Tag Archives: birth control

Condoms: Can’t live with ’em; Can’t live without ’em

My relationship with condoms is conflicted. I don’t completely trust any condoms. And yet, I have to use them because they are my only option as a heterosexual male. First I’ll explain why I use condoms. The I’ll explain why my dislike for them always lingers: Can’t live with ’em; can’t live without them.

tight ropeI use condoms for three reasons: 1) I don’t want to contract an infection or disease. 2) I don’t want children without being prepared and 3) I do not like how hormonal birth control changes a woman’s body, her emotional and natural cycles. Why I dislike condoms is because, for me, they often don’t feel good and they do not always work.

My reaction the time a condom last broke on me was pretty interesting.

I was using a new condom that my friend suggested we try. It was Kimono Mirco Thin Large. The condom fit a little tight at the base, but drop a bit of lube on and how it feels during sex is great. It was so thin and sensitive, I honestly don’t remember feeling the condom ever breaking.

I remember confiding in my partner the worry that condoms are not always guaranteed to work. Of course, she protested my comment. I don’t blame her. Condoms are the best option and just because there is the chance that they might break is still a stronger safety net than not using anything at all. Coincidentally, that same day we went through this experience.

When we were finished, I pulled out and saw my naked penis pierced through the top of the condom. My initial reaction was, “Oh Shit! The condom broke.”

Shock and worry flashed through me. But I knew everything would be fine because Plan B could be bought over the counter. Honestly, I think my partner was more distraught than I was. However, I didn’t make anything easier because I started to make jokes about how I just told her I didn’t completely trust condoms.

It killed the mood. However, it raised my awareness about how important it is to experiment with different condoms and research different condom sizes and fits. I now know my trust in Kimono condoms has expired. And I have yet to find a condom that fits me perfectly.

Condom breakage is so dangerous. What if I didn’t have money for Plan B (a generic brand costs about $40), or what if I contracted an infection? It’s so frustrating that even when being safe and responsible, there is always a level of risk.

What I’ve learned from this experience is that I should take the time to get to know my partner to the point of feeling comfortable talking about STI history as well as what we do in the event of safe sex malfunction. I really need to do more research on condoms that fit me correctly and don’t cause irritation.

Any suggestions would be most welcomed! So while I continue to struggle with condoms I can’t give up on them. Abstinence is the ultimatum I’m not willing to succumb to.

Monologues are independent stories and the opinions shared are the author’s own.

 

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.

Reacquainting With Condoms After 11 Years on The Pill

A dramatic contraceptive story that spans over a decade, told in 1000 words.

“Which ones should we get?” I asked my boyfriend. Well, he’s a man and he’s the one that has to wear them, so naturally I assumed he’d know best. “I dunno,” was the mumbled response. I’d not been “hat” shopping in over a decade. For nearly 11 years I was on the Pill and in three monogamous relationships, for the majority of that time, so ‘safe’ meant not getting pregnant.

Standing there, facing a wall of johnnies, there were three main changes I noticed: the packaging of condoms 11 years on was nicer, there were brands other than Durex available, and the price was higher. No wonder the supermarket kept them in security boxes. Ten quid ($16) for 10 condoms, so a pound a fuck essentially, and me and my boyfriend fuck a lot. Giving up the Pill was apparently going to cost me in more ways than I expected!

That said, coming off the pill four months ago was one of the best decisions I’ve made and I’d like to state that this was what was right for me, not what every woman should do, although I do think every woman should take the time to stop and re-evaluate their contraceptive method as their body changes.

The biggest question I’ve faced since is what contraception should my partner and I use instead?

Long term, that’s still a frustrating debate I’m having with myself, my partner and sexual health advisers. For now though, my chap and I are only using condoms and that is how I found myself: Standing in Tesco adding ‘condoms’ to our weekly, big shop shopping list.

Just call me Goldilocks

After much deliberation we went for the clichéd ribs and dots for her pleasure style. You have to start somewhere. They were good, but not quite right. If we’re being honest (and I think we can be here) too much dotting and ribbing can lead to chaffing.

Thankfully, there’s more to safe sex-life than that one style and so the hunt began online to try something new. Scouring the sites we found a ridiculous number of options. Without wanting to sound too Disney about it, there was a whole new world opening up before my eyes. Previously my experience of condoms had been whatever was free and easy to grab from the GP or sexual health clinic as they were only ever used briefly when there was a Pill glitch.FlyingCarpetCondomsAnim

Now though, scouring the various sex e-tailers, there was this whole exotic, rubbery, latex fantasticness that had the potential to be a lot of fun. Maybe shopping for condoms would be a great, new, sexy part to our foreplay?

We came across an American brand called One and they had an interesting pack called ‘Tantric’ with tattoo style patterns and extra lubrication. Oh, they sound fancy and you can never have too much lube, so we ordered some.

