Tag Archives: condoms

Great Sex & HIV – Is it Possible?

I know it is possible to have good sex with a partner who is HIV negative. I did it for years. As I look back, the fear and frenzy about HIV transmission was more manageable back then, more so than now when the mere mention of HIV to potential sex partners causes them to behave in irrational and inconsiderate ways out of fear and hysteria. All of this to say, fear campaigns do not work, they do the opposite of what they were intended for. I can write forever about experiences but I do not want to bore anyone, so here are just a few from recent encounters.GreatSexHIV

1. I was pleasantly surprised when a man I met claimed he was comfortable with my status and wanted to pursue a relationship. Initially it went well but after a short while he began doing strange things, like checking to see if the condom was on during sex. That got frustrating when he upped the frequency so often that I wanted to scream – FORGET IT! How frustrating to be having sex, getting closer to an orgasm and him stopping the show to check the goddamn condom.

2. I met another man who claimed to be comfortable with my HIV status and after a great romp in the sack he promptly jumped up and washed his dick in the sink with hot soapy water. I don’t think the erection had subsided he was so fast. I walked out and never looked back on that one.

3. I can’t forget another experience with someone I had known for a long time who had not been aware of my HIV status. We decided to get intimate and he was shocked when I disclosed my status before hand. He mentioned how I did not look like I had HIV. I really wish I knew how someone looks who has HIV. He did assure me he was comfortable and well informed about HIV; not to worry. The first time we had sex it was great. The next time he came over his pockets were filled with every brand of condom on the market, dental dams, latex gloves and whatever safe sex paraphernalia he picked up at the university health center.

I checked in with him and asked if he was still feeling comfortable because he sure didn’t appear to be. Being that I had an undetectable viral load and was regularly adhering to my meds, the risk of transmission was extremely close to non-existent and we talk about this.   His answer was less than convincing, however, I decided to stop the craziness right then and there. I did not understand how we could have sex comfortably with him caressing me while wearing latex gloves. In the end, I suggested that he purchase an entire body condom, just to be sure. They must be available on EBay. Everything else is these days. This was a particularly sad situation because I lost him as a friend in the process. He left a message on my phone explaining how he could not cope with the fear of contracting HIV.

4. Now back to my HIV negative partner with whom I was in a monogamous relationship. We had the best sex for many years and at no time did he display any signs of being afraid of contracting HIV. He decided, after many discussions, and a visit to my doctor’s office to get the facts, that he was not going to use condoms. We learned that I was an extremely low risk for transmitting the virus and besides, we had been sexually active with no condoms and lots of sex for a year before I learned of my status. When I did get the diagnosis he was tested and the results were negative, as the doctor predicted. I cannot pretend I was completely comfortable with his decision as I strategically placed condoms all over the house and in the car, just in case we were stranded and wanted to have a quickie to pass the time. In the end I had to accept that it was his informed decision to not use condoms and he remains HIV negative today.

I am not encouraging people to have unprotected sex. I am not encouraging people to be reckless. I am encouraging people to use a bit of common sense. It is possible to have sex with a person who is HIV positive and not get infected. Circumstances vary for each couple. Depending on what is negotiated to protect one and other the sex can be great. I know first- hand and I long for the day when I meet someone who has the same understanding and lack of fear that my partner did in those days. Until then it looks like I am going to be having a lot more stories to tell that are less than satisfactory.

Yours unsatisfactorily,

Virgina

(Monologues are independent stories. Opinions are the author’s own). Got a question about HIV transmission and diverse-cordant couples? Ask us below. We also recommend following Shawn & Gwenn, a serodicordant heterosexual couple (Shawn is HIV postive, Gwenn is negative) that have been having great sex for over 13 years.  Learn the facts.  

12 Reasons to Love Female Condoms

Today is the day to celebrate possibly one of the most important inventions since humans started having sex!

Global Female Condom Day (#GFCD) is taking place in over 50 countries across the world to raise awareness and tackle misconceptions about this safer sex option. This is crucial because it is the only protection of its kind that puts power in the hands of the receptive partner and prevents against both STIs and pregnancy.

Learn how to participate in this day of action by going to http://www.nationalfccoalition.org/gfcd

Use this as your facebook cover page for the day. Learn more about how to participate by going to www.nationalfccoalition.org/gfcd

In North America, most cities will celebrate through community outreach and other educational activities. The makers of FC2 (the Female Health Company) have launched a text messaging program to help locate female condoms in the local area. People can text FC2condom to 877877 to find the nearest location to buy female condoms.

Some cities are also launching film screenings of the winners of the international “Female Condoms Are…” Festival. You can view these short films on PATH’s YouTube channel. Or you can vote for a fan favorite here.

Why is there #GFCD?

Despite being around for two decades, the female condom (aka “internal condom”) continues to live in the margins. It is rarely taught about in public school sex education and is not as readily available at local grocery stores like its male counterpart. Access and demand are two major challenges. In our email interview with Sarah Gaudreau, Project Director of the Washington AIDS Partnership’s Female Condom Initiative, she explains that the higher cost of the female condom won’t go down until there is a greater demand or a competitor. In this regard, there may be a competitor very soon if the FDA approves the Origami condom (undergoing human trials now).

