Tag Archives: condom use

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.

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.

I Ran Out Of Condoms

He looks at me and says, “I don’t have any condoms.”

At which I point I lean back and a flash dance of potential ensuing scenarios simultaneously create a cacophony of, “Hey, mom, what’s the best decision I can make here?” Mom never answers the question, so precariously I sit on the edge of the bed trying to preempt any awkward silence with the right, sexy, drunken thing to say. Does that mean that I stamp up, put my clothes on and storm out? Do I say something catty? Or do I smile like a trooper and take it with my eyes closed?

This is a consistent problem. I think for me, and most of my female friends, very few of us ever expect a guy to have the condoms. I don’t know why this is, but in the name of Girl Scoutly caution, I always keep a few floating around the bottom of my purse. So when the, “I don’t have any condoms” bomb drops, I can quickly maneuver my private parts out of harm’s way and into properly protected sex. Maybe this is just indicative of a larger issue, namely my lack of faith in humanity to ever make educated, unselfish decisions, but, meh, life moves on.

Speaking of moving on, it just so happens that I don’t have condoms on me right now. Which means that I’m not going to root around my jacket pockets and grinningly pull out one of those condoms that I got from that free condom basket at the teen sex booth at the street festival.

And whenever I’m pulling that condom out with that look on my face of, “You’re not getting away with it this time, asshole!” I always try to look into his eyes so I can fully relish the, “This dumb bitch did not fall for my unprotected sex routine” look on his face. And then, even after that, even on the off chance he rips the condom off for “whatever reason” (aka his coke dick went limp again, or the supremely assholeish “It doesn’t feel good so I took it off two seconds ago”) the second time I dive back into my purse and pull out another – it’s just like, hey, I know you tried this once before, but it’s not happening again, okay?

I mean, I don’t even know why it’s an issue in the first place. We’re both lucky enough to be having sex tonight, I don’t understand why you’re putting so much effort into poo-pooing my extremely rational, extremely altruistic need for you to wear a condom. It’s not like I just asked to pee on you. (Not to diss golden showers, but, you know, when you try to pee on a one night stand, and he’s not into it – the weird looks ensue.)

This time, however: Nothing. I’m feeling in the bottom of my purse. Oh, god. My sluttiness has yet again left me with a purse with no condoms in it. No condoms in the jacket pockets either. I’m fresh out.

So I look at him and say, “Well…”

And he looks at me and says, “You know what we could do…”

I shake my head. I look away. It’s the golden moment. It’s time for truth. It’s time for years of public education to waltz out of my mouth in a moment of glory, the fruition of years of putting condoms on bananas.

Or, of course, I could crumble to the everpresent pressure of wanting people (aka this dude right here) to like me, and there’s also the fact that I absolutely love having sex, because it’s fun and it feels good. It’s a sudden war of ration versus passion in my mind, and while I notice that I am, indeed, quite drunk, I am proud of myself for having the mental capacity with which to spend five seconds thinking about how dumb it is for me to let this random ass dude stick his dick in me, just so I can sleep for five hours in his messy bed, wake up way too early tomorrow, catch the bus back to my house, sit there in shame and silence while I try to remember what happened last night, catch up on my text messages, let my friends know I’m okay. And then the ensuing weeks of, “Should I get tested? Is that itch in my crotch the sign of the onset of herpes? Or HPV? What if it’s AIDS? Am I being paranoid?” All for a bit of sex that, at the end of it, probably isn’t even going to register in my top 10 sexual experiences.

So I look at him again, and without making eye contact, I come to the realization that this is probably going to be just another one night stand, so, fuck it, what’s the point? I might see him at a bar some other night, and we might try it again, but it’s not like I’m going to win any overwhelming sense of self validation or ego boost from lying on my bed and trying not to laugh at his sex noises.

So I do the right thing. I dial a cab, ask him his address, and when the cab’s waiting for me out front, I straddle him, as he sits there in his underwear, given him a kiss, rub my tits in his face and say,“Sorry about your loss.”

