Tag Archives: safe sex

3 People and An HIV Positive Baby?

The problem is so common there is a term for it. Andrew shares his personal struggle trying to deter the “bug chasers” from his “gift” (NSFW).

drewsmonologueI have been around the block quite a lot and I thought I had seen and read everything and that nothing would shock me…but I was wrong! A few years ago I was chatting with friends on Gaydar when a bisexual husband and wife started talking with me. At first all was going well- just casual chats. Soon this changed to a very sexually infused conversation so I told them I was HIV+. I thought that this would be the end of it and that I would get the usual comments back when I disclosed that I carry what some had labelled “THE GAY PLAGUE”.

But much to my shock they got even more eager and horny saying ,“Oh please fuck us bareback!”

Now don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t even here looking for sex, let alone sex without a condom. I tried getting rid of these people who seemed to be looking to become positive but this didn’t work. So I tried explaining to them the downsides to having a disease like this: the tiredness, the slow healing, stigma and losing friends and family due to misunderstandings. None of this sunk in. If anything, it seemed to turn them on even more. By this time, I had resorted to my basic instincts and frankly told them where they could insert their desires and that I wanted nothing to do with them.

Now I’m not a fan of children in anyway and avoid them and their screaming like a medieval person would avoid a plague infested rat, but on this occasion I had to act.

You see, what got anger levels way up was they had said above all else they wanted me to fuck the wife bareback filling her with my “poz seed” and making sure that she fell pregnant by me so that they could have a positive baby! I felt sick and disgusted and so scared of the fact that there were people that not only wanted to be “POZ” themselves but would actively seek to create a new life- a baby who would be born with this terrible life-altering disease.

So I did what any decent human being would; I blocked the people, warned the room, and even spoke to Gaydar themselves, letting them know that the profile in question was seeking to purposefully contract “HIV” and to get the lady pregnant with a “positive” baby.

Gaydar said that it wasn’t within their control and that they didn’t have the right to tell people what they could or couldn’t do on their website and that I should just ignore them. Now I wasn’t satisfied with this outcome so I turned to the charity which offers advice to people about “HIV” and other STIs, ‘Terrance Higgins Trust’. I thought that they would agree with me and make a stand; tell Gaydar to block these people from the site and at least help educate people more. But no. They said as well that they couldn’t control what people did and that it wasn’t their place to tell Gaydar what to do.

I was lost and didn’t know what to do about this situation aside from carrying on telling people who wanted bareback with a positive person that they would be very sorry and have to deal with so much grief both from stigma and dealing with side effects of medication. Most people saw how stupid what they wanted was and changed their minds but some still went on looking and would search out those that were known as “Gift Givers” who would infect these “Bug Chasers”, as they called themselves.

Due to this situation, I have avoided Gaydar. Once people had learned I was HIV Positive they were drawn like bees to honey and it depressed me so much seeing their stupidity time and time again that I would at times cry.

There were a few things I realised due to this terrible event. The education of sexually communicable diseases needs to be increased and made openly available along with better display of condoms in shops, and that websites and other places that people can go for sex take more responsibility for dealing with people who are actively searching for the “GIFT” of disease from those people who are infected.

Monologues are independent stories and the opinions shared 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

Sexual Health & Relationship Education via Life Stories

A riart Grrrl, a folklorist and a condom monologuer get together to discuss the phenomenon of real-life storytelling in the context of sex education

The three authors of this post come from different trajectories in the field of sex and sexuality but we share the belief that real-life storytelling should play an intrinsic role in sexual health and relationships education (SRE).

storytelling pieceHere we discuss the need for real-life stories that address safer sex practices and how to navigate health risks in relevant ways. Dr. Jeana Jorgensen and Xaverine Bates both explain that sharing real-life stories has transformative power to validate perspectives which may be overlooked or silenced in public discourse. Storytelling has the ability to convey scenarios that one may never have imagined before. Hence, they raise awareness about social issues and invite people to learn and unlearn ways of looking at bodies and desires. As stated by Xaverine Bates, founder of riart Grrls and aGender, “The power of storytelling is crucial for truly effective sex and relationship education (SRE), with a firm emphasis on emotional health in order to foster a deep understanding of what constitutes a healthy relationship.”