As for access, many health organizations and grassroot activists are pressuring local pharmacies, community clinics and health departments to carry female condoms. This action is desperately needed because currently only select Walgreens have committed to stocking female condoms nationwide, but even then not all stores carry them.

FC2-packshot1

You can buy FC2 in packs of 3 online and from select Walgreens stores. Our personal review of FC2 coming soon!

Still, making condoms more accessible isn’t enough. In order to confront fears and apprehensions that accompany any new technology, there has to be information sharing and more conversations surrounding female condoms. Increasing demand means talking with potential partners and friends about female condoms- how and when they get used, and how to use them in ways that enhance sexual experience. This is why distribution initiatives like the Washington AIDS Partnership in collaboration with the Health Department, and generously funded by the MAC AIDS Fund, aimed to get the conversation going by handing out condoms in social places like barber shops, beauty salons, clothing stores and liquor stores. Learn more about the initiative from this NPR interview.

To commemorate this day of awareness, we wanted to help tackle these fears and misconceptions by highlighting all of the amazing and important advantages that the female condom offers. We’ve come up with 12. Feel free to add more in the comment section below.

1) It can be inserted hours before sex! No erection needed.

The design on an internal condom opens the door to a whole new world of safe sex. No interruptive “wait, let’s find a condom” moment. No fumbling to stretch one over the penis in an attempt at foreplay. And, perhaps most importantly, the receptive partner can be preemptive and put one on without negotiating protection in the first place.

gif man and women

2) Negotiation power is altered.

The receptive partner can take control of their safety independently.

A number of health organizations in North America and abroad have been working to increase access to female condoms for sex workers and communities with high HIV infection rates, where use of traditional roll-on condom is low despite abundent availablilty.

Yaaaaah

3) Increases female sexual pleasure.

Contrary to many first impressions, this device can actually enable sexual pleasure rather than dull it. In our interview, Sarah Gaudreau highlights a yet unpublished study from Washington D.C. that found women were more likely to orgasm with a female condom than with a male condom. Some women even reported multiple orgasms.” transfer body heat immediately. Also, the outer ring is this soft rolled material that fits over the outer lips and rubs the clitoris, which can function as an added

female pleasure

4) Helps you know your body better.

Some women have compared their first experience with the female condom to learning how to use a tampon. Greater awareness of one’s body is intrinsic to personal agency. The female condom can help women be in control and responsible for their pregnancy and STI prevention.

dancing friend

5) May be used for anal sex (but it is not FDA approved for this use).

No condom (male or female) currently available on the market has actually been tested for protective anal sex (in fact, only until this year has the first FDA testing for protective anal sex ever taken place). Despite the fact that the Female Health Company does not advocate using FC2 for anal sex because it is not FDA approved for such use, there are still men, women and transgender folks who do use it for these needs.

i'm so happy i deserve this

6) May be used for oral sex.

Protective cunnilingus is another benefit that the female condom offers but of which it has not been officially tested for. Gaudreau explained in our interview that some prefer using the FC2 for oral sex. “The outer ring helps keep the female condom in place and this allows hands-free operation. With a dental dam, you have to hold it in place.” Furthermore the FC2 has no flavor or lingering latex after taste, so some prefer it to male condoms or dental dams.

oral sex

7) One size fits all.

The female condom forms to the internal walls of the body, not the penis. This means that the size of the condom (and penis) is irrelevant, so that knocks off a list of popular excuses not to wear a roll-on condom. As Gaudreau explains, female condoms can be a better alternative for some men.

“The size of a man’s penis has no impact on the FC2 [female condom]. The FC2 is larger because as it warms to body temperature, it lines the vaginal walls which in turn provides a very natural feeling. We hear from many men that it feels like they are not using any protection at all which they like. I guess if a man can’t find a male condom that fits, the FC2 is a great option as it fits the woman’s body and not the man’s.”

dancing couple

8) Effective dual protection against pregnancy and STI transmission.

This is an obvious advantage, but we had to emphasize just how effective condoms are at prevention. With consistent and correct use, the female condom is 95% effective at preventing pregnancy and transmission of many STIs. This makes it one of the top most effective methods of birth control and STI protection.

Furthermore, because the outer ring covers some of the labia and perineal region it can be more effective than male condoms at preventing skin to skin transmission of STIs such as genital warts, HPV and herpes.

sucessful encounter with a man

9) It’s non-hormonal with no side effects.

A recent article in NYMag discusses a curious decrease in hormonal birth control preferences among the Millennial generation. More and more young women are ditching the Pill and favor methods that don’t effect periods, cause weight gain or depression.

The female condom comes with no hormonal side effects. Also, it doesn’t require an appointment with a clinic or a prescription. You can easily buy female condoms online. In the United States, select Walgreens supplying FC2. They are also available at local HIV/AIDS organizations and family planning clinics, like Planned Parenthood. If your local pharamacy or clinic doesn’t carry them, ask them to!  Here are sometalking points (pdf) to help you initiate the conversation.

excited on bed

10) It’s hypo-allergenic.

