3 Questions About Taking The Birth Control Pill

Photographer Monik Markus

Photographer Monik Markus

Knowing how to use the birth control pill in the most effective way can seem confusing, especially considering all the different brands and varying information out there. The most common questions tend to center around the risks of pregnancy if the pill is not taken at the same time everyday, as well as what to do if you miss a pill.

In this article, Heather Corinna clears up all confusion, explaining the basic, must-knows about this form of contraception. She clarifies how to take the pill, when it’s most effective, and when it may not be.

Here are the key points discussed in detail below:

  • It is strongly advised to use the “dual method”, coupling hormonal contraception with condom use.
  • The Pill provides no protection against STIs.
  • If you aren’t using condoms and you are just starting the Pill, wait one full cycle of active pill taking before using it as your only form of birth control.
  • Ideal, perfect pill use is taking it at the same time of day within a few hours difference.
  • A “late” pill varies more in definition among sources, and to some degree from pill to pill. For all birth control pills, if you have taken a pill more than 12-24 hours late, you should consider using a backup method of birth control (i.e. condoms) for the rest of your cycle.
  • A “missed” pill is one that has not been taken within 24 hours of the last pill you took. Read below for what to do if you miss a day or more.
  • Do your research. How birth control pills are taken, when effectiveness is compromised, and what side effects and risks are most prevalent can ALL differ from pill to pill. So make sure to read the pill packet information in full and consult your health provider with any concerns.

This article was originally published on Scarleteen 

BY HEATHER CORINNA | Scarleteen

Anonymous asks:

I had sex with no condom 3 days before I started my period, AND 1 day after I started my period. I’m on birth control BUT I was at the end of my 1st pack I have ever took (taking the non-active pills) and I don’t exactly take them at the exact same time every day but pretty close. I was wondering what’s the possibility of me getting pregnant considering the circumstances, birth control doesn’t take effect until the first month is up, but I’m already taking my inactive pills so that technically means the month is up doesn’t it? Also, I was getting ready to start/was on my period, and I have a regular cycle so I don’t think there’s any way I could have been ovulating but I’m really worried, please help!

And Gail asks…

I’m 16 years old, and I’m on the pill. I’ve been on it for little over a month, and recently me and my partner have been doing it without a condom (we’re clean) since I’ve been on them for a month now. Question is, I’m not a perfect user. I take my pill within a 30 min. range, never exactly right on time, what’s my chance of pregnancy?

And Hockeylover asks…

I’ve been on the pill for about a year now and I’m sexually active with my boyfriend. This past month I had sex with my boyfriend and the condom didn’t break but may have leaked or something because my boyfriend seemed to think that something minor could have been wrong. A few days after that I forgot to take a pill until about 12 hours after the fact. Now, my pill pack is finished and it is time for me to have my withdrawal bleed which has always occurred at the same time. Today, however, I have experienced nothing but minimal spotting, which is unusual.

Also – just for future reference as I was always curious – I know that it is extremely difficult to become pregnant while on the pill as long as it is taken properly. However, if pills were forgotten or whatnot I realize that it is possible to get pregnant but I was wondering whether one would still experience the withdrawal bleed or whether this would not occur (just like a period doesn’t occur if someone is pregnant). Does any blood that comes during a withdrawal bleed while on the pill signify that no pregnancy has occurred? Am I at risk?

Heather Corinna replies:
Since there are so many different pill brands, so much information to sort through, and since with adolescents and/or young adults information on some aspects can vary slightly, and we get so many questions about the pill, it seems it’s high time to give the most basic rundown I can speaking to concerns about how to take the pill, when it’s effective, and when it may not be.

Let’s start with a super-simple summary of how combination birth control pills work.

First, take a look at our piece which explains how the fertility and menstrual cycle works, so you have some context. Got the gist?

So, the pill acts to alter that natural cycle so that you don’t become pregnant, via synthetic hormones (usually estrogen and progesterone) to contradict your real ones. The pill works to do that in three ways:

  • by keeping your follicles from maturing and your body from ovulating (releasing a mature),
  • by thickening cervical mucus so sperm have a terribly tough time getting anywhere near an egg if by chance one is still released, and
  • by preventing implantation of an embryo by keeping the endometrium thin in the event that both somehow still manage to happen.