Taboo Manages How We Talk about Sex

Dr. Jeana Jorgensen, folklorist and writer at MySexProfessor.com, argues that due to social taboo towards talking publicly about sexual experiences, these life stories

“are limited to settings where the teller doesn’t have a professional or personal stake in the listeners’ reactions. I think this is unfortunate, because personal narratives are really potent genres for education. When someone tells a personal narrative, they not only educate the listener (by conveying facts about their life), but they also invite the listener to empathize with them and consider their values.”

Jeana continues, “So, because of the taboo on oversharing about one’s sexual activities in many settings, people tend to share personal narratives on sexual topics within their peer groups, age groups, friend groups, and hobby groups. This guarantees that if you’re making yourself vulnerable by sharing sexual information, you’re probably doing it to a sympathetic audience. But it also means that you risk living within an echo chamber, and you’ll only hear stories that confirm your own set of values. To that end, I think it’s really important for people from diverse backgrounds to learn each other’s stories and thereby gain empathy for how different life circumstances can lead to a variety of life (and lifestyle) choices.”

The internet is one place where people subvert this taboo and overcome issues of access. At Condom Monologues we’ve circumscribed a bully-free space that aims to be as inclusive as possible allowing anyone to ask questions and share their experiences with safe sex (see our archive). Whether the admins agree with the storyteller’s values or choices is not the point. However, we do not represent everyone’s experiences and have our limitations. One can never control how stories are appropriated and re-purposed in the digital world, and that is a risk all storytellers face. But there are ways to protect identity as well as mediate discussion around sharing stories, such as workshops like aGender (explained below).

Teaching Which Facts with What Stories…

The taboo Jeana highlights also affects the way in which sex education informs students. Narratives in class are rooted in political interests and social fears around sexuality. Pleasure and desire are rarely mentioned even as a side-issue. Instead, young people are fed a platter of warnings and doom-laden data about STI epidemics and teen pregnancy. One need not look further than this and that mandatory abstinence-only assembly to be told horror stories about how boyfriends used “condoms that had holes in them” or told girls that if they use birth control “your mother probably hates you.”

KnowledgeIsPowerEducators rarely offer information about safer sex beyond vaginal-penis intercourse. Diverse sexuality and the spectrum of (trans)gender identity are excluded. Addressing issues such as STI stigma, homophobic, transphobic and sexist language, cyber-bullying, sexting and sexual anxieties are inadequate at best.

Medical information is often presented without context nor provide students with diverse options on how to apply these facts in real-life sexual relationships. And that’s if we can call them “facts” to begin with! In the US, only 13 states require sex education to actually be medically accurate, according to a 2012 study by the Guttmacher Institute. Meanwhile, in the UK, Xaverine explains that “there is currently a bias towards the biological side of SRE” which “favors plain biological facts” without focus on issues of enthusiastic consent and emotional confidence.

What Young Adults are Saying

Students’ experiences in sexual health class are telling. As a college instructor, Jeana hears young people share their experiences in sex education which, she explains, “constitutes their own type of personal narrative. The topics that people remembered tended to be biological rather than emotional; physiology was covered, but not necessarily relationships or pleasure.”

Xaverine agrees. She points to testimonies by 19-21 year olds who participated in women’s-only focus groups that examined the effectiveness of SRE (Kavanagh, 2011).

For example, one participant said,

I was like scarred by sex education at secondary school, they came in with like these big blown up pictures of STIs and stuff and said, you know, if you have sex and stuff this is what will happen to you. It was horrible…(ibid, p-13).

All focus-group participants commented on the lack of relationship education in schools with an emphasis purely on the biological. As one put it,

I think relationships and morals and respect need to be put back in place, for everyone, not just males or females, and I don’t believe in the saying nothing (abstinence teaching) because I think if everybody was to turn around to me and be like, you’re not doing this, you’re not doing that, I’d do it…I’d rebel (ibid, p-15).