And as I sit, swirling inside my head inside the cab, the thought comes over me once again – why is it always my responsibility to have the condoms? I wish for once when I ran out, he (whoever he is) would say, “It’s okay, boo, I got you.”

Opinions expressed on Condom Monologues are the author’s own.

The True Story of Mr. Too Big

Being armed with a drawer of condoms doesn’t always guarantee full preparation for hot safe sex. The Sexpert tells her story about the power of lust with Mr. Too Big.

Last year I wrote this.

It is not the most impressive post I have ever crafted – but I would like to offer even further explanation for its inspiration. Yours truly is not always as perfectly behaved as you may think. Based on my values of being a sex-positive feminist who calls herself ‘The Sexpert’ you may imagine my life a polyamorous bisexual multi-orgasmic wonderland. One where consent is always verbally given, I get rapid HIV screenings on a monthly basis, and I have safer sex items in candy dishes in my living room. This is (sadly) not the case.

The Sexpert demonstrates how elastic a "regular" size Durex can be.

The Sexpert demonstrates how elastic a “regular” size Durex can be.

In the post I wrote about “some naive person somewhere” falling for the line, “I’m too big.” I wrote it with a smile on my face knowing that I was referring to myself having been in that situation only a few months prior. My sarcasm was likely only funny to me, however, and lost on my reader. So much of my motivation for writing The Sexpert comes from the frustration of never having been armed with good information early on. The Sexpert is my contribution to the universe to fix that problem for myself and whoever may stumble across my writing.

So, the story of Mr. Too Big goes like this:

I was out with a group of my girlfriends on a Friday night at a downtown dance club. A couple vodka tonics into the evening I see the most gorgeous man I have ever been in the same room with. What’s more is that he is already engaged in conversation with a friend of mine. I walk over and she is more than happy to introduce me and mentions that they know each other from a previous party they both attended. She excuses herself and I promptly ask him to dance.

To my extreme delight it seems he reciprocates my intense feelings of attraction! We exchange numbers and a few days later we are on a date that ends with him coming home with me. Normally, I am the type of girl who holds to certain ideals of romance. I genuinely try to get to know someone and I am logical about if we make a “good fit.” I will check these two things off my list before the decision to begin a sexual relationship…but this is not a story of when I used my best judgment. He had already tipped me off to some things going on in his life that I felt would get in the way of us having a successful relationship. However, did I mention he was the most attractive man I had ever seen?

I made the decision that I would be having sex with him even if the only outcome of this decision was getting to have sex with someone as attractive as he was. In other words, I was not consulting my brain in this particular decision. I didn’t lose sight of the fact that this was someone I barely knew who I had met in the seedy underbelly of Minneapolis. I insisted he wore a condom and he happily pulled one out. My only thought when I saw his penis for the first time was, “I didn’t know God made them that big.”

I do have the privilege of having sexual partners with whom I have a trusting, honest, and an emotionally stable bond with. I can share the dates and times and results of my last STI testing with them and they with me without any awkward feelings. With Mr. Too Big I was not privileged with that same sense of comfort. So when the first condom was used up and we still wanted to engage in more sexual activity I approached the situation gently. I figured I was most safe as long as I had the assurance that a barrier was in place. I had a stash of condoms in my room – the very same Durex in the purple wrapper that I mention in my blog. I quickly pulled one out but he only laughed. He told me size had always prevented him from wearing certain condoms and my request was simply impossible. I was dumbstruck but I went ahead with the deed despite my discomfort.

WrongSizeCondomThings continued on in this way for a few more days. Finally, I grew tired of his pushiness and the uncomfortable feeling I have when I am not proud of myself. We stopped talking and have not crossed paths since. I was tested for STI’s soon after and was thrilled to find out that I did not catch anything in spite of myself. I am blessed to live in a state with some of the lowest relative rates of STI’s in the nation.