The FC2, the only internal condom currently available in North America, is made of nitrile polymer, a material similar to latex in softness and strength, but better because it does not have that funky latex scent or latex allergens. Furthermore, it transfers body heat more efficiently which heightens sensitivity and feels more natural.

monsters inc

11) Water-based, oil-based & silicon. FC2 is compatible with all lubes!

Lubricant is an important companion and it’s even better when you have variety of choice. Unlike latex condoms, the FC2 is compatible with all your favorite lubes including oil-based ones.

freshprince

12) It’s another option.

The more choices available to you the easier it is to pick and choose what is the best safer sex method for yourself in different circumstances throughout your life. Gaudreau states,

“It’s important to note that people (women and men) want more choices. Female condoms are not going to replace male condoms and that’s okay. But having more options is good. Studies have shown that having both male and female condoms as an option increases protected sex and that’s always great!”

i'm so excited

Everything You Need to Know

To learn more about female condoms, including how to use them and where to buy them go to the National FC Coalition. Click for information about Global Female Condom Day and activities near you, as well as many simple and innovative ideas for how you may participate in #GFCD. Send out a tweet, vote for an awareness video, contact your local pharmacy about supplying female condoms.

Gifs credit to gifsee.com

Youth-Made Announcements The Public Must Watch

The three videos presented here are like no other sexual health messages shared on prime time TV. They were made by HIV-positive youth from the Young Adult Program (YAP) at St. Luke’s and Roosevelt Hospitals’ Spencer Cox Center for Health. This video initiative, designed and facilitated by the consultancy group Connected Health Solutions Inc., has turned top-down approaches of traditional PSAs on its head.

Just “wear a condom every time”

For those of you who can’t remember, public service announcements (PSAs) from the late 80’s to ‘90s predominantly involved high profile personalities like Magic Johnson and Whoopie Goldberg telling you to “wear a condom every time”. Here’s young Whoopie (nostalgia!).


Babies with Hiv and Aids 1990s by NoHivNoAids

Some of these messages were groundbreaking for the time. Others were not so effective. In our interview with the founders of the HIV Disclosure Project, we discuss how early HIV awareness campaigns were based on fear, pushing condoms as the only option to avoid death. These messages were vague. They obscured real-life information about the different degrees of risks and how to manage those risks with options suited for the individual or relationship. You certainly didn’t see Growing Pains’ Kirk Cameron speaking about “fluid-bonded” couples, or how oral sex is risky for some STIs while less risky for others. Consequently, 30 years into the HIV pandemic, STI stigma and misconceptions about transmission are still perpetuated today.

But there is hope. The Young Adult Program (YAP) at St. Luke’s and Roosevelt Hospitals’ Spencer Cox Center for Health in partnership with Connected Health Solutions, Inc. (CHS), have changed mainstream top-down approaches of PSAs. They’ve cultivated a safe and critically reflective space for youth to produce their own public health messages. Upon contacting the project for an interview, however, I learned that their collaboration has been forced to stop due to loss of funding and state budget cuts.

#SpreadTheWordNotTheVirus

Depressing as this is, some of the youth who made the videos below are in the process of organizing an Indiegogo campaign to help continue the program. And not without celebrity pizazz and support from DJ Caroline D’Amore (whose mother died from AIDS-related causes). Watch this space for updates: SpreadTheWordNotTheVirus. And follow CHS facebook page.

YAP and CHS behind the scenes film production of "It's Not Just a Guy Issue" PSA.

YAP and CHS behind the scenes film production of “It’s Not Just a Guy Issue”

A New Era of PSAs

CHS has been working with at-risk youth from YAP for a couple of years. What’s novel about their work is in the production process. They collectively produce online PSAs that address issues relevant to the participants. Kenny Shults, president of CHS, explained in an email that over a period of a few month, participants would run through a series of group exercises all geared towards thinking critically about a social issue (such as HIV stigma) and develop an effective script. “We then spend about a month working together to complete all of the pre-production activities such as casting, props, locations, etc. and fine tuning the script. Then everyone shows up to the shoot (1 day per PSA) to make a movie. It is an incredibly fun, interactive, educational, and inspiring process,” Kenny explains.

What results is a number of original and thought-provoking messages. The PSAs presented here were made by HIV positive young adults from YAP. The first video conveys the message that people living with HIV can give birth to and raise healthy children, have a healthy family and lead fulfilling lives. Kenny highlights this video in particular, stating:

…a number of the youth who made the “Happily Ever After” campaign are now taking their meds after making this piece. One young woman says: “Every time I take my pill in the morning I picture Emma’s face” (Emma is the name of the actress in that PSA). We couldn’t have asked for a better outcome.

This is precisely the point. The significance of the workshops is not the glossy quality of the final product; rather, it is the process which matters most. Making a short film by and for the very population it represents, and finding a collective voice together cultivates a transformative power from within. Participants complete the PSA with a critical, self-reflective understanding of the issue and the social structures and institutions that influence such an issue. In effect, the participants’ attitudes have positively shifted.