“Comprehensive” SRE is in dire need of revision. Negligence of these topics results in an unsafe, non-engaging space that silences and restricts young people’s sexuality and gender identity. Students are left inarticulate about what they want, what they need and how to manage risks. Thus the vicious cycle of sex-shaming continues and proliferates the spread of STIs and unhealthy sexual relationships.

Changing Narratives

Failures in sex education programs are the reason why organizations like aGender exist. In an attempt to move beyond standard curricula, Xaverine states that “opportunities need to be made for young people to talk about their fears, expectations and experiences of sex and relationships in a healthy and supportive environment…without fear of embarrassment or repercussions from peers, teachers, parents or carers. This is what we are aiming for at aGender.”

“aGender is beginning its pilot project this month, which consists of a series of workshops to complement an exhibition, txt, at Claremont Studios in St Leonards, which will be a collection of contemporary visual artworks that incorporate written word. The exhibition will explore the tension and complexity created when a word is used not only for its literal meaning but also as a visual cue to lead through to layers of subtext and implied meaning. In light of the current reports on the psychological impact of texting, sexting and cyberbullying on young children, SMS messaging and the power of seemingly innocent words to imply malicious, threatening messages- it is anticipated that the challenging nature of the artwork will be both engaging and inspirational for them both as viewers and as participants in the workshops.”

Storytelling as a Transformative Process

Storytelling has played an important role even during the preliminary stages for aGender. Xaverine explains,

“As part of our research in planning the workshops, which cover texting, sexting & cyber-bullying, we have had many discussions within our focus group about how best to tackle such a difficult subject. As a result, we have shared many of our own experiences of sex education, our own relationships, previous abusive situations and much more, all through the medium of storytelling.”

Image from Xaverine Bates' blog depicting one of her live art performances on gender stereotyping and class.

Image from Xaverine Bates’ blog depicting ‘Peepshow 2’, one of her live art performances with Miranda Sharp on gender stereotyping and class.

She continues, “It will be fascinating to hear the young peoples’ stories . We are planning to have a multi-platform element to the workshops, incorporating social media of their choice (e.g. instagram, twitter, etc.) to encourage young people to engage with the subject in the days between workshops. This way we will hopefully elicit more stories that they may feel uncomfortable in telling us directly, as many feel more comfortable revealing personal information via social media, which ironically is one of the reasons that the problem of sexting has arisen in the first place – the illusion of anonymity and neutrality has enabled young people to feel that exposing themselves in their bedrooms is acceptable to post online, to potentially thousands of viewers. This false sense of security is what leads to the repercussions as seen in aggressive bullying and cyberbullying.”

Read updates about how the work shop went.

aGender’s project is one example in which artful use of information and communication strategies can re-engage public awareness and find new ways to talk about being a body, being sexual, and negotiating healthy relationships. Jeana also pinpoints the transformative phenomenon of personal storytelling and listening. She describes how sharing experiences of sexual assault can help challenge shame and affirm agency over one’s narrative. Jeana states,

“One of the most powerful things I’ve witnessed when it comes to sexual storytelling is the importance of processing trauma through storytelling. Specifically, sexual assault survivors are often able to work through what happened to them by narrating the events in a way that is transformative and therapeutic. One of my mentors at Indiana University, Dr. Nicole Kousaleos, did her dissertation on how women who have survived sexual abuse can, in narrating their stories, experience greater agency in their lives. Narrating a story is also an invitation for listeners to respond, and in this case, the audience can help reinforce that the survivor was not to blame (since one of the biggest stigmas that prevents sexual assault survivors from speaking out is the tendency in our culture to victim-blame). I’ve observed this phenomenon informally, among multiple friends and acquaintances, and thus I believe that overcoming the shameful silence surrounding sexual assault is an important part of the healing process for many people.”

“Additionally, since one of the functions of personal narratives is to create intimacy and empathy, listeners can learn more about the reality of sexual assault. The numbers are already shockingly high -such as the CDC’s estimate that nearly 1 in 5 American women have been raped at some point in their lives- but numbers are abstract, whereas people telling their stories are concrete, real, human. Storytelling about sexual violence puts a face on the problem and helps to humanize it, and that’s why I believe it’s so powerful.”

