Safe Sex is Hot Sex, People
Ah, the bloom of careless youth. We’ve all seen the after school specials and the popular high school TV shows that warn about accidental teen pregnancy because teenage boys don’t want to use condoms and teenage girls don’t insist on it or get tricked into believing one is being used. We know the struggle between safer sex educators and abstinence-only supporters. Kids are impulsive, lacking in education, in the moment and they just don’t consider the consequences of not using protection for their sexual encounters.
Well, with the the release of the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior (NSSHB), we discovered, much to the nation’s surprise, that young people are a lot more likely to use condoms than adults. Under 18’s were twice as likely to have safer sex than young adults, and four times more likely than people over 40, totally going against the assumption of reckless youth who live fast… and get STIs. So what does this say, then, about adults? Are we projecting our own experiences around condom use onto the youth of today, who are actually proving to be more savvy than us?
I had to think back to my own exploration of sexuality. I was given excellent safer sex education by my parents, who were always available to answer my questions and bought me multiple books on teenage sexuality and puberty. Even so, I fell victim to the same prejudices I heard on those after school specials- “it ruins the intimacy, I’d say, using condoms anyway but reluctantly. Guys told me all the time how using a condom totally desensitized them, and the proof was in the sausage- maintaining and erection with a condom was a dismal thing. The first time I had consensual unprotected sex it was because the condom had already broken earlier that night and I figured I’d deal with it in the morning. If I had gotten an STI, I reasoned, I had gotten it the first time, so what’s the harm? Obviously that is stupid 19 year old logic, and I was damn lucky I didn’t come home with HIV and a baby.
But I had fallen under the spell of, not just unprotected sex, but that act unromantically called “creampie. Having a man cum inside me was amazing, though it took years before I realized it wasn’t just the psychological effects being triggered. Semen, as we’ve discovered, is chock full of antidepressents like serotonin and prolactin, mood elevators like estrone and oxytocin, sleep enhancers like melatonin and, the real killer, cortisol, which increases affection. Never mind that the vagina, filled with arteries and blood vessels, is basically the perfect way to get these drugs directly into your peripheral circulation system. It’s a love junkie’s dream. And it’s addictive, which is why in the US I’ve found that relationships tend to hold trusting each other enough to have unprotected sex to be the goalpost.
Fetlife.com recently changed their sign-in page so it no longer says that putting in your password is “like using condoms- annoying but necessary. This was one of those little things that was meant as a joke but really drove me crazy because it just confirmed this belief that condoms were unpleasant, unsexy and in the way. I posted about how happy I was they changed this on Facebook, and it started a huge, multi-day, international discussion about condoms, the sexiness or lack thereof of them, and whether or not they reduce sensation. I was really fascinated by the results, which are by no means scientific but culturally interesting.
It was my American friends who were the most outspoken about how condoms were necessary but made sex that little bit less enjoyable. “There is always more sensation for a male without a condom than with one. That’s a moot point, said one. That ex-boyfriend I referenced earlier, the first guy I ever had unprotected sex with, said “it makes sex worse for a man. When I said, “wait a minute, I don’t think that’s what my British lovers or clients have said to me about condoms… he replied that “maybe your compulsion is keeping you from realizing what sex could be if you didn’t have to be afraid of getting a disease from a stranger on top of whatever your fee is. It’s interesting that when I challenged this idea that condoms, when used properly, reduced sensation, it was the Americans who defended their preference for condomless sex. A couple of US based guys commented that they’ve gotten used to condoms, especially when they found a brand and fit that worked for them or if they were sensitive, but for the most part, circumcised or not, they reported that condoms reduced the sensations of intercourse.