At the start of your pill pack, the hormones in your pills effectively have a little chat with your pituitary gland and tell it to suppress FSH — your follicle-stimulating hormone — so that an egg doesn’t mature, nor will the cells around it grow to form a follicle that releases estrogen at the beginning of your cycle, which would stimulate your body to prepare thicker endometrial lining through the cycle to sustain a pregnancy.

Your pituitary gland (being highly impressionable, you know the type) steps it up and doesn’t produce that FSH, so that maturation doesn’t happen and the lining of your uterus doesn’t thicken the way it would to sustain a pregnancy. At the time your LH surge would normally happen — around halfway into your cycle — the way the pill controls progestin keeps that surge from happening, too, which suppresses ovulation. Thus, no egg is released to be fertilized by sperm. As a backup, it’s at the same time keeping cervical mucus thick: to get why that matters, imagine trying to push a piece of thread head first through school paste: that’d be quite a challenge, and is what it’s like for sperm to try and move through that mucus to get into the cervix.

When you go off your active pills, and into the placebo (inactive pill) period you get your withdrawal bleed, because taking those hormones away allows for the breakdown of a thin uterine lining you had there (and because the pill keeps it thinner, often people on the combination pill experience lighter, shorter periods).

And when you start your next pack, you start that cycle all over again.

But while we know that the pill, in perfect use, is highly effective, we also know that a) some people do become pregnant while on the pill and b) in typical pill use, lower rates of effectiveness have been shown in studies for adolescents than for adults. Here’s the scoop on what perfect use is, how to have the pill be as effective as possible for you, what a missed pill is and what you should do, when it’s time to worry about pregnancy and when it’s not.

First starting the pill and birth control backups

With all BCPs (birth control pills), to be as safe as possible, and in the interest of having as much protection as possible, it is strongly advised to back up the pill with condom use when using the pill as birth control.

Most effectiveness rates for the pill are lower for younger women, usually because plenty of younger women are having to hide the pill and/or be sneaky in taking them, so it’s more likely that younger women, rather than older women, will miss pills and/or take pills late, which can reduce effectiveness. Too, younger women who don’t tell their general doctors they are using the pill may not be warned in advance about drug interactions with the pill and general medications (usually that’s only the case with one class of antibiotics and some herbal supplements) or that some illness can reduce effectiveness.

STIs should also be a big concern, especially when you’re under 22, since adolescents and young adults are both at the highest risk for STIs of any group, and younger women also are at higher risks of long-term complications from STIs. The pill provides no protection against STIs… and also often seems to provide a bit of a sense of false security in terms of infections, since so many women are most worried about pregnancy. Condoms provide that protection, and in addition, the one-two punch of the pill AND condoms (so long as one is used perfectly, and better still if both are used properly) almost guarantees you will not become pregnant.

If you are NOT going to back up with condoms, and are just starting the pill, we strongly advise you to wait one full cycle of active pills before using ONLY the pill as birth control, even though for many people, the pill may likely be fully effective within seven days, and for some, even sooner. If you have gone without a backup method in those first seven days and had sex with only the pill, it is advised to call your healthcare provider and ask about emergency contraception. You may also want to consider doing so if you went without a backup in that first cycle.

Two ways to start taking the pill for the first time

A first day start means you start taking the pill on the first day of your menstrual period. With a first day start, the pill may be effective as early as that first day, but waiting one full cycle before going without a backup is strongly advised.

A Sunday Start is when you start the pill on the first Sunday AFTER your period begins (or, if it starts on a Sunday, on that Sunday). When you start with a Sunday start, the pill may be effective as early as within one week, but waiting one full cycle before going without a backup is strongly advised. The Sunday Start method was devised primarily for women who would prefer they have their withdrawal bleeds (your period wile using the pill) on a weekday, rather than on weekends, as it makes that more likely.

Unless your healthcare provider suggests one way of starting is better for you, how you start is your call, based on your preferences. These two ways are ONLY relevant when you first start taking the pill. For every cycle thereafter, you’ll start your new pack when you finish the pack before.

What’s taking it on time and what isn’t?

