreds of non-profit organizations who participate in Condom Week, setting up sex education booths at universities all over the country and distributing over 50,000 free condoms. These booths, as well as open public seminars, will discuss topics such as safer oral sex, using lube with condoms, internal condoms, consent, and how to talk safer sex with your lover.

So again, if National Condom Week has been celebrated to raise awareness since the 1970s, why do we still need it today?

Because…

– Only 19 states require that, if provided, sex education in school must be medically, factually or technically accurate. That leaves schools in 31 states without fact-based sex education oversight!

Over 19 million people in the United States are diagnosed with an STI. That number increases dramatically if we account for those who do not know their status.

Two-thirds of all individuals who acquire an STI are younger than 25.

– In 2013, 66 percent of sexually active male high school students reported that they or their partner used a condom at most recent sexual intercourse, compared to only 53 percent of females.

More than 1.2 million people in the United States are living with HIV infection, and almost 1 in 7 (14%) are unaware of their infection.

– The United States continues to have one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the developed world (68 per 1,000 women aged 15–19 in 2008)—more than twice that of Canada (27.9 per 1,000) or Sweden (31.4 per 1,000).

If I haven’t convinced you yet to celebrate National Condom Week, jump over to this article by Heather Corrina which debunks all the condom myths you’ve probably faced.

Do your part in public health and stay aware.

Yes, Condoms Deserve A Holiday Too!

Forget the Valentine’s Day candies and roses. What better way to gear up for Vday romance than celebrating International Condom Day! (#ICD2015 to you, Twitter.)

This year the AHF is changing the way we think about condoms.

This year the AHF is changing the way we think about condoms.

February 13th marks this holiday of awareness as a time to educate and celebrate safer sex. World, be prepared for thousands of free condom dispensaries and numerous safer sex events across 31 countries. In the US, the AHF (AIDS Health Organization) has organized 37 events in 12 states including some “hot zones” like the District of Colombia, which has the highest national rate of HIV in the country; and Mississippi and Texas, two states which have some of the strictest laws against public sex education and (by no coincidence) the highest national average of teen pregnancies.

Indeed, there is plenty to celebrate when it comes to condoms.

The first being that condoms are the most effective method available today that protects against both STIs and accidental pregnancy. Can’t beat that.

Each year, the AHF curates this holiday around a theme. This year’s theme is “Coolness”; that is, “Condoms Are Cool”. Now, before you roll your eyes and think, “Not another lame, out-of-touch attempt to get youth to use condoms,” I challenge you to check out the AHF corresponding video series. They launched a trio of videos related to young people buying condoms at a local corner shop or “bodega”.

Here is the first of the AHF’s “Bodega Nights” video series. Trust me, you have never seen a condom commercial like this one. Unlike traditional public service announcements (PSAs) that are overtly serious and fear-based, this one actually combines condoms with confidence, fun and sexiness.

The coolness doesn’t stop there. In addition to their “Bodega Nights” video series, the AHF also released a catchy party song. It is a condom-related parody of one of today’s global hits, Pharrell Williams’s “Happy”. The hope is to renew attention of the importance of safer sex in a way that will never go out of style.

Because I wrap it
Put it on and get in on, if that’s what you want to do.
Because I wrap it,
Cause you know that you are hot, and these condoms sure are cool.
Because I wrap it
Wrap it, put your hands up, and let yourself be free,
Because I wrap it
Just love your self enough to know that protection is the key.
– “Because I Wrap It” by Danny Fernandez

You can listen to the song and download the lyrics for your Karaoke pleasures here.

View more domestic and international Condom Day events here.

There Is No Cancer in #CondomTruth

Fear-based condom marketing is the real “cancer” here.

condom_truthLast month, a new condom brand called Sustain began promoting a petition that demands the FDA to “Get Carcinogens Out of Condoms”. The possibility that condoms could cause cancer will scare the shit out of consumers and make them think twice about what condoms they invest in (that is, if they don’t turn away from condoms entirely).

And that’s exactly how Sustain wants you to react.