I think oftentimes we have a chance to turn negative events into positive life lessons and in this way earn ourselves some good Karma. My goal in sharing this story with you is to give you a chance to learn the lesson the easy way because I did not. I have since learned that, yes, condoms come in different sizes and being “too big” is not a good enough excuse for me to engage in unprotected sex. We could have stuck with less riskier acts if he really couldn’t fit into any condoms I had, such as manual sex.

I have also learned the importance of staying honest with myself; to be confident with the boundaries I set even at the risk of upsetting him or damping the ardor. Because honestly, what’s more important? I am turned off when someone dismisses efforts I make to keep myself safe. I didn’t like how that felt nor did I ignore the power disparity I attributed to our gender difference. I am someone of very small stature and he was an easy counterpart to Hercules. This taught me a huge lesson in trust and the boundaries I must set and communicate when there is a lack of it. From the moment he refused to wear a condom I had trouble ever feeling safe around him. I can see now that that was due to how reckless I truly found his decision to not go through the trouble of supplying the right size condom for himself! Or use it!

Stay safe,

The Sexpert

Why Condoms Get a Bad Wrap: Renewing emphasis on pleasure

Is it correct to suggest that condom-bashing is more common than condom-loving?  From personal experience, when I speak with people about safer sex the following is often used to describe condoms: “It keeps my partner and me from getting close”, “It disrupts intimacy”; “…It’s unnatural”, “…a mood killer”, “I can’t feel anything with a condom on”, “it hurts”, or “I can’t get off with condoms”.  Sound familiar?  In fact, rarely do I hear positive things like, “I love using condoms!” and “Condoms make me horny!”

Some argue that male condoms simply suck. Period. Others point to social attitudes as the greater problem and that people are trained to hate condom, states Debbie Herbenick in The Daily Beast.

Can new condoms solve the Condom Problem?

Why do condoms get a bad rap?Of course, sexual pleasure and condom use warrant serious discussion. According to a 2013 survey, only 60% of teenagers claim to use condoms regularly. And condom use declines as people grow older.  Much media praise is pouring over the “Grand Challenge” pitched by the Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation to develop a “next-generation condom that significantly enhances or preserves pleasure.”  Thousands have applied for the $100,000 prize grant.  It’s got people talking (again) about widespread dissatisfaction with existing condoms.

There’s been ideological backlash from condom defenders.  Reported in an article by Slate.com, the Gates’ competition is razzed by Gwaker and Salon, who have labeled condom complainers as “creeps” and “pervs” that are just “whining”. But these righteous attacks do not help.  In fact, their points only reinforce shame around sexual pleasure, thus hindering discussions about sexuality and sexual health.

Fingers are also pointing at condom researchers for overlooking the importance of pleasure and narrowly focusing on disease prevention and risk, as assistant professor Joshua G. Rosenberger told The Daily Beast. The narrative surrounding the Gates’ competition has reinvigorated the pleasure factor, but honest discussion about condoms should not end there.

Pleasure-focused condoms already exist!

What’s overlooked in this media coverage is that condom companies have focused on pleasure for decades! One need not look further than the crowded condom market to see where emphasis lay. Navigating through all the pleasure bumps, pouches, dual action lubricants, and “twisted” pleasure condoms can be a confusing (and fun!) task. This is not to deny that there are limits in male condom choice (not to mention severe limits of dams and female condoms!).  Indeed, most are latex based. Non-latex is more expensive and difficult to find off-line (see our post about buying condoms online). And all existing condoms roll on and off in the same way (although prototype Origami condom might change that).

There is more to condom use than bananas

Another aspect overlooked in discussions of condom hate is the way in which students are introduced to and informed about condoms in sex education.  Condoms talk is often devoid of any discussions regarding pleasure. But instead of limiting condoms to banana demonstrations, educators and prevention providers can play a valuable role by explaining some special condom features that already exist to suit individual needs, including allergies, lubrication, the health warnings of n-9 spermicide, flavors, and different condom shapes and sizes.