You want to do your level best to take your pill as close to the same time every day as is possible, ideally within a window of a few hours: if you do that, every day, then you’re a perfect pill user — that doesn’t mean you get a gold star (unless you want one, in which case, by all means, star yourself!), but it does mean that unless you have any other misuse you can rest assured you have the highest effectiveness in terms of pregnancy protection possible from your pill.

To simplify that, what’s important is not that you take the pill at the EXACT same time every day (as in, “Oh god! I usually take it at 10:32, and it’s 11:03!”), but at the same time of day: for instance, always in the morning, or always before you go to bed. That gets pill-taking into your regular routines so that you’re most likely to remember to take them. For instance, Gail says she’s not a perfect user, but, in fact, she is, and it sounds like our user with the first question is, too. For that matter, even Hockeylover isn’t that far off: with combination pills, while you probably don’t want to get in the habit of taking them with a 12-hour difference, just because it can be easier to space out pills that way, but she hasn’t put her effectiveness at risk.

A “missed” pill is one that was not taken within 24 hours of the last pill you took. A missed pill should always be taken as soon as you realize you have missed it, but there is likely no risk from one missed pill or a need for EC. A “late” pill varies more in definition among various sources, and to some degree from pill to pill, but with any type of pill, if you have taken a pill more than 12-24 hours late, you may want to consider using a backup method of birth control for the rest of your cycle to play it safe.

With ALL pills if you have missed a pill, the right thing to do is to take that pill as soon as you know you missed it. If it’s on that same day, take it when you realize. if you realize you missed a pill when you go to take the next day’s pill, take both pills at the same time. If you realize you messed up and missed a pill days later — while still taking the other pills on time — then take that pill then. The same goes if you’ve missed two or three pills rather than just one. When you miss a pill, we advise using a backup method of birth control for the rest of that cycle.

If you’ve missed more than three, with most pills, you’ll want to wait to take any more pills until the following Sunday, then just start a new pack entirely, but use a backup for that cycle as well as the time in between. If you have missed several pills and have had sex in that cycle without a backup method, we advise emergency contraception. When in doubt, always contact your healthcare provider or pharmacist and ask what to do.

How do you know if you become pregnant while on the pill?

The same way you would if you were not: you’ve really just got to take a test. The most common symptom of pregnancy is a missed or late period, or a period that comes around the time you’d expect it but is very unlike what your period (or withdrawal bleed, when you’re on the pill) is usually like. So, when on the pill, if you become pregnant, you most likely will NOT have your withdrawal bleed. But ultimately, you’re unlikely to become pregnant while on the pill unless you have not taken it properly, so if you know you have not and are concerned about pregnancy, just take a pregnancy test (and the pill, for the record, doesn’t get in the way of pregnancy test accuracy).

I always tell women that I personally feel like a box of a few pregnancy tests in the cabinet is about the cheapest therapy there is: for a pretty small investment, you can have a real sanity-saver handy right when you need it. Even if you think you’re just being paranoid, there are times when spending that ten or fifteen bucks to verify you’re being paranoid is seriously worth it.

Read up and play it safe

With ALL pills, read your pill packet information. Pills — how they’re taken, when effectiveness is compromised, what side effects and risks are most prevalent, and the best ways to take them — can ALL differ from pill to pill. So, be sure if you’re on the pill, to read those inserts and to talk to your healthcare provider prescribing the pill for you and ask ANY questions you have: there’s just no reason to fly blind with your birth control.

Please understand that more often than not, we DO err on the side of caution here at Scarleteen, both because in many aspects the population we serve is unique (and largely underrepresented in many studies on everything to do with sexuality and sexual health) and because while we are not legally liable for information here, we are certainly accountable for the information we give you and want to be sure we’re doing the best we can to help you stay as safe as you want to be if you’re going to be sexually active. We always review a myriad of credible sources with our information, and do our level best to look at that information as a whole and draw whatever conclusions from all of it which we feel the most confident will help you to be the most safe.