They center business principles around transparency, thus, making it their duty to educate the public of lurking dangers within the condom industry: “Fear not. Because their product is clean of any health risks. Want to avoid carcinogens? Sustain is your best and only option.”

Thankfully, these grand claims have not passively swept under the radar.

Melissa White’s investigation on RH Reality Check, Cigarrettes Cause Cancer, Condoms Don’t, reveals that the petition is based on a non-scientific, non-peer reviewed study, which is partly financed by Sustain themselves. Despite the fact the World Health Organization has never found any condom carrying health threatening amounts of nitrosamines, the study continues to favor Sustain over other condom brands; competitive brands which also profit in the vegan, fair-trade condom niche. As a result of White’s call-out, the group that conducted the study publicly clarified their findings stating that, indeed, there is no scientific proof that any condoms cause cancer.

Leave that worry to rest. Great! But the real issue at hand is the company’s irresponsible marketing and misuse of information.

Sustains efforts to “cleanse” the condom market of (unfounded) health risks is clearly motivated by business profit at the detriment of public health. In reality, to tout that “all other condoms except ours cause cancer” is a dangerous lie. As Melissa White states, Sustain’s marketing strategy has “the potential to unravel decades of committed work focused on saving lives through encouraging condom use and education.”

It’s completely unethical to skew consumer information with fear-tactics. The last thing we need is more lies to fuel safer sex stigma and condom hate. Hence we must to counteract.

Join the #CondomTruth campaign!

SHARE THE ARTICLE: Cigarettes Cause Cancer, Condoms Don’t http://bit.ly/1w5jzd3

TWEET: copy/paste these tweets or make your own

– Cigarettes Cause Cancer. Condoms Don’t. http://bit.ly/1w5jzd3 #condomtruth #bettercondoms

– I prefer my fiction at the library. Stop the misuse of safer sex information. http://bit.ly/1w5jzd3 #condomtruth

– Faulty studies & scare tactics risk lives http://bit.ly/1w5jzd3 #condomtruth #bettercondoms

– Misleading marketing hurts public health http://bit.ly/1w5jzd3 #condomtruth #bettercondoms

– Trust #science, not misleading marketing http://bit.ly/1w5jzd3 #condomtruth #bettercondoms

– Choose condoms with ethics not scare tactics http://bit.ly/1w5jzd3 #condomtruth #bettercondoms

TWEET at Sustain Condoms and share your thoughts with the campaign hashtag: #condomtruth

@sustaincondoms
@JeffHollender (Sustain’s Founder)
@missmeiks (Sustain’s co-founder)

Let’s take a stand and remind Sustain what true business transparency really means. 

#TwitterWTF? Let’s change their condom stance

Social businesses who exists to normalize and improve public knowledge of safer sex are not allowed to extend their messages on Twitter.

Twitter’s ad policy is under pressure to change their convoluted and conservative stance against condom (and other contraception) promotion.

This week, Melissa White, founder and CEO of Lucky Bloke, sent a letter to Twitter owner Dick Costolo, urging him to take condoms off their blacklist. She also launched a petition for the public to get on board in ending this faulty policy.

This is the tweet that got Lucky Bloke kicked off the @TwitterAds program because it was deemed too sexually explicit. tweet-censored1

This hardly seems too sexual for daytime viewers! Twitter would not respond to White’s requests for more information. That was it. Her safer sex promotion went on complete lock down.

Unfortunately, we live in a time in which the clutches of puritanical fears continue to muffle public discourse around safer sex. Why haven’t we shaken this off by now?

#Tweet4Condoms because sexual care is health care and global health! http://bit.ly/LBpetition

We know that access to condoms does not entice young people to start fucking in locker rooms. The AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics- a very official authority on health) released a position statement last October arguing that condoms should be made available in public schools and other community venues. With the backing of numerous studies, they firmly state that access to condoms does not cause sex. To be clear, it increasing the chances of young adults practicing safer sex. In fact, as Amanda Marcotte reports, nearly half of the studies cited by the AAP show that kids who have access to condoms and condom education have sex later than kids who do not have access.