Conclusion

People are inherently story-driven. The way we understand the world is through narrative. That is why first-person stories are very powerful in facilitating awareness and understanding, especially when they offer an experience of the world never previously imagined. What’s lost in the public discourse of SRE are the real, everyday lives of youth and adults, and making medical facts relevant to their complex needs and desires. The three authors here advocate for more opportunities for people to engage in safe and participatory spaces to actively listen and reflect upon stories.

Because there are so few authentic first-person narratives in sex education (especially a lack of non-heterosexual voices), storytelling provides us with non-stereotypical and often unexpected representations of people, gender roles and relationships. Stories should not be seen as merely anecdotal but as a potential source of knowledge for both the storyteller and the audience.

———–
Kavanagh, K. (2011) ‘Priming Pubescent Sexualities; Sex and relationship education, without the relationship education?’ [unpublished].
For recent reports on cyberbulling and sexting refer to Ringrose J, Gill R, Livingstone S & Harvey L (2012). “A qualitative study of children, young people and ‘sexting’”. NSPCC.

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.

Have a Merry Masturbation!

What better way to summon the season of twitterpating than by celebrating May Masturbation Month! Here are some fun facts about Annual– now International- Month of Masturbation and some great links to help you…participate.

Dr. Jocelyn Elders. Image from US National Library of Medicine

Dr. Jocelyn Elders. Image from US National Library of Medicine

1) The true poster child of Masturbation Month is former US Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders. Following a speech at the 1994 UN World AIDS Day, Elders was asked about masturbation as a way to discourage youth from engaging in partnered sex. She responded, “I think it is something that is part of human sexuality and a part of something that perhaps should be taught” (EmpowerHer, 2010). Gasp! The result: Elder was forced to resign from government.

But this sex shaming and conservative wrath backfired with a whole month dedicated to public talks, workshops, dancings, plays of all thing Masturbation! Thanks to Good Vibrations, the guru of sex toy shops. National Masturbation Month aims to encourage people to talk freely about it, to end the guilt associated with it and dispel the notion that it is “second-best” to “real” sex (Good Vibes’ official statement).

2) The celebration of #radical self-love has taken place every year since. The ever-so-climatic Masturbate-A-Thon is its biggest fundraiser. It encourages people to collect pledges and raise funds for sex-positive non-profits. Masturbate-A-Thon was originally hosted in San Francisco by Good Vibration and has spread to other cities like Portland OR, Washington D.C., London, England, and Copenhagen, Denmark. For it’s 14th Anniversary, the Thon will be held in Philly, PA, and funds will be used to benefit local LGBTQ inclusive sex-ed organizations, Pleasure Rush! and ScrewSmart. These guys established a CrowdRise fundraiser to help raise $3,000 from 1 May to May 27th, 2013, in order to help pay for the end of the month party, festively named Creamium.

Both Pleasure Rush! and ScrewSmart believe that the Philly Masturbate-A-Thon 2013 has the power to deliver the following:
-Reduce stigma and shame around sexuality.
-Promote sexual health Create a community of dialogue around the importance of pleasure. -Give you an excuse to jerk off for hours!” (Crowdraise).

Masturbation Month Poster made and sourced from The Buzz, Good Vibrations Magazine, www.GoodVibes.com

Masturbation Month Poster made and sourced from The Buzz, Good Vibrations Magazine, www.GoodVibes.com

3) In honor of International Masturbation Month, the Center for Sex & Culture (CSC) in conjunction with Shilo McCade’s “I Masturbate…” photo exhibition (summary about the photo project), is facilitating a writing class on the power of masturbation. Participants will spend a few hours writing response to photos and sharing stories about orgasms, self-love, and other aspects of sexuality. Proceeds support the CSC.

4) Ever heard of Betty Dodson? She is only the Queen of Masturbation and a pioneer in sexual liberation. Here is a great article by a woman who attended one of Betty’s 5-hour masturbation workshops and learned new types and ways of orgasm.

5) The student run news source, The Interloper @ USC is running its first ever masturbation writing contest. Winner gets a vibrator. You can read the first story: You Are Sleeping Inside Me.