As usual, we will always encourage you to seek out a second opinion from your healthcare provider whenever you like or feel a need. Don’t forget that part of the service your healthcare providers provide is information: when you’re starting any medication — be that the pill or something else — ask as many questions as you have, don’t hold back! It’s your doctor or nurses’ job to be sure you know how to use your medication properly and understand all you can about it.

heatherHEATHER CORINNA is an activist, artist, author and the director of Scarleteen, the inclusive online resource for teen and young adult sex education and information. She is also the author of S.E.X.: The All-You-Need-to-Know Progressive Sexuality Guide to Get You Through High School and College and was a contributor to the 2011 edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves. She’s received the The Champions of Sexual Literacy Award for Grassroots Activism (2007), The Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality, Western Region’s, Public Service Award (2009), the Our Bodies, Ourselves’ Women’s Health Heroes Award (2009), The Joan Helmich Educator of the Year Award (2012), and The Woodhull Foundation’s Vicki Award (2013).

15 Warning Signs He Doesn’t Support Your Contraceptive Choices

Image from Bedsider.org

If any one of these warning signs relates to your experience, you are not in a balanced, healthy relationship.

Some of the warning signs may seem extreme (like “Do you find him poking holes in condoms?”), but the fact is that these things do happen. According to the Family Violence Prevention Fund (FVPF) one in five young women say they have experienced reproductive coercion. Reproductive coercion is when one partner forces the other into sex without contraception.

Even more common is facing a partner who dislikes condoms and tries to convince the other to have condomless sex (read our post for the best lines of defense against excuses not to have safer sex).

As Lynn Harris points out in the article below, such an interaction is ultimately about one person having power over the other. It is the opposite of a healthy, loving and respectful relationship.

Here Lynn Harris offers tips on what to do if your partner is showing signs of disrespecting your contraceptive choices. Ultimately, it’s not about the birth control. It’s about another form of control.

This article by Lynn Harris was re-posted with permission from Bedsider.org

BY BEDSIDER | Bedsider.org

Alice’s boyfriend really didn’t want to wear a condom. “You don’t know how good it feels without one,” he’d say—over and over—or “I can’t come with one,” recalls Alice, 23, of Seattle. “He’d been able to before, so I should have realized that was bullsh*t. But he’d slowly talked me into it.” When she finally let him go without, she says, “I was like, ‘Fine, if it makes you shut up about it, go ahead.’”

That was the day Alice conceived her son, now 4. But don’t call it an “unplanned pregnancy.” It wasn’t just that Alice’s boyfriend liked the feel of condomless sex. He wasn’t in denial about the consequences. Alice hadn’t planned the pregnancy, but her boyfriend had. Guys like him want to get girls pregnant. As Alice now knows: “He really wanted a son.”

As I noted in a previous article for The Nation, and others have noted, stereotypes about women being the ones to “trick” their partner into pregnancy are extremely misleading and potentially destructive. Experts have put a name to the phenomenon of reproductive coercion, where it’s men who force women into sex without contraception. According to the Family Violence Prevention Fund (FVPF), one in five young women say they’ve experienced pregnancy coercion; one in seven say a guy has sabotaged her contraception. Though other abuse may not be occurring, it sure as heck might: women who have been abused by a boyfriend are five times as likely to be forced into not using a condom and eight times more likely to be pressured to get pregnant.

Guys like Alice’s boyfriend hide birth control pills or flush them down the toilet; they sweet-talk, threaten, even rape. Why? Not because they’re dreaming of booties, blankets, and Daddy-baby yoga. “It’s about one person controlling another,” says Leslie Walker, M.D., chief of adolescent medicine at Seattle Children’s Hospital. (Talk about control: experts say some men force their girlfriends to get pregnant—and to have abortions.) It’s the ultimate form of control: of your body itself and—if you have a baby, or get an STI, some of which cause infertility—of the rest of your life.

Reproductive coercion happens to teens and adults, rich, poor and average; any race or religion; women in long-term relationships, hookups, and in-between; women like Anya Alvarez, 21, who was having sex with a guy she’d just started seeing when she spotted her NuvaRing on her rug—which, needless to say, was not where she had put it. Yep: he’d yanked it out. “He said he’d done it to other women and they didn’t mind,” she says. Even in a new relationship, or something you wouldn’t call a relationship at all, you need to be careful.

Red Flags

“One clear warning sign: a partner who doesn’t support your using whatever contraception you want,” says FVPF senior policy director Rebecca Levenson. “Even if it’s subtle, like weird-supportive, it still gets him what he wants.”