The point is that there are thousands of condom types already.  What we need is pleasure-inclusive sex education so that young people and adults access information about options, how to find the right condom, and different ways to use condoms well.  This can help increase consistent and correct use, hence reduce health risk while nurturing healthy and satisfying sexual lives.  Everyone wins!

Condom haters are in the minority

There is plenty of alternative evidence out there to suggest that the physical differences between unprotected sex and sex with a condom are minor to non-existent.  The Kinsey Institute’s annual National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior (2011) found that adults who use condoms for penetrative sex tend to report the same degree of sexual pleasure as those who have sex without condoms. Another study that measured physical sensation (and only physicality- excluding other factors like perceived trust or sexual history, etc.) found that most men do feel a slight decrease of sensation with a condom.  However, if used and fitted correctly, a condom should never decrease a man’s sensitivity to the point of pain, numbness, or loss of erection. For women, it is rare to experience any dulling, which (as Scarleteen wisely points out) is not surprising, because the vagina has far less nerve sensory compared to the clitoris and frenulum, and therefore is less receptive to finer differences like skin compared to latex. Yes, there are women and men who experience physical irritation, drying, gross tastes and weird smells.  But there are ways to overcome these problems. It’s not like safe sex is a chore that one just has to deal with! 

Understanding sexual pleasure

i love youThere’s the argument that people are trained to hate condoms. Check out our post about the lack of positive representations of condoms in popular culture and entertainment. From our searches, we could not find any peer reviewed scientific studies that conclude that condoms severely detract from physical sensation.  We did find studies- including Randolph et. al. (2008), Mizuno et. al. (2007) and Boston University School of Health Our Bodies Ourselves Collective (2011)– in which more men than women reported that condoms did cause sex to feel “less good”. However, all three studies find that those who report negative feelings towards condoms are people who rarely use them. This seems like an obvious finding, but what’s more nuanced here is that those who believe this is so tend to be less-experienced with condoms (some of which have no actual experience). While many people do report that unprotected sex feels better than protected sex, in general, people who use condoms frequently and are confident about how to use them well tend to experience greater satisfaction with protected sex then those who do not use condoms.

This implies that sexual pleasure when using condoms cannot simply be reduced to basic physics of vaginal or penile sensation.  Of course, “sexual pleasure” is a fluid concept that means many different things to different people in different contexts.  There is more to consider when measuring degrees of satisfaction and pleasure than just what a condom touches, such as how we feel emotionally and intellectually about ourselves, our bodies, our relationships, and sex as an integral part of life. Many studies argue that attitudes and beliefs toward condoms greatly influence one’s experience of using them.  So, it may be fair to say that claims of “not feeling anything” have more to do with lack of experience using condoms (lack of experimenting), or not using them properly.

The catch is that when people know what type of condom they like, know how to use them correctly, consistently, and different ways to increase sensuality (i.e. experimenting with lubes, ribbed condoms, having a partner put on the condom for you), there is greater overall satisfaction.  As Heather Corinna writes, “…it’s the people who don’t use them at all that tend to complain about them the most.” Thus many people’s negative attitudes place them in a self-perpetuating cycle: If you approach condom use with pessimism, then you set yourself up for aversion.  This cycle will discourage from experimenting with different condoms and discovering what types and lubricants you like, and what methods are most comfortable and exciting; in general, it’s the mind set that is often the mood-killer.

How to make condoms sexy

The Next Generation condom is a positive competition that will hopefully lead to innovative and improved technology.  But this alone cannot solve public perceptions and negative sentiment towards condoms. In another post, we have suggested that media, from soap operas to popular how-to magazines to porn must include more positive representations of condoms for vaginal, anal, and oral sex to help normalize safe sex.  We also suggest basic condom usage techniques and ways of making condom usage a sexy part of sex, rather than a disruption. And of course, access to education and knowing which condoms suit one’s individual needs (and their sexual relationships) is vital to loving the glove.  Here is our fitting guide to help those who experience particular fitting problems.