6) Think you’re a master of masturbation? Test your knowledge with this 14 question quiz!

Taboo History Brief: Why we should celebrate

Image from article by William Bell @ BlogHer.com

Image from article about Masturbation Month by William Bell @ BlogHer.com

Masturbation Month is growing in profile but it stems from a long history of societal hush-hush syndrome. In fact, masturbation didn’t receive any attention on prime time television until Seinfeld brought up the taboo topic in 1992. In the episode (wikilink), George Constanza is caught by his mother masturbating. He confesses to Jerry, Elaine and Kramer and the conversation results in the four entering a contest to determine who can go for the longest period of time without masturbating.
No one wins. What’s interesting is that while the topic is quite blatant and insinuates that everyone masturbates (often!), the word “masturbation” could not actually be spoken. NBC thought the topic wasn’t suitable for TV, so the taboo is described in a series of hilarious euphemisms.

As Good Vibrations writes, “Almost everyone masturbates, but all too few of us are willing to admit to enjoying this simple pleasure – mostly because of the taboo against masturbation in our society, which has its roots in historical misconceptions that have survived to the present day.” During the 18th, 19th, and 20th century in Europe and America, masturbation was believed to be a debilitating wastes on energy that could result in exhaustion, impotence, insanity, epilepsy, etc. People obsessed over ways to prevent and treat the destructive urge.

For example, Dr. John H Kellogg advocated that circumcision should be performed with no anesthesia in order to deter children from “self-abuse” (cracked.com). Yes, this is Kellogg of the Kellogg’s cereal. Grape-Nuts, and later Corn Flakes, were invented to prevent “fire in the blood”. As early as the 1800s, masturbation experts believed that certain foods stimulated the urge, so people were recommended certain diets that eliminated instigators like pickles, candy, and eggs, and designed non-stimulating alternatives like cold breakfast cereal.

For more investigation into the rabbit hole of bizarre anti-masturbation treatments, Cracked.com offers a great article that covers all methods from Boy Scouts’ cold showers, to leeches, and spiked penile rings, bondage belts, and clitoridectomy.

So Happy Masturbation Month Everyone!

Let’s be thankful that our notions and acceptance of the deed has evolved from spiked penis restraints to Masturbate-A-Thon fundraisers! It’s great that there are many more sex positive resources out there that help normalize masturbation for us all. In some ways, it is a political act. It’s the ultimate safe sex, it increases awareness of your body and own sexual response, it relieves cramps, and it’s fun! So celebrate!

Do you have any fun facts or masturbation resources to share? Please comment below.

It’s always nice to know if you like what you’ve read. Please let us know by tweeting this or liking us on Facebook.  

Special thanks to Good Vibrations, BlogHer, EmpowerHer, and Bitch Mag for the images and information.

 

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?

 

HPV Awakening

The US faces an HPV epidemic, yet there is still little known about the virus.  A Florida-based grassroots organization, HPV Awakening, is fighting to expand research about the virus to provide resources for treatment and prevention.  Public awareness is in desperate need of an energy boost.

Graph from the CDC

Graph from the CDC

HPV is the most prevalent and rapidly spreading STI in the USA according to a February 2013 report (PDF) by the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention). Based on the most recent data on STIs in 2008, the report finds approximately 80 million Americans are infected with some form of HPV- which makes up 71% of all STI infections in the country.  And it is spreading fast, as most people with HPV do not know they are infected.  Fourteen million will become newly infected this year. This means that almost every sexually active person in the US (regardless of sexual orientation, number of partners, age, income, etc.) will acquire HPV at some point in their lives.  In other words, we are officially in an HPV crisis.

Sounds pretty serious, eh?  In most cases, HPV will go away by itself before it causes any health problems- particularly in young people.  The problem is that there are many variations and strains of HPV- 40 of which are related to cancer- and there remains much unknown medically about the virus and how to detect it.