The second PSA, “One Condition”, tackles HIV stigma by asking the audience “What would you do?” in the situation of HIV disclosure. It’s an important PSA because not nearly enough people understand that HIV is a manageable disease. Advancements in treatment mean that risks of transmission have changed dramatically, and so too must people’s attitudes and fears.

For more about the workshop process and theories that underpins their approach, read the company’s statement and Kenny Shult’s article at The Good Man Project.

What do you think of these PSAs? Do you feel they successfully address a lack in public discourse about living with HIV? What messages would you like to see more of?

An effective condom message

I end with this last video about the importance of safer sex. Unlike the PSAs of the 1990s, this video addresses real obstacles (like embarrassment of buying condoms) and conveys real choices. It offers an alternative ending to another video about condom use and brings light to the forgotten option of female condoms. We follow a guy throughout the day as he prepares for a date, yet at each point that a condom presents itself he is too embarrassed or uncomfortable to pick one up. When the moment comes he is unprepared. Lucky for him, condom use isn’t just a guy’s responsibility.

To view more videos campaigns made with CHS by teens, LGBTQ folk, high school bullies and more, check out the My Media Life playlist by CHS.

What gets me hot?

Or, switch the question around a bit: When do I feel hottest?

The answer may not sound so hot at first: safety gets me hot. Or, in other words, I feel hottest when I feel safest.

I don’t mean that indiscriminately. I don’t mean I’m a medical kit fetishist. I don’t salivate over sterile gauze and neosporine tubes. I also don’t get my knickers in a twist over seat belts, locked doors, and the before-take-off emergency directions on airplanes. What I mean is that in the context of sex, safety is a must. Only when I feel truly safe do I also feel free, uninhibited, and able to totally enjoy what’s going down between me and my partner(s).

Consent Makes Me Horny

The sort of safety I need comes in a lot of forms. One of the most basic forms is consent. There’s no way I’ll get into the bed of any man or woman if I think they won’t hear me when I say “no,” and long before that look for me to say “yes”. Sex is never a promise. Watching a film together, drinking together, making googly eyes at one another across a table, is never a promise. Just like getting into bed with someone is also not a promise. Respectful partners, good partners, hot lovers pay attention and check consent all along the way. The best sex happens when partners aim to please, and part of aiming to please is paying attention to what your partner wants at every step, and never forcing it.

Condoms Make Me Horny

The essentials covered, another of the fundamentals of safety is, yes, contraceptive safety. I have a personal preference for condoms. They don’t mess with my body’s hormones, they’re reversible and fairly non-invasive. To be uninhibited in bed, I need to feel fairly confident that no babies are going to result, as I’m not yet at a point in life when babies are what I want. Condoms have the added benefit of protecting against STIs. Twofer, as far as I’m concerned.

CondomsMakeMeHorny-OnBed-croppedI hate the condom discussion, and if a guy objects too strongly to wrapping it up, I’m often inclined to ditch him, no matter how into him I am. To me complaining about condoms shows a lack of respect for my welfare and also a lack of responsibility for his own. Both of those things suck.

But you know what’s really hot?

When a guy wraps it up, no questions asked, and even takes initiative and responsibility for protecting against pregnancy and infection. When he does things like, you know, ask me how I want to handle it and gets out a condom himself.

I’m so trained to equate condoms with truly hot sex that I’m like Pavlov’s dogs. Far from creating an odd moment out, for me I see those square little wrappers appear from pockets and bedside drawers and I get excited. I know what comes next!

The safer I feel with someone, the more uninhibited I feel. Everyone knows that inhibitions can really get in the way, and I’ve got to say, feeling uninhibited leads to some pretty amazingly hot encounters.

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

The Person on the Other Side of Your Herpes Diagnosis

Upon her sex partners herpes diagnosis, Pilar Reyes reflects on her personal path from initial anger to condoms enthusiast. The opinions shared are the authors own.

FuckItWe had been sleeping together on and off for a few months when he got herpes. At first, it was the usual immature reaction: panic, followed by anger, followed by bitter text messages that said, “We’re never fucking ever again!” But that wasn’t true, because despite the echoes of my high school sex education that had planted the seed of “anybody who has an STD is a dirty, bad person,” the sex was still good, and I still wanted to fuck him.

So I did my research. The Internet threw a lot of information at me, but at the end of the day I knew one thing for sure: condoms, condoms, condoms. We had always used condoms before the diagnosis, and it seemed that now using protection was imperative. The herpes virus is spread via direct physical contact. The herpes virus can shed from the skin and be passed from person to person even in the absence of a physical outbreak. Even with the use of condoms, herpes can still be passed on, although the use of condoms greatly diminishes that risk.

I looked at the odds, I looked at my needs, and I came to the conclusion that the risk was worth the reward. Armed with the knowledge that I could potentially spread an STD to my other sexual partners, I did the responsible thing and let them know. Of course, when they found out, they decided to stop sleeping with me. That was fine, because it wasn’t that serious anyways. I guess that’s the thing about casual sex – at the risk of STDs, it becomes a less worthwhile pursuit.