  • Does he refuse to wear a condom? “That’s near-universal with reproductive coercion, and can start on sexual-date-one,” says Heather Corinna, founder and director of Scarleteen and author of S.E.X.: The All-You-Need-To-Know Progressive Sexuality Guide to Get You Through High School and College.
  • Does he equate birth control with cheating? As one woman (“Erika”) reported to the FVPF: “He said the pill made women want to have sex all the time, and that I’d cheat because I wouldn’t need to use a condom.”
  • Do you go behind his back to get contraception? “Erika” snuck to a clinic for the pill. “For a year, I made sure he never saw them,” she says.
  • Does he say things about hormonal birth control (Pills, implants, IUDs) like (MYTH ALERT!!!!). “Those make you gain weight, which you struggle with. I love you so much I wouldn’t want you to do that”?
  • Does he threaten to hurt you if you use contraception—or consider abortion?

There’s also sweeter-sounding baby-making talk. “It can seem like he’s trying to express commitment or get serious,” says Corinna. “Only people who love you want to make babies with you, right? Wrong. Some people want to create a family for the best reasons. Others want to control you, make it harder for you to leave, or create new, smaller people to control. The folks with the good motives will not ever pressure or trick you.” Does he:

  • Say things like “If you have a baby we’ll always be connected” or “If you really loved me you’d have my baby”?
  • Refer to sperm as mini-hims? Alice: “My boyfriend would congratulate himself for sending in his buddies to get the job done.”
  • Say someone who uses contraception doesn’t love their partner? Or contraception keeps people from being close?
  • Talk about pregnancy or parenthood without including your needs or your body?

New guys may deploy all sorts of lines. Check your gut; don’t take a chance. If something sounds off to you—like “I had a vasectomy” or “I smoke pot so I’m infertile”—it probably is.

And some actions say it all:

  • Do your pills keep disappearing?
  • Does the condom keep “breaking”? The third time this happened to “Libby” in Illinois, her boyfriend admitted he’d removed it. After that, he began raping her without one.
  • Have you caught him messing with your birth control or poking holes in condoms?
  • Does he break his promise to “pull out”?
  • Does he sneak off the condom (NuvaRing, etc.) during intercourse?
  • Does he physically force you to have sex without protection?

What to do?

If even one of the above sounds familiar to you…one is too many. Steps to take to protect your health:

  • If on date one refuses a condom—“ground zero for safer sex,” says Corinna—kick him out.
  • If sex suddenly feels different, check the condom.
  • Consider contraception you can hide, or that’s tough to sabotage, like Depo-Provera or IUD. (Note: This alone does not prevent STIs.)
  • Get tested for STIs (see our post on how easy it is to get tested). Some are symptomless, but can do future damage. Talk to a health care provider. If it doesn’t make sense for you to leave the relationship now, you can at least try to prevent STIs or pregnancies.
  • Imagine a healthy relationship. No pressure, no tricks; just love, support—and, if you’re ready, sex that feels right. “If a female patient whose partner refuses condoms says, ‘They don’t feel good for me, either,’ I say, ‘That’s because he’s not sharing a real, intimate relationship with you,” Dr. Walker explains. “It’s not about the condom.”

condom ad condoms too tight

bedsiderBEDSIDER is an online birth control support network for women operated by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen & Unplanned Pregnancy. Bedsider is totally independent (no pharmaceutical or government involvement). Honest and unbiased, Bedsider’s goal is to help women find the method of birth control that’s right for them and learn how to use it consistently and effectively, and that’s it.
Find Bedsider on twitter @Bedsider

Birth Control Side Effects: The Good and The Ugly

Image from Bedsider.org

Image from Bedsider.org

Hormonal birth control often comes with side effects that vary from slightly annoying to bad enough to make you switch. These include (and are not limited to) headaches, breast tenderness, nausea, decreased libido, depression…The list goes on and varies depending on the method you choose.

The folks at Bedsider remind us, however, that while side effects are not typically fun, they’re usually not that noticeable either. We can get caught up in all the pharmaceutical warnings and forget that birth control also has many positive benefits such as clearer skin and more regular periods.

If taking birth control is the right thing for you, be sure to talk to your doctor about how to manage side effects, both negative and positive. Check out Bedsider’s link to help decide if birth control is right for you.