For example, there is no certain way to tell who will develop health problems from HPV and who will not.  For men, there is currently no FDA-approved HPV test, which means that men who have clear STI screenings with negative results should not consider themselves HPV-free or at zero-risk.  The only form of testing a male can have is through an anal pap smear (used to check for anal cancer), and only if he has been the recipient of anal sex, not directly as a method to check for HPV.  For women, there are test to directly detect the virus, but they are not mandatory- you still have to specifically ask for them, despite how prevalent HPV is in the USA.   In 2009, the FDA approved DNA testing for HPV yet blood donations and samples are not screened.

What is HPV? Human Papillomavirus is an infection of the skin and mucous membranes.  There are over 100 strains of HPV of which 40 are identified as sexually transmitted infections.  It is often called “genital warts”, because when a strain causes warts (not all do) and symptoms are visible it appears as tiny cauliflower-like clusters on the genitals.  These HPV types can also infect the mouth and throat.  Other strains are cancerous and some are a direct cause of cervical, anal, and oral cancer.  On average, about 15,000 women get diagnosed yearly with cervical cancer and about 80% of these cases are cause by HPV.

In most cases, HPV shows no symptoms yet remains highly contagious, and unfortunately, condoms do not offer 100% protection.  However, they are by far safer than going without protection.  It is generally stated by health organizations that condoms provide approximately 70% protection against HPV.

How does it spread? Penetrative sex or exposure to bodily fluids, like semen, is not needed to contract HPV.  It is transmittable by skin-to-skin contact during oral, vaginal, anal, and manual sex.  It is most commonly transmitted from direct genital-to-genital contact (touching two sets of genitals together without a protective barrier).  Some strains can be transmitted from kissing.

The CDC recently reported that HPV is contactable from mother to child through vaginal birth.  Yet there is still much unknown about the virus.  For example, the only studies released for HPV cases in children are from oral cancer cases.  As the non-profit organization, HPV Awakening points out, no information has been released about whether or not children are being examined for anal, cervical or other cancers caused by HPV.

How is it diagnosed? HPV is detected from examination of warts and from tissue samples taken during a gynecological or urological exam. For women, a PAP smear does not test for the virus itself, but may detect precancerous condition that are caused by HPV.  There are DNA tests that can be done with or without a PAP smear.  These tests can determine if the type of HPV is a high-risk stain.  For men, there is currently no FDA-approved HPV test, which means that men who have clear STI screenings with negative results should not consider themselves HPV-free or at zero-risk.

Is it curable or treatable? No. Warts can be removed.  However, the virus may still remain in the body and can be transmitted to partners, and/or cause long-term health problems like cervical cancer.

Unfortunately, neither public awareness nor medical understanding of HPV matches these severely high statistics. Few people, both teens and adults, think about how a condom is only 70% effective against the virus or that a clear STI screening does not indicate that they are HPV-free.  Blood banks do not screen for HPV.

And HPV is considered a “none-reportable” STI.  This means that the US government and the CDC do not feel that individuals have a legal obligation to be informed by a partner that they have had a history of or currently have an “active” case of HPV.

Yet rather than acknowledging our unfamiliarity and unawareness of HPV we, the general public, continue to reinforce great social stigma with being diagnosed with an STI.  And thus, the ignorance continues.  This is precisely why the non-profit group HPV Awakening exists: to educate the general public and push for more investment in medical research.

WebHPV Awakening Inc.: was founded by Tashia Ameneiro shortly after she was diagnosed with HPV at 25 years old.  She contracted the virus from her first sexual partner who had known he was a carrier but did not tell her.  It wasn’t long after that Tashia found herself trying to coop with a severe lack of public resources compounded with social stigma for being diagnosed with an STI.  The impact of being diagnosed led her and her friends (Virginia Pena and Yvette Rodriguez) to launch HPV Awakening- A nonprofit to counteract social stigma through public education.

The Miami-based organization is the first established non-profit in North America to address general HPV that is not limited to one cancer form or another caused by HPV.  They run workshops, lectures, and info booths at universities, schools and community events to raise public awareness about HPV and how to protect one self.  They have partnered with major community-based organizations, such as the Village South/WestCare – Project IMPACT, hosting the First Cervical Cancer Day at FIU in January 2013 to provide a wide range of free health information to the public. HPV Awakening has also partnered with several student organizations such as VOX, WSSA (Women’s Studies Student Association), The Vagina Monologues, and One Billion Rising.