Which was why my partner and I became less casual and more serious. After a brief hiatus, and after the initial outbreak cleared up, I realized that the sex wasn’t the only reason I was coming back. Maybe it was the shared experience of dealing with a new STD diagnosis together, or maybe it was the fact that I hadn’t completely ditched him because of his herpes, we decided, fuck it, we clearly care about each other. Let’s stop fucking around and start dating.

It would have been really easy to instead close my legs and walk away at that point. Certainly all my friends had advised me to do so, but when I had done my initial medical research, I also came across an online community devoted to debunking the STD shaming that is pervasive in modern culture. At first I was surprised that I had never come across this point of view before. As a feminist and an avid anti-slut shamer, it just made sense. Given my initial reaction and my friends’ reactions to the situation, I realized that , much to my chagrin, our attitudes to STDs were not exactly PC. Sure, I have friends with HIV and herpes, but they were certainly not people that I would have even considered having sex with. Of course, that’s a completely unfair perspective, because all it takes is a condom to diminish your risk. So long as a person is honest when disclosing their STDs, there shouldn’t be a problem.

To give this story a happy ending, my partner and I are still together. We have safe sex every time, and, while I still do not have herpes, I’ve come to realize that if I get herpes, then I’ll have herpes. It won’t be a life shattering event, nor should it be, for myself or anyone else. Sure, I certainly don’t want an STD, nor does anyone else, but much like a cold or like acne, often times STDs are merely inconvenient medical conditions. With proper education, you can diminish your risk. Fuck it – just use a condom every time.

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

What Fire & Ice Condoms Feel Like According to Pilar Reyes

This story by Pilar Reyes is originally published on Fuck Feast (@fuckfeast) and cross-posted with permission. The opinions shared are the writer’s own. NSFW. 

Whenever I’m in the “Family Planning” aisle at Walmart, usually I just spring for the condoms that are on sale today. Sure, I can always score condoms at various free clinics and free love inclined coffee shops in Oakland, but it’s always good to have some back up, just in case. About a week and a half ago I bought a 36 pack of Trojans, you know, the one that has 4 different varieties of condoms on them. Generally, it would never occur to me to buy those weird “Fire & Ice” condoms or anything other than standard, cheap condoms because, I’ll be honest, I’m not the one with the penis and different types of condoms don’t really create any marginal increase in pleasure, so who cares. (Maybe the dude cares, but if he really cares that much, shouldn’t he be the one buying condoms? And while we’re on that subject, how come it’s always my responsibility to have the condoms? Dudes in this city are so underprepared. I guess every boy in Oakland failed in the Boy Scouts department.)

Anyways, back on topic. I wasn’t really paying attention to the type of condom that the boy was putting on (mostly I just cared that it got on there), but after a few minutes there was this weird tingly-numb sensation in my pussy that immediately made me think, “I’m dying inside my vagina.” But, no, a few seconds later, I thought, “Maybe I’m contracting an STD right now and this is what it feels like….”

Read the full story at Fuck Feast

f-feast (1)

Pilar Reyes is an Oakland native who still lives in her hometown. She publishes pieces daily for Fuck Feast [www.fuckfeast.net], her personal blog. When she’s not writing, she’s doing bad things. Follow her on Twitter: @pilar [www.twitter.com/pilar].

Condoms and Kama Sutra: An interview with Vena Ramphal

I spend a lot of time in the sex-positive community trying to connect with new people. Somewhere along the way, I found myself clicking through the gooey rhetoric of tantric sex. Like, “It’s the art of disappearing inside each other”…“It dissolves the boundaries between two people…even beyond having a body.” I came across an article by Vena Ramphal in the Huffington Post. Reading her breakdown of systems and terminologies, it struck me how oversimplified pop culture portrays tantric sex.

While I know little about the discipline, I think it’s fair to place it in the sex-positive category. But where do practicalities of safer sex come into play? I mean, it’s not common to see condoms in erotic drawings of the Kama Sutra.  Do tantric sex coaches ever implement condoms when teaching “spiritual awareness”?

How do tantric professional approach issues of STIs? Of sexual health?

Follow Vena on Twitter @VenaRamphal

Follow Vena on Twitter @VenaRamphal

For Vena Ramphal, safe sex begins with emotional intelligence. Vena Ramphal (PhD) is a philosopher and teacher of erotic pleasure and romance. Her background is in yogic-tantric philosophy and the pleasure traditions of the Kama Sutra. She is also a twitter poet, offering insights into the subtleties of intimacy. We agreed to an interview and she shared her thoughts on sex positivity and safer sex.

How do you define “sex positivity” or sex positive approaches in education and counseling? How do you relate to this within your work?

For me, sex positivity is simple. It says, ‘Sexual pleasure as good not guilty.’ To be sex positive is to see physical intimacy as being good for people. This is a very different frame of reference to our dominant cultural understanding which see sexual pleasure in terms of morality.

To look at sex as a nurturing experience that engenders physical, mental and emotional wellbeing is a good basis on which to generate sex positive discourse. In my work I help people to reframe their attitudes to sex on this basis.