So what does this have to do with Twitter? Their block on condom advertising and messaging stems from this cultural shame we’ve constructed around sex. Consequently, instead of being a platform to discuss and support safer sex messaging, Twitter reinforces stigma of condoms usage.

[UPDATE: More sexual health businesses and organization have spoken out about their struggle with Twitter’s policy, including The STD Project and Bedsider]

Lucky Bloke isn’t alone of course, as Twiter’s blockade is far-reaching and unconditional. The company Momdoms explained that their custom product for condom storage has also been deemed “too x-rated”, making it virtually impossible for Momdoms to share their videos and promotions to a wider audience. They showed Condom Monologues a copy of Twitter’s notification. It’s the same message Lucky Bloke received: “Your company is ineligible.”

Join Us!
stop_censorship1

Let’s show Twitter that condoms are perfectly normal, lovable item, and essential health items. Not something to exclude from public space! Visit this Action Page to share images, tweets, and links to your friends and networks.

How Young Gay Men Are Changing the Meaning of Swag

The term “swag” is generally used to describe someone of confidence and respect. A group of young guys from ASCNYC’s mPowerment program have revamped this meaning to make people recognize that taking care of your sexual health is fundamental to respect. This post is about S.W.A.G.

Members of S.W.A.G.

SWAG guys making safer sex sexy, handing out condoms and lube and talking to folks about knowing their HIV status.

Sitting in a New York bar or night club you may be lucky enough to chance upon the lively SWAG Mpowerment – a group of 19 – 29 year old gay and bisexual guys who are on a mission to normalize HIV prevention and safer sex. They jump bar to bar in a sort of flash-mob way, passing out condoms, lubes and information pamphlets about HIV testing. You might even get a free candy.

“It’s a really effective way to get condoms out there,” says Lance, one of the members of SWAG. “Sometimes people will be really curious and ask questions and that starts a dialogue which can lead to a person in another day or two getting tested at the agency.”

That agency is the ASCNYC which initiated SWAG Mpowerment five years ago as part of their outreach to reduce HIV transmission among YMSMs (Young Men who Have Sex with Men). Young gay and bisexual men between the ages of 13 – 24 are the hardest hit by new infections in the United States today.

What’s different about SWAG- which stands for “Sexy With A Goal”- is that, instead of focusing solely on individual risk behavior, the project addresses wider interpersonal and social issues identified by the group volunteers and coordinators themselves; issues like asserting safer sex, self-esteem, homelessness, racism, homophobia, education and employment pressures. All aspects which directly and indirectly impact young gay men’s abilities to consistently know their status and take care of their sexual health. As Guy Williams, Assistant Director of Prevention at ACSNYC explains, “SWAG is like family for a lot of the guys because they can’t really be themselves around other family and friends” due to deeply rooted stigma of being gay. SWAG is a safe sex-positive and fun space for these young men to forge meaningful friendships and take on community issues that impact them most.

Over our phone interview, Williams explained that their condom distribution strategy came about through a series of rejections by bar and club owners who didn’t like SWAG’s proposal to set up an information table in the bar and hand out condoms to patrons. “Many bar owners said ‘Nah, that will kill the mood because patrons come in to have a good time. They don’t want to talk about HIV,” Williams describes. “So what SWAG decided was, well, if we just run into clubs and bars quickly and just hand out condom packs and leave than we didn’t need the owner’s permission.”

This is just one of their many project activities. Along with weekly meet ups and educational outreach, SWAG members organize pro-gay events ranging from talent shows to more serious affairs like taking on New York State congress by speaking with policy makers about the dire need for funding to support young gay men. SWAG has also produced this “Why Safer Sex Is Sexy” video.

Throughout June, which is Gay Pride Month, SWAG is launching a weekly event series titled “The 50 Shade of Gay”. Gay porn stars will come in and talk with young men about HIV prevention in the porn industry, such as HIV testing practices, safer sex negotiation, and “sero-sorting” they face in the industry. They’re also launching a video in June that crushes one-dimensional gay stereotypes. Members will tell and represent their own stories of what it means to be gay and share their video across the internet.