This article was originally published here

BY BEDSIDER | Bedsider.org

Side effects! Boo!

Two little words that totally freak people out. And for good reason. Nobody wants to wind up feeling crappy because they’re using a method that’s supposed to be good for them.

See through the hype

You deserve to know the real deal about side effects before you get on birth control, or any other medicine. But the hard part is seeing through the hype so you can weigh the pros and cons of each method and make an informed decision.

Positive side effects

We think it’s important to tell the whole story—the good, the bad, and everything in between. Here’s the thing, though. People tend to forget about the potential positive side effects of birth control, like clearer skin or shorter periods. (Or not having a baby before you’re ready, for that matter.) And when they hear the negative stuff, it sticks in their brain like a cheesy old song you can’t stop humming. That’s just human nature, and it happens to all of us.

Even aspirin sounds nasty

Drug companies list every single scary thing you could possibly experience with a medication. Even if it’s super rare. They have to. It’s the law. So before you run for the hills, consider this: The potential side effects of something as harmless as aspirin are pretty scary when you read them, too. Check it out.

If taking birth control is the right thing for you, we believe there’s a method that will make you feel good about using it. Find one here.

bedsiderBEDSIDER is an online birth control support network for women operated by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen & Unplanned Pregnancy. Bedsider is totally independent (no pharmaceutical or government involvement). Honest and unbiased, Bedsider’s goal is to help women find the method of birth control that’s right for them and learn how to use it consistently and effectively, and that’s it.
Find Bedsider on twitter @Bedsider

Reacquainting With Condoms After 11 Years On The Pill

Switching to condoms as one’s only birth control at 30 years old can be a dramatic shift in mindset from the comfort of quick-fix Pills to latexy shopping adventures with a partner. Here, Rose Crompton from the Condom Monologues collective shares her dramatic contraceptive story that spans over a decade, told in 1000 words.

Here are some things she’s learned along the way:

  • Throughout life, every person should take the time to reflect and re-evaluate their contraceptive choices as their body changes.
  • There is important knowledge about condoms that’s not taught in sex education, such as the importance of fitting and experimenting with different brands and types. There are condom sampler packs to guide your discovery of the best condoms for you and your partner(s).
  • If there is an opportunity to shop for condoms with your partner then you should. It can be like an extension of foreplay!
  • Shopping online provides way better selection and price.

This piece is originally published here.

BY ROSE CROMPTOM at CONDOM MONOLOGUES | CondomMonologues.com

“Which ones should we get?” I asked my boyfriend. Well, he’s a man and he’s the one that has to wear them, so naturally I assumed he’d know best. “I dunno,” was the mumbled response. I’d not been “hat” shopping in over a decade. For nearly 11 years I was on the Pill and in three monogamous relationships, for the majority of that time, so ‘safe’ meant not getting pregnant.

Standing there, facing a wall of johnnies, there were three main changes I noticed: the packaging of condoms 11 years on was nicer, there were brands other than Durex available, and the price was higher. No wonder the supermarket kept them in security boxes. Ten quid ($16) for 10 condoms, so a pound a fuck essentially, and me and my boyfriend fuck a lot. Giving up the Pill was apparently going to cost me in more ways than I expected!

That said, coming off the pill four months ago was one of the best decisions I’ve made and I’d like to state that this was what was right for me, not what every woman should do, although I do think every woman should take the time to stop and re-evaluate their contraceptive method as their body changes.

The biggest question I’ve faced since is what contraception should my partner and I use instead?

Long term, that’s still a frustrating debate I’m having with myself, my partner and sexual health advisers. For now though, my chap and I are only using condoms and that is how I found myself: Standing in Tesco adding ‘condoms’ to our weekly, big shop shopping list.

Just call me Goldilocks

After much deliberation we went for the clichéd ribs and dots for her pleasure style. You have to start somewhere. They were good, but not quite right. If we’re being honest (and I think we can be here) too much dotting and ribbing can lead to chaffing.