Tell us what you think from your experience or teachings.

Condoms Make Me Horny! Tips for making condoms more erotic

CondomMakeMeHornyI’m sure you know, or at least have heard of someone who claims that condoms make sex feel less good.  Condoms (and other safe sex tools) don’t have the best reputation.  It doesn’t help that we rarely see safer sex happening in media representations of sex that is hot, fun, or romantic.  But it doesn’t have to be this way.  As we’ve discussed elsewhere, there is no solid empirical evidence to back up negative claims about condoms. Studies find that people who use condoms correctly and are used to using them tend to report greater pleasure with protected sex than those who go without protection.

This does not mean that people on an individual level do not experience problems when enjoying protected sex.  There is a difference between knowing how to put on a condom and knowing how to use them well.  That is why it tends to be people who use them often and consistently that report greater sexual satisfaction.  It takes practice and know-how to feel confident and learn what feels good for you and partner(s).  Condoms can add a playful and sexy dimension to sex but, as with anything sexy, you need a positive attitude and a dash of creativity. In this post, we offer some ways to help spice up condom use.

In sum, the main tricks to loving the glove are:

1) Communicate
2) Take turns putting it on
3) Practice
4) Be prepared
5) Be playful and have fun
6) Lubricant!
7) Be aware of condom sizes and experiment with different ones

For more on these points, continue reading.  Warning: explicit, NSFW illustrations below.

Before we begin, the basics of condoms should be known.  Check out our user manual.  Once you understand these essential steps to condom care you can explore ways that may enhance sexual pleasure and make condoms a part of sex- rather than a disruption to it.

This post focuses on condom use for penis and sharing sex toys, but some tips here can also apply to safer anal and vaginal oral sex using barriers including condoms, dental dams, cling film saran wrap, or latex/nitrile gloves. For more info on protective lesbian sex check out this sex column.  For specifically gay protective sex info, the Gay Men’s Health Charity is an excellent resource. (Some links are affiliate links that earn us a small commission).

Introducing condoms to partners 

This isn’t something that should feel awkward no matter how casual or serious your relationship.  It can be as simple as just stopping what you are doing and handing over a condom.  Sometimes you won’t need to say anything at all.  Or, as suggested by Robin Mandell at Scarleteen, when you feel the heat turning up and sex might happen, take a quick break and retrieve condoms from wherever you keep them (ideally with easy access- discussed below).  You can say something as casual as, “No pressure.  I just wanted to get these out just in case we need them.”

Condoms do not keep people from getting close- Silence does.

Asking someone to use a condom is to show care for the well-being of you both. Communication really is key and talking about sex might mean explaining what you like, what’s your favorite position, or how to use condoms and use them in ways that work for you both.  Talking together about these things will cultivate intimacy and deepen your bond (not hinder it!), because you are sharing the responsibilities of sex and caring for each other.

Great sex is about sharing control  

As Heather Corinna explains, this is something that safer sex can help support.  Learning how to discuss condom usage and exploring sexy ways to put on a condom and what feels good together will make talking about other facets of sex a lot easier, such as how you’d like to try something new.  This also means that both people are making decisions and choices which are fundamental to both amazing sex and healthy sexuality.

Take turns putting on barriers

Related to the above- condoms can be a lot more erotic when one partner puts it on the other.  There are many ways to turn up to heat with a condom.  When done in a deliberately slow manner with some stroking, teasing, eye contact, putting on a condom can be exciting.

You can put the condom on together.  For example, one person takes the condom out of its package and places it over the head of the penis (make sure that you unravel it right-way down, not inside out).  The other person pitches and holds onto the reservoir tip of the condom as the other unrolls it down the shaft of the penis with one (or two hands).  This not only turns up the heat, but also ensures confidence in both actors that the condoms is put on correctly.