Does the use of condoms and other safe sex practices enter the discourse of sexual pleasure/awareness? How have you dealt with this in your work?

In my work the practicalities of safe sex – such as condoms and sexual health checks – are a base line. There are still a lot of people who don’t get regular sexual health checks – especially those in their fifties and above, so it’s really important to have this conversation.

However, I also coach people to think about safe sex more subtly – as a practice in emotional intelligence.

For example, it takes emotional intelligence to know what you want to do, and what you don’t want to do with your body; and to communicate during sex especially when your partner asks for something you don’t want to give.

Safe sex is about holding your own boundaries and respecting your partner’s boundaries – their body, their mood and their desires.

We need to integrate the idea of safe sex into discourses on sexual pleasure. The health and safety side of sex – condoms etc. – is still seen as inhibiting pleasure, so people are reluctant to talk about it. They’d rather talk about the fun stuff. Getting them to think about safe sex as an emotionally intelligent thing to do, gives them a new way of looking at the practicalities of wearing a condom.

What do you feel is an important problem in mainstream consciousness about “healthy sex” and how do you suggest to fix it?

I think the baseline problem is that in mainstream consciousness sex is still seen as forbidden fruit. This injects guilt into sexuality and however subconscious this might be, it creates a fundamentally unhealthy relationship with sex.

We need to change our cultural mythology of sex. It’s a big ask but I think we need to free sex of guilt. We’ll accomplish this by changing the way we think and feel about sex. Of course this is a multi-aspected task. Our cultural mythology is told through so many media, from language (swear words are an interesting example of how we damage our relationship with sex) to movies and sex education policy.

I think a good place to start is to develop the highest regard for your own body, irrespective of sex. This is something that we can all do for ourselves without external help. Replace critical thoughts and feelings about your body with appreciative ones. Give up saying anything disparaging about your looks. This is only a first step but its a significant one because your relationship with your body is the foundation for your sex life.

In the field of sex counseling and education, what sets you apart from common approaches and what defines your work?

I’m a philosopher of sex. To me, sex as an expression of self. The technicalities of good sex are only the first step. I think the really interesting questions are underneath the technicalities. Questions such as ‘How fully are you giving your attention to the point where flesh meets flesh?’
‘What sexual attitude do you bring to bed with you?’ ‘What effect does sex have on your emotions?’

For me, the flesh is the most immediate and complete expression of self, more than thoughts or words. When I’m educating people about the technicalities of good sex we discuss their intentions and attitudes towards sex and their partner.

Also I teach a self-centred rather than relationship-centred approach to sex. This isn’t about being selfish but about knowing what you want and what you don’t want. It’s about knowing how to read your own desire and listen to your body. On this basis you learn to hold your partner’s body and desires in the highest regard

What do you think it is about your identity that brought you into the field of sex education?

I think the human body is extraordinary. I’d say that my experience of the world is primarily kinaesthetic. I trained in classical Indian dance from the time I was seven, and loved it. My first career was as a dancer and choreographer. To me the body is precious because of its capacity to express who-I-am to who-you-are. Sex is the most intricate and intimate form of that expression.

I feel sad when I see people in poor relationship with their own sexuality. Its a missed opportunity. I’m glad to be able to help people improve their approach to erotic pleasure so they have more fulfilling sex lives.

More with Vena…

Follow Vena on twitter @VenaRamphal

For easy, practical tips on becoming sexier 28 Days to Being Sexier http://tinyurl.com/PassionTips

Vena’s blog http://venaramphal.wordpress.com/

Workshop ‘The Art of Conscious Romance‘ London, 26th May

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Advice: Dealing with condom rejection

This post is for anyone who has a partner that always moans (in a bad way) about using a condom; for anyone who has experienced condom hating; and for anyone who refuses to wear a condom.  This is to equip you with reasoning and responses to possible excuses for not using condoms.

A fact we need to face:

When you insist on using a condom you are doing the right thing!  Condom usage is about caring for yourself and caring for your partner.  Many people get uncomfortable in the condom situation or give-in to not using one because the other doesn’t want to.  It is your right as a human being to assert your health needs with your partner.  As Heather Corinna puts it: “Asking someone to care for you in any way is not a barrier to intimacy: it’s not asking that keeps space between you…sexual health or even just how to use condoms and use them in a way that works for both of you is not something that keeps people apart, but that brings people closer together.”

In other words, caring for yourself should be a caring partner’s want.  If your partner can’t respect your desire to be safe than that is a relationship-red-flag.

Here are some responses you can give to whatever your partner dishes out.  Some of these scenarios are from sex educator, Laci Green.  For more advice, check out her post and watch her entertaining and informative video on how to deal with sex safety.

Responses to Condom Hate

________________________

Partner: “It doesn’t feel good.”  “I can’t feel anything”.
You:“I can’t enjoy sex if I don’t feel safe.” “The safer I feel, the hotter the sex.”

Note: Those who say that they can’t feel anything with a condom are a) being dishonest and/or b) have a lack of experience and are not using condoms properly.  Check out our post on the myths of condom hate.