As William explains, SWAG Mpowerment is about addressing HIV status, testing and prevention, but “doing it in non-traditional ways that are not always talking about HIV. That’s why we are always trying to do fun and inventive stuff to support each other.”

SWAG is always open to new members and volunteers. They are also searching for volunteer sex educators who have experience teaching and demonstrating condom usage. They meet Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays between 4:30 and 6:30 at 85 University Place, 5th floor, New york, NYC, 10003. For more information, contact Guy Williams gguy.williams@gmail.com.

Shout out! New Collaborations in HIV Advocacy

New relationships of advocacy are vamped. Lara, an editor of Condom Monologues, explains what’s in store to help creatively support the HIV Disclosure Project.

Gay Pride, Toronto, 2011. Photographer Wayne Bristow. Posted with permission.

Gay Pride, Toronto, 2011. Photographer Wayne Bristow. Posted with permission.

Hi there! As an editor at Condom Monologues writer’s collective, I am excited to announce my collaboration with the HIV Disclosure Project. I will be actively involved in their social media, mostly on Twitter (@sexpartnersHIV), helping promote their blog, their campaigns and continued dialogue with HIV networks and allies. I’ve teamed up with them because I fully support their work to re-frame the way HIV impacts interpersonal relationships.

The HIV Disclosure Project is

…designed by and for the HIV community to work through obstacles that prevent people living with HIV from disclosing their status to potential sex partners. Drawing from various tools in theater, humor, storytelling, photography and more, the project functions to address stigma that takes place on the dating scene. Everyone works together to educate the public and change perceptions of people living with HIV.

What we want is a world in which every HIV disclosure to sex partners is received with acceptance, understanding and tolerance.

Emphasis on story and lived experience is what bridges The Disclosure Project and Condom Monologues. Condom Monologues is a growing archive of personal narratives and story illustrations made collaboratively with the storyteller and graphic artists. As a collective dedicated to sex education through real life storytelling, I feel this partnership will sharpen Condom Monologues’ focus on HIV awareness and open our platform to respectfully listen to the concrete realities of managing stigma, disclosure in the dating scene, and navigating safer sex options without fear.

Watch Out For New HIV Public Messages

Also newly on board the HIV Disclosure Project is Wayne Bristow – HIV advocate, blogger for PositiveLite.com, Canada’s best online HIV information magazine and he is their social media coordinator. He has taken part in two of the CTAC Positive Sex – Train the Trainer workshops and recently facilitated one where he trained some of his peers through community engagement. Emanating such passion and advocate spirit, Wayne is an invaluable asset to the HIV Disclosure Project. He is currently planning the video production of HIV public service announcements for the HIV Disclosure Project. In his spare time Wayne is a hobby/freestyle photographer.

If you are interested or have questions about the video project contact wayne_bristow@hotmail.com 

I am excited to help support and engage in such a crucial and progressive movement. Let’s keep the dialogue expansive and inclusive. Meet you on twitter!

Lara
Editor & contributor @CondomMonologues.com

How Many Times Can You Change A Condom To Latex Free?

Well, if you are Durex Avanti you can be transformed at least three times.

As the world’s most widely distributed condom brand, Durex have a lot of strings to their pleasure bow: offering consumers an abundance of various shapes, textures, lubes and sex accessories to choose from. When it comes to latex free options, however, the company puts the onus on just one condom, yet even this single choice is not without confusion. Durex Avanti, previously the name of their latex-free rubber, is in fact a latex condom. The non-latex option has been recently rebranded Avanti Bare Real Feel™. In fact, this latex-free option has been through a few rebranding rotations. DurexNonLatexArticle

In 2008, it was replaced from being made of polyurethane to synthetic polyisoprene. Polyurethane is a type of soft plastic; polyisoprene is the latest latex-free technology, chemically similar to rubber latex but without the proteins that cause allergic reactions (see our article about the differences). In Europe, the product’s current name is simply, and explicitly, “Latex Free”. The North America version, however, is not so straight forward.