Practice Makes Perfect

Learn how to put it on.  You can use the ol’ fashion banana, or the aid of a dildo or willing partner to practice how to unravel the condom.  It should unroll downward to the base without too much pulling or stretching.  If any exertion is needed to get the condom to the base then it is probably the wrong size.  Practicing by yourself will relieve any worry about losing an erection or the uncomfortable pressure of being judged on your condom skills.  Ladies and guys, you can always practice when you masturbate.  This will also help you learn your pleasure spots and what feels best with protection.  Or practice with your partner.  When the time is right, either you or the other can put on the condom, so it’s good for everyone to knows how.  For many couples, this also helps to naturalize the process. It’s not about “making” a guy do something; it’s about something people do together for each other.

Be Prepared

One of the great advantages to condoms is that they are readily available for anyone to buy without a prescription and they are relatively cheap- even free at some health clinics like Planned Parenthood.  So equipping yourself with this contraceptive takes far less time, research, and planning.

Also, it will help things run a whole lot smoother and greatly reduce the buzz-kill if you can reduce condom-hunting time.  So keep condoms (and lubricant) in a dedicated, handy place next to your bed where you are sure to find it.

Be playful

Keeping condoms in an easily accessible place is helpful, but that does not mean that it is always best to rush through the process of putting one on. Great sex is to have fun with it.  When you introduce condoms have a sense of play.  And if things get awkward as you’re learning how to do safe sex, let yourself laugh about it.  This helps take the pressure off.

Buy some glow-in-the-dark condoms and leave your partner in suspense until the lights go out!  Or incorporate condoms into erotic foreplay.  Try slipping it on his penis with your mouth. If you are using gloves, get some props and play Doctor. Spice it up by carrying a condom with you in your handbag or pocket and discreetly show it to your partner to hint what’s on your mind.

Lubricant

This is really important. Especially, if you or your partners complain about reduced sensitivity, lubricant will improve sensation immensely.  Put two drops of water-based lubricant inside the tip of the latex condom before putting it on.  Even if dryness is not a problem for a person, lubricant that is made for condoms will lasts longer than the natural stuff.

Experiment with different lube samplers and flavors.

Warning: Explicit Images Below

Know Your Condom Size and Experiment

Two points here.  First, make sure your condom fits well.  Condoms aren’t one-size-fits-all, and a condom that’s too small or too big is likely be difficult to put on, very uncomfortable, and much more likely to break.  If you are not sure what will fit, check out our Condom Size Calculator.  If you experience certain discomforts, such as condoms being too tight, or too long, we have suggestions at our condom guide.  If you’re providing the condoms, it might be useful to have a variety of types and styles so you and your partner can choose what seems right. Variety sample packs can be found online, and at some drugstores.

Second point, if you are in a longer-term relationship, you have the advantage to experiment with different types of condoms and lubricants together to discover what suits you both best and have fun while doing it!  There are many different styles of condoms out there from thin, to thick, to wider in certain spots, snugger in other spots, etc.  There’s variety in texture: ribbed, studded, contoured, pouched; variety in non-latex condoms; and there is plenty of variety in lubricants that can enhance sensation dramatically.  You could buy a variety pack of condoms to find the best ones.  Or make a date out of it and visit a sex shop and choose together.

There are hundreds of sexy ways to put on a condom that do not interrupt the flow.  Here are just two examples:  Excellent hand-drawn illustrations that will no doubt spark ideas by custom condom size company TheyFit.com.

Condoms inclusion technique demo from TheyFit.com

Condoms inclusion technique demo from TheyFit.com

Condom inclusion technique demo from TheyFit.com

Condom inclusion technique demo from TheyFit.com

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If I haven’t convinced you yet about the sensual side of condoms, take this with you:  Everyone needs to accept this reality.  If you’re sexually active and not practicing safe sex then you are likely to transmit or contract a disease or infection.  To prevent this from happening, to experience healthy fulfilling sexuality, you have to learn how to use protection.