It wasn’t long before the boyfriend and I found ourselves back online, looking for something different the next time. We “um-ed” and “ah-ed” over the various boxes, brands, descriptions, shapes and textures for nearly as long as we’d spend trying to pick a nice bottle of wine to go with dinner.

Obviously, sex is a shared experience and if there is the opportunity to choose together, then you should. Like with any aspect of sex you should both get enjoyment out of what you’re using. There aren’t very many things that we put on our bodies that are as intimate as condoms. It’s going on his most sensitive area and in hers, so when it comes to condom shopping it’s important to find some rubbers that you’re both gonna’ love. Generally, that means experimenting.

Getting comfy with condoms

Through shopping around, I’ve learnt more about condoms in the last four months than I ever learnt at school, or was bothered to listen to after that, because they just weren’t relevant to my life. It’s a bad attitude to have, I know. It’s shocking how the “fit and forget” or pill-popping culture we have today means it’s easy to overlook the humble condom. Especially when you’re in a relationship that uses one of the aforementioned methods.

It’s been a re-education: I’m aware now about the importance of fit and how that effects sensation and minimises the risk of breakage, the safest way to take them off to avoid any ‘accidents’ and I’ll admit that I’m still perfecting my roll on method (anything billed as ultra thin is definitely the trickiest).

The biggest adjustment (and I don’t reckon I’m the only woman who’s come off the Pill to feel this) is becoming confident with the idea that condoms can keep me safe. Not from STDs as that’s not an issue in my relationship, but of pregnancy. A lot of people my age and a bit older seem keen to use Fertility Awareness Methods and the pull-out method, but for many of them pregnancy wouldn’t be so much of a disaster. For me and my boyfriend, it certainly would be.

Making the move from the pill to condoms is scary. Anything you get fitted, implanted or swallow every morning has a success rate of approximately 99 percent. Sure, there are some side effects, but you’re willing to put up with them because it’s a shared ideology that now we have these methods, why bother with condoms that have a slightly lower success rate at all if your aim is to not get pregnant?

Living with that mentality for over a decade, then changing what you use and your body changes too, is a lot to get your head around, but it is doable. On the plus side, not only has it led me to take another look at the whole contraceptive menu – not just what the GP would prefer me to use – but it’s made me and my partner look again at correct condom use and I don’t think it’s a bad thing for any couple to do that no matter how long they’ve been together.

Monologues are independent stories. The opinions shared are the author’s own.

Too Young For An IUD

I didn’t realize until that day sitting in the doctors office that systems of oppression, like patriarchy, mark the options I have for contraceptives.

At age nineteen, I was in a hot and heavy long-term relationship with an older man. I knew I loved him, and I knew he loved me but, at the rate we were going at it, we were destined to have our own clan of Duggers- our own clan of Hawkins to be exact. I was a busy student, worker, and volunteer, and oftentimes forgot to take my birth control pill, and my partner had recently graduated college and was unemployed. Despite our financial shortcomings, we could afford a few dates to local restaurants. But a child and all of their accessories was nowhere in our strained budgets.

I decided to take action and seek a more effective birth control method- a method that I would not have to worry about forgetting to take daily.

I conducted extensive research before I decided on an alternative form of birth control that was right for me– an IUD. I eagerly made my appointment for my yearly well-woman-exam and anxiously awaited the day where I was no longer a slave to the birth control pill.IUDImages-1

On the day of my appointment, I filled out the required paperwork, disrobed, and endured the forever-uncomfortable pap smear, breast examination, and pelvic examination. Upon completion of the procedures, my male OBGYN asked me which birth control method did I prefer?

“Well, I’ve conducted a lot of research and based on my lifestyle, I’ve decided to get the Mirena,” I stated proudly.

Oh no, you cannot get the Mirena”, my OBGYN replied nonchalantly.

My eager little heart sank- I became mortified.

“Why not?” I asked, shaking.

“Because you haven’t had children and it would be too difficult to place. Also, you are too young. You can either do the pill, the Nuva Ring, or the Patch, but the IUD isn’t an option.”

When I researched the Mirena, I discovered that age and never having children had little to no impact on the effectiveness of the method- So why is he telling me otherwise?IUDImages-2

I went back and forth with my OBGYN for five minutes. I realized that he would not budge on his stance, so I began to consider other options.

I was not comfortable with using the Nuva Ring, and the surplus of commercials discussing fatal side effects automatically took the Patch out of the running.

Flustered and confused, I reluctantly agreed to stay on the pill: Ortho Tri Cyclen Lo to be exact.

I left the physician’s office with a new perspective on life. Previously, I always felt empowered and in control of my life. This moment changed that- I realized that as a woman in a patriarchal society, I’m not in control. Not even when it pertains to my reproductive health.

Monologues are independent stories. The experiences and opinions shared are the author’s own. Do you relate this this experience? What comes into play when you navigate your personal choices and contraceptive options?

We recommend Bedsider and Scarleteen as smart resources to learn more about IUDs and other contraceptions.