Along with improving public awareness, HPV Awakening is also putting pressure on the FDA and greater medical science community.  They are pushing to make HPV caner strands “reportable” and get HPV male testing approved.  They are also trying to expand medical and social research about the virus and the impact it has not only physically, but mentally and emotionally.

They need your support:  As with all social causes, people’s support is essential to their survival.  HPV Awakening functions through the hard work of just Tashia, her mother, and a few friends.  They currently have no funding or sponsorship.  All the things they have managed thus far have been done through their own pockets and free-time.  They need support from everyone and have set up a donation bank on their website.

They desperately need funding for basic things like printing information pamphlets, free condoms to distribute, website management and sponsorship to attend relevant events like Gay Pride Fest- Miami Beach, AFO, and Exxxotica Expo.

They welcome any support.  This includes actions as simple as sharing their facebook page or more involved help such as volunteering at their events and donating money to help them stay afloat.

HPV Awakening can be contact through through email @ Tashia@hpvawakening.org, phone 786 260 2092, and social media: facebook and twitter and experienceproject.

Here is an interview of HPV Awakening founder Tashia with NotiMujer

Found on  http://hpvawakening.org/

Where to Go for Safer Sex: Our Resource Recommendations

HaveAcondom (1)We are celebrating Valentine’s Day 2013 by acknowledging some of the most lavish, smart, and intriguing safer sex resources out there and giving them our thank yous for their hard work.

For safer sex guidelines we applaud and recommend you check out the following…

Planned Parenthood: A non-profit health organization that offers reproductive health care and advice on contraception, safe sex, and family planning.  They’ve been around since 1939 and in many cases are the only place where one can access birth control, STD/STI testing, sex education, couples counseling, etc.

The Body: A medically-based HIV/AIDS resource in the US which provides information on everything one needs to know about HIV/AIDS, including advice on prevention, HIV testing, treatment, safely navigating a mixed-status relationship, HIV/AIDS policy and activism, and the latest research on HIV/AIDS and other STDs.  This humongous site offers everything from Blogs, podcasts, bulletin boards, “Ask the Experts” forum, first-person stories and interviews, conferences and news coverage, and library resources.

SEX ETC: Who better to understand high school sex politics than the peers who are living and experiencing it themselves.  The blog, magazine, and stories on this site are written by and for teens and young adults across North America.  It provides different media to engage with sexual health info, such as videos about safe sex, forums where teens can participate and moderate discussions with other teens, a 400 words sex glossary, a state-by-state reference to info on birth control, health care access and your rights to sex education in “Sex in the States” guide, and a range of surveys and guides to sex ed activism.

Scarleteen:  A progressive sex-ed site written for teens who are female, male, genderqueer; gay, straight or somewhere in between.  It provides over 200 articles about sex, health, and relationships, covering everything from STIs to sexual orientation, body image, self-esteem, to birth control, masturbation, misogyny, sexual abuse, and technical advice from French kissing to BDSM.  The site also provides interactive question-answer-discuss services, including their new live help feature providing safe, anonymous live chats with Scarleteen’s staff and volunteers.

SEX-ED LOOP:  Another great resource for teens, based in Chicago, that gives up to date information on sexual health, rights, and identity through a range of social media channels including a weekly text messaging service and clinic finder that will identify health care services throughout Chicago.  Also provides helpful articles about gender identity and sexual orientation.

HIV InSite: A non-commercial, well-established source developed by the Center for HIV Information at the University of California San Francisco.  The site offers an extensive collection of original material including a complete textbook about the clinical management of HIV/AIDS.  It is also a great resource for global HIV/AIDS research, statistics, and policy analysis.

Our Bodies Ourselves: A global non-profit that promotes evidence-based information on girls’ and women’s health.  The information provided on the site is vast and includes excerpts from their famous book on reproductive health, as well as first-person blog stories that range from topics like body image, nutrition, menstruation, pregnancy and much more.

Well, that’s a handful of some of our favorite safer sex resources from sound sexual health organizations. Do you have any resources to share?  Please let us know in the comments below!

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

———————-

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.