More Condoms In Pop: The need to popularize safer sex

condoms need to be popularizedA recent study by researchers at Stanford Medical School reveals that a large portion of young women are irresponsible in bed, meaning they ain’t protecting themselves.  The year-long study collected data from 1,194 sexually active females aged 15 to 24 who visited Planned Parenthood clinics and were beginning contraceptive pills, patches, injections, or vaginal rings for the first time.  At the beginning of the study, only 36 percent of participants consistently used the “dual method” (relying on both hormonal contraceptives and the condom), which meant that STI and STD protection was compromised.  Getting pregnant seems to be the only risk to care about.

Surprised?  To be honest, I wasn’t either as I know many friends whose first time using birth control was when they entered a relationship with someone they trust, and that trust included believing (hopefully, with medical proof) that neither person carried STIs.

However, it gets worse: The study found that over 50 percent of young women did not resume condom use after they discontinued hormonal contraceptives.  That’s right, NO protection!

Less Youth are Using Condoms

Why is this happening?  And how can prevention improve?  According to Rachel Goldstein M.D., lead author of the study, the most influential factor of condom usage is the partner’s attitude toward condoms.  When a woman did not know how her partner felt about condoms or knew that he felt they were “very important”, she was more likely to be a dual method user than when her partner thought condoms were “not at all important”.  The researchers speculate that power imbalances within the relationship impact the woman’s ability to negotiate condom use. “It appears that her partner’s feelings may be more important than her perceived risk of a sexually transmitted infection or her own beliefs about dual method use,” said Goldstein.  This is an important point of concern.  There are many factors, including levels of mutual respect, emotional maturity, and self-esteem that need to be considered when counseling youth about healthy sex (Scarleteen offers great advice on negotiating condom use).  Of course, the study concludes that more counseling is needed to accompany hormonal contraceptive treatment that emphasizes the risks of STIs and STDs.

However, I think this is only one piece in the very complicated puzzle of sexual relations.  Plus, the research does not address why young women are not resuming condom use after discontinuing hormonal medication.

In fact, condoms are not very popular among young adults in general.  According to the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, the rate of STIs in people 15-24 years old is exceptionally high.  Two-thirds of all individuals who become infected with STIs in the United States are younger than 25 years old!  The reason for this is because young people simply are not using condoms and other barriers consistently or correctly to protect themselves and their partners.

Condoms Miss the Limelight

Now, most teens in North America have been exposed to sex ed and know why condoms exist, but this is obviously not the only means to ensuring healthy sex lives.  Indeed, sex pedagogy in North America is riddled with censorship (that’s a whole other post), and health counseling should accompany hormonal contraceptive use. Both these solutions, however, overlook a larger social problem.  The social stigma which has developed around STIs and diseases has produced negative attitudes and ignorance towards safer sex.  It’s fair to say that this negativity permeates in our popular culture.

Condoms and other safer sex practices have acquired an unsexy reputation from their very absence in romantic and steamy and sex positive representations.  Pornography, films, romance novels, or how-to articles in popular magazines rarely represent the condom and how it can actually increase sensuality, not dull it.  And this is something that needs to change because it limits our knowledge, attitude and imagination about what healthy sex can be.

This is not to say that viewers of media are passive recipients who are easily influenced by what is on TV.  But media can be interpreted as a cultural artifact that reflects beliefs, attitudes, prejudices of the times.  It is a matter of what sells, and unfortunately, the mainstream only works to reinforce the notion that safer sex is a chore.

One Solution: Safer Sex Porn!

There are some who have sought to exert control over the representation of safer sex through alternative media.  One honorable example is the 1990 video short, Current Flow, by Jean Carlomusto starring Annie Sprinkle and Joy Brown.  This explicit video was made in response to Cosmopolitan magazine publishing a piece which erroneously claimed that virtually no females could contract HIV.  The short is basically about a woman (Annie Sprinkle) masturbating on the couch with her vibrator. Suddenly her vibrator stops and we see a woman enter the room with a towel in one hand and a power cord in the other (not many battery-operated vibrators back then).  The woman seductively crawls over Annie and rolls out from her towel dental dams, latex gloves, condoms and lube for the dildo.  And the climax begins.