Now, my British friends, on the other hand, seemed bewildered by this. One man who was well-endowed and had an ex partner with a latex allergy said he managed to find condoms to deal with these issues, adding “I find condoms don’t spoil the experience at all and I think they are the best method of protection available. “I don’t really find that condoms overly affect the physical sensation of penetration if they’re on correctly and there’s enough lubrication (natural or otherwise) around, said another friend of mine in London. My boyfriend was completely taken aback by this idea that condoms were undesirable, saying he had never encountered that attitude until he met me. And considering, again, the responders were both cut and uncut, the total 180 of behaviour is just fascinating. Is this reluctance to use condoms a cultural thing?
This was originally something I noticed while doing sex work, though I initially assumed it had to do with the way I could communicate more clearly in the UK than in the US. My American customers were constantly trying to push what I would do without protection- I even had an erotic massage client try to slip it in without permission, and without a condom. I got exhausted explaining why I used condoms, thinking it should be self-explanatory. But in the UK it was completely different. Condoms were the assumed norm, for both personal and professional sex, even without people knowing the lube-in-the-tip trick. I hypothesized that uncircumcised men, with their foreskins able to stimulate the head of their cocks, might not have as much of an issue with condoms, though one of my American female friends said she found uncircumcised men struggled more, not less, with latex. I’d love to see a study on the difference between cut and uncut men and their experiences, both reported and scientifically studied, with condoms, both in the UK and US.
Even more interestingly, it was British women who almost unanimously stated how much they hated condoms. The men were perfectly happy with their experiences, but the women hated the taste, the smell, and the feel of condoms. They used them anyway, like American men did, but reluctantly. I wonder if that has to do with that quest for that brain-addling drug women get when having unprotected sex- biology will do its best to overcome culture, after all!
So what can you do to make safer sex fun, and change this attitude of condoms being annoying or awkward? Well, to start, remember that latex? It’s a fetish material for a reason. Personally I find black latex gloves, shiny with lubricant before I slide fingers into a girl’s cunt or a boy’s ass (or they slide them into me), are pretty much the hottest thing- and they have the added advantage of preventing nails from scratching tender bits and smoothing out knuckles. A dental dam sliding across a wet clit is delicious to feel under your tongue- and, well, rimming is really sexy, especially when you have a barrier to keep you from feeling nervous about perfect hygiene!
As for condoms, there’s lots of ways to eroticize their use. When someone pulls out a condom and puts it on their cock or a sex toy, I get a little jolt in my pussy, excited because I know what’s coming next and it’s going to be fun. Sometimes I’ll put a lover’s condom on with my mouth- it’s hard to complain about condoms mid-blow job, though you have to be careful- no teeth! One suggestion I heard was to have multiple colours of condoms that represent different sexual positions- take a condom out of the box and that’s the position you try. Experiment with different kinds, textures, flavours, and sizes until you find ones you like particularly. My current favourite are Crowns.
Don’t forget lube, either! It always makes me giggle when the boy puts lube on my cunt and then tells me how wet I am. Um, duh, you just smothered me in lube! But lubricant can be a great addition to sexual play, along with making it less likely for you to get microscopic tears (which is better, I think, for everyone involved). And with so many options out there- silicone, water based, half and half, flavoured, vegan, thick, creamy, glycerin-free… you can have a lot of slippery fun figuring out which you prefer.
One of the things I’ve been enjoying in my move from watching mainstream pornography to watching queer porn is how often they use safer sex. It’s easier to make dental dams and condoms sexy when you have examples woven into your smut, for sure. It’s been an ongoing debate if porn producers should require protection in their films- while gay porn was affected by communities banding together to refuse to purchase bareback videos, straight porn is still trying to satisfy the bareback sex fantasy for their consumers. While gay porn realized that they should just consider it a fantasy, straight porn consumers consider it an example of what sex should be like. And thus, heterosexual sex accounts for 72% of all new female HIV infections, and condom use falters among people 18-40 and 40+.
I guess it’s about time we let the youth of America sit down and give us “older and wiser people some sex education. Meanwhile, let’s take a page from their book, and make condoms into just another sex toy, rather than an inconvenience. They’re much less of a bother than unwanted pregnancy or hepatitis, after all!