Michael Gesek, from Durex Consumer Relations Canada, explained to Condom Monologues, that when multinational consumer goods company Reckitt Benckiser took over Durex in 2011 they lost supply of the materials to make Avanti Bare and thus it was discontinued in North America. Recently the polyisoprene product was secured again and is renamed Avanti Bare Real Feel. Besides the (longer) new name, nothing is different about this new polyisoprene rubber. It’s now rolling out on store shelves.

However, few consumers know that Durex did not offer latex-free condoms for a period in the midst of company turn over. In fact, Avanti Bare went from being made of polyisoprene to becoming just a standard latex condom. Yet despite this very dramatic product change, Durex kept the name and package similar to the latex free version- as if condom shopping isn’t confusing already!

As expressed by Melissa White, CEO of Lucky Bloke, this move was irresponsible and “a major packaging fail!” In response, Lucky Bloke listed a consumer warning on their site. It’s unclear what Durex’s strategy was for informing the public about this change. One may assume that when Durex lost supply of the polyisoprene condom, they may have sent a notice to selective distributors with the expectation that sellers would inform consumers. To the best of her knowledge, Melissa White does not recall any advanced warning from Durex.

So, please be aware that Durex does offer a latex-free condom now, just make sure not to pick up the former Avanti Bare and read packaging extra carefully!

This article is meant to clear up confusion around Durex’s non-latex options. We include a link to our affiliates at Lucky Bloke which may earn us a small commission.

Why We Should Stop Using Fruits & Veg in SexEd

The banana (or cucumber) penis prop in sex education has got to go. I think it’s an outdated euphemism that helps adults (not young people) feel more comfortable talking about sexuality. Shyfully skirting topics only reinforces the mechanisms of shame around sex. It creates an environment in which certain question can’t be addressed. Hence ignorance perpetuates. At it’s core, the banana is a symbol of non-pragmatic, fear-based sex education.

Character 'Jonah Takalua' from Summer Heights High getting schooled in sex "practicalities".

Character ‘Jonah Takalua’ from Summer Heights High getting schooled in sex “practicalities”.

Like so many Americans, my sex education in high school was minimal. It was covered only once in the entire four years during a single, out-of-the-blue gym class. Topics were rushed and general. Looking back, I realize how heterocentric and cis-genedered sex ed was simply by the way information was presented and what was intentionally absent. How to use a condom, however, is the most vivid lesson I remember.

Us 14 – 15 year old boys and girls were instructed to sit on the basketball court floor and watch our gym teacher (a bleach-blond nutritionist who always wore L.L. Bean fleeces) pull out a single condom and banana from her canvas sports bag. “Now, who will volunteer to help me put this on?” She cheerfully asked us.

Of course, no one raised their hand so she picked the student who was talking under his breath to another student. “Brad, come on up and show the class how to use a condom.”

This was discipline.

Brad stood in front of the class with a grin and demonstrated how to open the condom wrapper. He handed the wrapper to the teacher in exchange for the banana. Then holding fruit in one hand and latex in the other, he placed the condom over the top and vigorously struggled to pull it down the, um, shaft.

“No no no!” blurted the gym teacher. “You’re skipping a very important step. You must make sure not to trap air in the top hat.”

Top hat?

Brad struggled trying to simultaneously pitch the tip and roll the condom down one-handedly. “Here, let me help you.” The teacher reached for the banana’s shaft and said, “You hold the hat while I roll,” and started to inch down the condom.

The awkwardness and humor of it all distracted me from actually understanding how to put on a condom. If anything, it seemed far more complicated because it required more than two hands.

How about suggesting to practice by one’s self? To masturbate with a condom? Or discuss ways partners can put condoms on together? Or ways to negotiate condom use? Or the variety of condom options that are out there?