________________________

Partner: “You think I have an STD”. “You don’t trust me.”
You:“This isn’t about me thinking that here is something wrong with you; this is about both our health.” “Don’t you care about the same thing?”

_________________________

Partner:I want to be closer to you/feel you.”
You:I can’t feel close to you if I don’t feel safe.”

_________________________

Partner: “Just this one time.
You:We’ve got all these condoms.  Let’s do it more than once!” “Once is one too much for me.”

_________________________

Partner: “They never fit.”
You:There are so many styles of condoms, let’s try them out and see which ones are best!”  “If it’s too big for a condom, it’s too big for me.”- Laci Green

Note: Check out our condom fitting solutions chart for help finding the right condoms. 

_________________________

CondomWrapperHeart

 

For more advice and ideas check out Laci Green’s website.  Scarleteen is pretty great too.

What other excuses and responses are out there?  What have you experienced?

 

Contraceptive Contraptions: A history of the condom

The earliest known image of STD protection dates back to 1000BC Egypt. (Images sourced from Perera (2004) "Taking Precautions". pg 94.

The earliest known image of STD protection dates back to 1000BC Egypt. (Images sourced from Perera (2004) Taking Precautions: An intimate history of birth control. pg 94.

A site about condoms and condom stories is never complete, and neither is the lavish, outlandish history of the device.  It’s history is full of insights into human character with all its flaws and foibles.

The invention of the latex condom is relatively new in modern history.  However, the principle to protect against sexually transmitted diseases and infections (STIs) dates back to at least 1,000BC (Perera, 2004: 95).  Ancient Egyptians were protecting themselves with linen sheaths from a parasitic disease known as Schistosomiasis.  Anthropologists have also found evidence of female condoms to prevent pregnancy.  The Petri Papyrus of 1850BC lists several female condoms, one of which was crocodile’s dung cut up on auyt-paste and inserted into the vagina.  In fact, animal dung was used as a female contraceptive across many societies.  The Aztec Badianus manuscript of 1552 explains, “and you shall put into the vulva the crushed herb of the calabash or cucurbita root and eagle’s excrement.”  Dung stuffed linen aside, the one devise that could protect against both STDs and pregnancy wasn’t produced until 1855 during the industrial revolution and the advent of vulcanized rubber.

Of course, when safer sex first became a known practice in ancient societies, the scientific frameworks for understanding biology, medicine, sexuality, and public health were vastly different.  Hippocrates, the father of western medicine once stated, “After coitus if the woman ought not to conceive, she makes it a custom for the semen to fall outside when she wishes this” (R.I.Chalmers, 1987)… pause … blink … isn’t this reminiscent of the 2012 Teaparty Candidate Todd Akin’s infamous statement that women’s bodies can prevent pregnancy in cases of “legitimate rape”?

Anyway, I’m not stating that the risks of unwanted pregnancies and transmitting or contracting STIs is significantly less in contemporary life because we may have greater public awareness and better medical technology.  Rather it’s to recognize that health science and perceptions of “risks” and “healthy” sexuality are products of social contexts- its history and location, politics and economics- and therefore have a transformable quality.  That’s what makes the story of the condom throughout human civilization so interesting; because, like a flirtatious cuttlefish, it morphs into so many different types, shapes, and sizes, not to mention the amount of knowledge, myth and stigma that have carried throughout its making.

Contraceptive Censorship

Just to mention a few effects of stigma: In 1873, the U.S. government illegalized the advertisement of any contraception. That same set of laws also allowed for the confiscation of condoms sent through the mail and banned the sale of any condoms in up to thirty states (Collier, 2007).  Due to the belief that venereal disease was the price one paid for sinful choices, health experts from The American Social Hygiene Association objected to American soldiers being issued condoms- so during WWI they weren’t (Perera, 2004).

Skip over 113 years and we face statistics like 35% of all U.S. sex education programs require abstinence be taught as the ONLY option for unmarried people and either prohibit any discussions of contraception or limit discussions to its ineffectiveness.  Stigma still runs amuck sexuality and safer sex practices today.

So what preceded the latex condom?  As the most basic device for safe sex, different versions of the barrier method were utilized in most societies for millennium, and thus it is near impossible to account for all sexual practices, customs, beliefs, and attitudes.  Here we take a glimpse into some western society habits in which the devise was made at the expense of sexual pleasure; almost all made with only hetero-male health and interests in mind; and certainly most practices kept in secrecy from public mind and records.

Medieval to Victorian, Dung to Intestine   

The first western medical record of the condom is found in Gabriello Falloppio’s book on syphilis published in 1564 when the STD was a European epidemic.  He details condoms that he made from linen sheaths dipped in salt and herbs and tied under the foreskin.  Nothing in his records test comfort or sexual satisfaction, but we do know that animal intestines eventually became the superior condom material.

Users tended to hail from higher-income strata as condom were expensive and available only in boutique shops in the cities where seamstresses handmade each baudruches. Louis XVI could afford to have his animal-bowel condoms lined with velvet and silk.  There were some available for those with less income if one was willing to buy second-hand.  As Shyama Perera’s explains in her book Taking Precautions: An intimate history of birth control (2004), there was a “Miss Jenny” in 1820s London who hand-washed used condoms and resold them at a more affordable price.

