Studies in the past have falsely argued that male sexual health and condom use are incompatible.
Researchers from the Section of Adolescent Medicine at the Indiana University School of Medicine and the Center for Sexual Health Promotion noticed that these studies simply compared “pleasure” reported by test subjects with and without condoms with no consideration for the other circumstances of their sexual encounters. They proposed a different kind of study. The Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health takes a look at their results.
Here are the important findings from the Indiana University study:
- Earlier studies ignored other behaviors involved when using condoms— what sex acts men engage in, how they feel about the sex they have, their demographic characteristics, etc.
- A number of factors in the span of a sexual event shape whether or not the experience itself is pleasurable.
- Lower levels of sexual pleasure were associated with erection difficulty, perception of partner discomfort during sex and perception of penis width and hardness.
- One limitation of the study is that it does not allow for any comparison between the beliefs, behaviors or reported pleasure levels between men who do and do not use condoms.
This original article is published on The CSPH website.
BY The CSPH | theCSPH.org
Researchers from the Section of Adolescent Medicine at the Indiana University School of Medicine and the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at Indiana University noticed that there was a void in the current sexual health literature on condom usage with regards to sexual pleasure. In general, studies tend to just compare the pleasure reported by men who either do or do not use condoms, and often wind up with results claiming that condom usage is not compatible with male sexual enjoyment. However, these studies ignore the other components of sexual pleasure or the various other characteristics and behaviors of men who use condoms, such as what sex acts they engage in, how they feel about the sex that they have, or their demographic characteristics. To combat this deficiency in data, the investigators of this study proposed this research to examine the association between condom use and sexual pleasure when all participants use condoms consistently, correctly, and completely, allowing for an understanding of the range of factors that affect sexual pleasure and enjoyment.
Participants were enrolled as a subsample of heterosexual-identified men from a larger US-based study of event-level condom behavior (a phrase used to indicate condom usage for one act of intercourse), with representatives from all fifty states. Of the 1,599 participants, 83% were white; about half had received some college or technical education; about a quarter were married, with 30% partnered and 41% single; and the average age was 26 years old. Diary reports of sexual behaviors and condom use were requested of participants, and then “complete condom events,” where the condom was applied prior to intercourse, used for the duration of intercourse, and removed only after intercourse had ended, were analyzed according to measures of subjective rating of sexual pleasure and a number of predictor variables. Some of the important considered variables included: partner type (casual/main); sexual-situational factors like intercourse duration, intensity, and lubricant use; physiological factors including perceived penis width, length, and hardness; ejaculation; and perception of condom comfort.
A number of factors were found to be correlated with higher reports of sexual pleasure during complete condom use. Ejaculation had the strongest association, with a four-fold increase in reported sexual pleasure. Other strong correlations with sexual pleasure included higher intercourse intensity (41%), longer intercourse duration (40%), performing oral sex on a partner (34%), receiving oral sex from a partner (21%), and receiving genital stimulation (13%), as well as a modest increased association with older age (4%). Additionally, lower levels of sexual pleasure were strongly associated with erection difficulty (75% reduction) and perception of partner discomfort during sex (72% reduction), while perception of lower penis width and hardness were also linked to lower sexual pleasure.
The results of this study indicate that sexual pleasure is not simply something that cannot coexist with condom usage; instead, it is a fact that can still be very much a part of these men’s sexual encounters. As the authors of the study address in their discussion, what this data shows is that there are a number of factors in the span of a sexual event—how a man feels about his genitals, how his partner reacts, what acts other than vaginal penetration occur—that shape whether or not the experience itself is pleasurable. It is important not to permit or perpetuate the stereotype that just removing the condoms would make intercourse better. Rather, the authors of this study believe there are better solutions to decrease the negative factors linked with lower sexual pleasure, such as visiting a doctor to take care of erectile difficulties or ensuring that one’s partner is equally comfortable and pleased with the sex.
Unfortunately, this study was somewhat limited, in that by only focusing on condom use, it does not allow for any comparison between the beliefs, behaviors, or reported pleasure levels between men who do and do not use condoms. Additionally, heterosexual men are not the only individuals who could benefit from research into the pleasurable associations of safer sex. However, work like this is so important because it not only advances the importance of pleasure and safer sex, but it also shows how the two can work together. Safer sex devices like condoms are so clearly important in limiting potentially negative consequences like pregnancy and STIs, and knowing how to make such things sexy and fun—really, one of the majors draws of any sex play—is key in making sure people are willing to do what they need to do in order to keep themselves safe and healthy.
The CENTER for SEXUAL PLEASURE and HEALTH (The CSPH) is designed to provide adults with a safe, physical space to learn about sexual pleasure, health, and advocacy issues. Led by highly respected founder and director, Megan Andelloux, The CSPH is a sexuality training and education organization that works to reduce sexual shame, fight misinformation, & advance the sexuality field.