Practical, matter of fact approaches are much more effective at equipping young people to make informed choices.

I think a penis or dildo model should be used instead of these foody phallics. Moreover, a dildo is great for including information about queer safer sex and toy sharing. Condom use does not only apply to penis!

The plastic penis prop by Justin Hancock of Bish Training is a stellar example of condom instructions for the real world.

Penis models are so less awkward.

Penis models are so less awkward.

Watch Bish Training’s condom use here.

How were you taught condom usage? What props were featured in your sex education (if any!)?

STI vs STD: Is it important?

The term “STD” (sexually transmitted disease) is increasingly replaced by “STI” (sexually transmitted infections). Is this change (which started as early as the late 1990s) a matter of political correctness? An effort to reduce stigma affiliated with disease? Or are there real distinctions between infection and disease, hence adopting a more medically accurate term?

The correct answer: all of the above.

In the days before "STDs" there was only "venereal disease", and sex workers were the culprits. Image from the DailyMail.co.uk

In the days before “STDs” there was only “venereal diseases”, and sex workers were the culprits. Image from the DailyMail.co.uk

Medical Jargon

Usage can be confusing because the medical distinctions between infection, illness, disorder and disease often overlap. In general, however, “infection” is only considered an illness or disease when symptoms occur. Many sexually transmitted bacteria and viruses are contagious without causing symptoms (or may have asymptomatic periods). Just a handful of these include chlamydia, gonorrhea, herpes simplex, HPV, hepatitis and HIV.

Most STIs are treatable. Some strands of HPV can be wiped out by the immune system alone (but not always). But some STIs are not curable, like herpes and HIV (as of today). Contrary to popular confusion, it is not correct to differentiate STIs as “curable” and STDs as “incurable”.

The major distinction is that all STDs are caused by infections. However, not all infections develop into illness or disease. Also, a disease is always associated with symptoms; an infection is not so consistent.

Does this mean it’s wrong to use “STD” in the twenty first century? I would argue no. In many instances, STI and STD are used interchangeably and refer to the same thing.

Why I Say “STI”

I think it boils down to semantics and meaning. Some people feel that dropping the word “disease” only reinforces stigma. Why not just face the fear head on? The more we speak of “disease” the more normalized it becomes, right? Well, not necessarily. “STD” eventually replaced the more euphemistic term “venereal disease” by the 1980s, yet stigma firmly remains.

Personally, I prefer the term STI for two reasons. Firstly, “STI” is a broader term thus more inclusive. Secondly, using the term STI helps raise awareness that physical symptoms are not a reliable way to determine your status. A person can be infected with no symptoms and pass on the infection to others without having a disease.

Serious point here: According to the CDC, 1 in 5 people who are living with HIV today in the United States do not know their status (CDC 2013). In fact, people who do not experience symptoms and/or are not tested are the ones most likely to pass on infection to others. There are serious consequences when STIs are left unknown and untreated. It increases the risk of infection for other STIs and disease. In short, ignorance (RE: stigma) of getting tested and assuming you won’t get an STI is the greatest cause of infection.

Resources: Here are just a few smart spaces we recommend to learn more about STIs and prevention, stigma and facts. Visit Planned ParenthoodThe STD Project, the SexEd Library, the NMAC (National Minority AIDS Council), the Guttmacher Institute, the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network.

The fabulous sex educator, Andrea Renae (@theandrearenae), recommends the Judgement Free Health Care Providers directory, which is inclusive of LGBT and Queer people, Asexuals, Demisexuals, Polyamorous relationships, sex workers and people living with HIV. There is also the safer sex video Pleasure Rush initiative (NSFW) by GALAEI.

Ask questions on the InformedAboutSex forum.

Specifically for teens and young adults: Scarleteen, GYT (GetYourSelfTested) and Laci Green.

Gwenn’s Condom Research and Personal Use

There’s been a lot of talk in the past 12 months about women’s preferred contraceptive methods. With the coining of the “Pull Out Generation” and the launch of the ACA’s (Affordable Care Act) contraception mandate, much of this talk has been centered around birth control. This is an important discussion that pleases many sex educators: it’s about applying informed choices to people’s lifestyles and relationships, and determining the method that best suits that person’s circumstances.