The Rise of Rubber

By the 1850s, vulcanized rubber was invented and condoms started to roll out of factories.  The process was labor intensive as each rubber condom was dipped in cement and then hand-shaped and smoothed by rubbing and trimming.  It was also a major fire hazard because gasoline and benzene were used to suspend the rubber.  Rubber condoms were reusable and had a shelf life of about 3 months making them more economical, but the “skin” condoms remained the preferred product for better comfort and sensitivity (keep in mind, lubricant wasn’t invented until 1957.  Ouch!).  Also, at this time, there were no standard quality control methods.  According to condom historian, Aine Collier, some American factories sold their defective condoms at a cheaper price rather than discard them.

Another outcome of the Industrial Revolution was the beginning shifts of condoms away from a sign of wealth towards health.  By WWI, the use of condoms was more prominent among European soldiers as the rate of STDs increased.  Armed forces would distribute them for free to its members even in countries where condoms were illegal for the general population (the U.S. military did not catch on to condom sense until WWII).

Introducing Trojan Latex

In 1920, Young Rubber Company, the makers of Trojan, was the first to manufacture a latex condom, which was a great improvement from the rubber condom because they were easier and far less of a fire hazard to produce.  Latex is also thinner, smoother, and stronger with longer lasting shelf life then rubber.  By 1932, Europe’s first latex condom, Durex, was manufactured on conveyor system assembly lines, making them far less labor intensive nor subject to human error.

Marie Stopes’s first health clinic in London did make condoms readily available and was the only outlet from which women could buy them.  However, the clinic encouraged women to use female contraceptive techniques, such as the cervical cap, rather than rely on protection made for men.

Quality Control

Stigma around the use of contraceptives continued and disinformation meant that not everyone trusted condoms.  Of course, the lack of quality control specifications didn’t help.  Perera (2004) documents rumors stating that Catholic factory staff would deliberately poke holes in condoms.  The introduction of electronic testing machines helped eradicate rumors.  By 1957, the manufacturing process advanced to dramatically reduce the amount of defective rubber and latex, and also allow the first lubricated condom on the market.  It wasn’t until the 1960s that most countries in Europe and North America established a certification of national standard specifications for condoms manufacturers to follow.

What were once common problems of slippage and breakage are virtually obsolete with contemporary production.  Today, different studies on latex condom breakage tend to reflect a breakage rate of around .4%, or only 4 breaks in every 1,000 uses.  Which means that if a condom breaks than it is highly likely caused by user-error rather than manufacturer issues.

The Discovery of AIDS and Height of Condom Use

With industrialization, condoms increasingly became relied upon.  Yet it wasn’t until the 1980s and 90s when HIV/AIDS was first declared a pandemic, that condoms became fervently promoted by governments and health organizations.  Within the first year of the UK campaign, condom sales increase by 20%. 1988 was the first time in condom history in which condoms were the most popular birth control choice for British married couples.  In the U.S., condoms ranked third in popularity among married couples, and a strong second among single women following the Pill.

The Femidom

It was during the time of the first HIV/AIDS crisis that the female condom was manufactured on a large scale despite many experts’ false and damaging advice that women were at “low risk” of contracting HIV.  The Femidom, or FC2, is far more advanced than lemon halves used by ancients and cervical caps promoted in the 1920, which do not protect against STDs/STIs.   The FC2 is a device made of polyurethane that is inserted into the vagina with a wide base that sits on the outer parts of the vulva.  Besides allowing females to be in control of condom use, another advantage of the FC2, is that it can be inserted for up to 8 hours before sex- so no intermission needed for application.

Contemporary Condom Conundrum

The twenty-first century condom is produced by a greater range of manufacturers, non-profit organizations, and government programs around the world.  Thanks to modern technological innovation, condoms are far more comfortable, safer, stronger, and smoother then Greek goat’s bladders or oiled silk paper.  Who knows what the next advancement will be.  There are reports of spray-on condoms in the midst.

The promotion and availability of condoms has also dramatically improved.  Nowadays, condoms are typically displayed in public restrooms, supermarkets and pharmacies, or bought in bulk online without age restriction or parental consent required.  And they are affordable enough to not need rinsing and re-using!

Condoms have reached a status of “common sense” for many.  An American-based 2010 study by the Alan Guttmacher Institute found that the condom is the most common protection used at first intercourse (females 68% and males 80%).

However, the same study found that as individuals continue to have sex, their use of condoms decreases as they get older.  The rate of STDs/STIs is extremely high among American youth:  One in two sexually active individuals will get a STD usually before the age of 25.  According to the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, 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.

Want to see a visual account of condom history?  Here is a mini-documentary (7:47min.) by Trojan to commemorate Condom Month (February, of course), and posted by Queerty Online Mag.

…So the condom campaign continues.  History never ends.  For a more on problems with condom use, read here about the case to include more condoms in everyday popular culture.

 

 

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.