But this is not just any girl-on-girl porn, it also emphasizes “showing how”.  For example, a close-up of Annie Sprinkle getting eaten-out shows how to use a dental dam. Another shot shows Joy Brown washing the dildo before it is her turn to use it on Annie.  As Carlomusto writes,

“…in order to educate lesbians about safer sex we have to establish what it is.  Saying, ‘use a dental dam’ is not the same as saying ‘use a condom’, since many women don’t know what a dental dam is” (1992: 82).

Current Flow is the first of it’s kind. Sexy and safe lesbian porn made by and for lesbians. It was made at a particular time during the HIV/AIDS crisis when the Centers for Disease Control refused to investigate data on woman-to-woman transmission of HIV.  It was also a time when mass media and public health bureaucracies refused to produce explicit sex education or represent gay and lesbian sexuality.  While the information today is made more available and inclusive of a wider public, we still do not see safe sex represented as often as we see sex in the media.

Safer sex should be not be limited to public health messages or HIV/AIDS activism.  What would be powerful is normalization of safer sex in everyday media.  Imagine music videos- the soft porn of daytime television- including condoms in a sexy, bootylicious way…

Dull Feeling in Bed Begins with Dull Attitude

You might think that the reason there are few representations of positive condoms in popular culture is simply because condoms are genuinely unfun and decrease pleasure.  You might think that it is for this reason that younger people are using condoms less.  I would argue that this belief is grounded more in attitude than it is in actual reality.  Let me explain.

Some studies, such as “Sexual Pleasure and Condom Use” by Randolph et. al. (2007), have found that those who report sex with a condom as less pleasurable tend to be people who have not used condoms in a while or who don’t use them at all.  They found that more men than women tend to believe condom use is less pleasurable even without actual experience.  It is beliefs that influence experience with condoms and whether one wants to use them. It is true that many people reported that unprotected sex feels better than protected sex. Overall, people who are familiar with using condoms tend to report greater pleasure with protected sex than those who are likely to go without protection.   As Heather Corinna at Scarleteen writes, “The more you use them, the more they feel good, and it’s people who don’t use them at all that tend to complain about them most.”

In other words, it is the attitude that one has towards condoms that greatly affects satisfaction.  People who use condoms often do not express a decrease in overall pleasure because they learn what condoms suit them best and what ways they are most comfortable using them.

Know Your Condom

Which brings me to my next point.  Part of the process of popularizing condoms is to increase understanding of the different types and ways of using them.  Another study by Michael Reece and Debra Herbenick (2012) found that many people do not know how to use condoms properly and what can increase pleasure.  For example, putting a drop of lube inside the condom before rolling it on can improve application and increase sensitivity.  Also, the condom can be put on in sexy and tantalizing ways by you or your partner that make it a part of sex- not an interruption to it. Check out our post for some sexy tips on condom use.

Pediatrics and sex educators should know condoms too.  Reece and Herbenick suggests that prevention providers can play a valuable role in alleviating negative perceptions of condoms by recommending different condoms made for specific needs.  For example, for those men who feel condoms are too tight, a practitioner may recommend condoms which are designed with a more bulbous head or looser fit.  The point is that there are hundreds of thousands of condom types out there and there needs to be more access and understating of choice and care.

If it’s true that sexual pleasure with a condom is all in the attitude than it is all the more important that there be representations of safe sex in pop media.  How powerful would it be if Jake Gyllenhaal whipped out a condom during the famous sex scene in Broke Back Mountain!

What do you think?  Would safer sex in the media help increase positive attitudes towards safe practices?  What do you think should be done to get more youth practicing safer sex?

Source cited:  Jean Carlomusto & Gregg Bordowitz (1992).“Do It!  Safe Sex Porn for Girls and Boys Comes of Age.” A Leap in the Dark: AIDS, Arts and Contemporary Cultures.  Allan Klusacek & Ken Morrison, eds. Montreal: Vehicule Press.