However, hardly any time in this discussion has attended to those women who use the simple condom as their primary contraception. Even less attention is given to STI testing and prevention. These important topics have been swept aside and treated as a separate issue that seemingly doesn’t apply to long-term sexual relationships.

I spoke with a woman who fits within that cohort of condom-using relationships. Gwenn Barringer is part of the well known sexual health and HIV activist duo, Shawn and Gwenn. Gwenn wrote her Master’s thesis about condom usage in short term and long term relationships among college women.  Now she is a public speaker and vlogger busy busting HIV ignorance. Her approach?  Using her 15+ years sexual relationship with her HIV positive partner, Shawn, to teach others about sexual health.

Over email, we talked about Gwenn’s research findings on the likelihood of condom use in “trusting” relationships. We connected her thesis to her personal life and the contraception strategies that she’s chosen. First, Gwenn lays out the terms of her research and main findings:

Yes, Gwenn found that women in shorter relationships depended on condoms more than women in long term commitments. This wasn’t a big surprise. What was striking was deciphering the meaning of “short” and “long-term”.  Gwenn states, “I found across the literature that a short term relationship was defined as 3 weeks or less, and therefore a long term relationship was defined as more than 3 weeks. This is what I used in my study to define relationship length, so when we are talking about condom use being decreased in long tern relationships, we are talking about a month or so.”

Gwenn continues: “My findings had a lot to do with the vague notion of trust. Women felt like they trusted their partners at the magic 3 week mark. I wish I had more time back then to go further with the trust notion but that was beyond my scope at the time. I do find anecdotally that college women feel that time spent with a partner equates to trust. And while I understand this, I try to encourage STI testing as a trusting experience.”

Gwen makes a key point- notions of trust and sexual health are intrinsically linked. This is a fairly general statement because what “trust” actually means varies from person to person. But all contraceptive methods- all consensual sexual acts -involve degrees of trust. “Pulling out” relies on a partner to be in control of his climax. Condoms are also about partner cooperation and protecting each other.

However, when it comes to public discourse around birth control in long term (heterosexual) commitments, male condoms are often portrayed as unpopular. In fact, some people struggle with getting their partner to use a condom because the other views it as a symbol of distrust in their relationship. Gwenn responds to this contradiction:

“As far as my thoughts on the condom paradox of trust, I do think that is an interesting observation. I feel like it has to do with trust but also has a lot to do with breaking some fantasies that people have about new partners. When you are in a new relationship often times it seems like everything is perfect and magical. Thinking about or discussing a condom inserts the realities of life into that which isn’t always fun.”

We ended the interview by Gwenn reflecting on the prevention regime Shawn and her practice. She is quick to debunk the notion that condoms connote distrust and non-commitment.

“My own relationship has an incredible deal of trust. I don’t think you can really be in a healthy relationship without trust and I certainly don’t think you can be in a serodiscordant relationship without a great deal of trust. That trust for Shawn and I came out of much communication about sex before we ever had sex.”

“Our prevention strategy is condoms each time we have sex. When we first were together, I was also on hormonal birth control but discontinued that (for reasons not related to Shawn’s status or our sex life) about 6 years ago. So we are also using condoms at this point as pregnancy prevention as well. We have discussed the issue of Shawn’s “infectiousness” due to his undetectable viral load and while we haven’t made any major changes to our sex life because of that, we do feel another level of security because we know it would be highly unlikely for him to transmit HIV to me even if there were a break or slip.”

There is no single birth control that suits everyone.  However, condoms remain the only birth control that prevents STI infection. The issue of transmission should not be glossed over when discussing contraceptive methods. Furthermore, the conversation needs to include and represent serodiscordant couples and relationships in which both or one partner carries STIs.

You can read and watch more of Gwenn at her blog and YouTube Channel, Shawn and Gwenn.