Thankfully, there’s more to safe sex-life than that one style and so the hunt began online to try something new. Scouring the sites we found a ridiculous number of options. Without wanting to sound too Disney about it, there was a whole new world opening up before my eyes. Previously my experience of condoms had been whatever was free and easy to grab from the GP or sexual health clinic as they were only ever used briefly when there was a Pill glitch.FlyingCarpetCondomsAnim

Now though, scouring the various sex e-tailers, there was this whole exotic, rubbery, latex fantasticness that had the potential to be a lot of fun. Maybe shopping for condoms would be a great, new, sexy part to our foreplay?

We came across an American brand called One and they had an interesting pack called Tantric with tattoo style patterns and extra lubrication. Oh, they sound fancy and you can never have too much lube, so we ordered some.

It wasn’t long before the boyfriend and I found ourselves back online, looking for something different the next time. We “um-ed” and “ah-ed” over the various boxes, brands, descriptions, shapes and textures for nearly as long as we’d spend trying to pick a nice bottle of wine to go with dinner.

Obviously, sex is a shared experience and if there is the opportunity to choose together, then you should. Like with any aspect of sex you should both get enjoyment out of what you’re using. There aren’t very many things that we put on our bodies that are as intimate as condoms. It’s going on his most sensitive area and in hers, so when it comes to condom shopping it’s important to find some rubbers that you’re both gonna’ love. Generally, that means experimenting.

Getting comfy with condoms

Through shopping around, I’ve learnt more about condoms in the last four months than I ever learnt at school, or was bothered to listen to after that, because they just weren’t relevant to my life. It’s a bad attitude to have, I know. It’s shocking how the “fit and forget” or pill-popping culture we have today means it’s easy to overlook the humble condom. Especially when you’re in a relationship that uses one of the aforementioned methods.

It’s been a re-education: I’m aware now about the importance of fit and how that effects sensation and minimises the risk of breakage, the safest way to take them off to avoid any ‘accidents’ and I’ll admit that I’m still perfecting my roll on method (anything billed as ultra thin is definitely the trickiest).

The biggest adjustment (and I don’t reckon I’m the only woman who’s come off the Pill to feel this) is becoming confident with the idea that condoms can keep me safe. Not from STDs as that’s not an issue in my relationship, but of pregnancy. A lot of people my age and a bit older seem keen to use Fertility Awareness Methods and the pull-out method, but for many of them pregnancy wouldn’t be so much of a disaster. For me and my boyfriend, it certainly would be.

Making the move from the pill to condoms is scary. Anything you get fitted, implanted or swallow every morning has a success rate of approximately 99 percent. Sure, there are some side effects, but you’re willing to put up with them because it’s a shared ideology that now we have these methods, why bother with condoms that have a slightly lower success rate at all if your aim is to not get pregnant?

Living with that mentality for over a decade, then changing what you use and your body changes too, is a lot to get your head around, but it is doable. On the plus side, not only has it led me to take another look at the whole contraceptive menu – not just what the GP would prefer me to use – but it’s made me and my partner look again at correct condom use and I don’t think it’s a bad thing for any couple to do that no matter how long they’ve been together.

This monologue was written by Rose Crompton (@RoseC_Liec). Monologues are independent stories. The opinions shared are the author’s own. Go here for more monologues.

 

condom-monologuesCONDOM MONOLOGUES Affirming safer sex and sexuality one story at a time… Condom Monologues dispel harmful myths about safe sex and sexual stereotypes that permeate our ways of understanding what is “healthy sexuality”. They accomplish this through sex-positive, pleasure-focused approaches to sexuality that affirm the diversity of people- genders, sexualities, kinks and relationships.
Find them on twitter @CondomMonologue. Share your story

Can Pre-Ejaculate Cause Pregnancy?

Photographer Zen Sutherland

Photographer Zen Sutherland

Can pre-ejaculate cause pregnancy? This is an important question for anyone who can become pregnant, or is having sex with someone who can get pregnant. Particularly for those who use the “pull-out” or fertility awareness method, understanding the risks involved is fundamental to making proper health choices for yourself.

The answer to this question, however, is not so certain and still under going research. In this article, Heather Corinna explains what exactly we do know for certain about pre-cum and how best to approach risks with the information that is out there.

Here are her key points:

  • There is far less sperm in pre-cum than there is in ejaculation.
  • Chances of sperm in pre-cum are lowered if one has recently urinated and has not ejaculated before intercourse.
  • Pre-cum can transmit infections.

This post was originally published on Scarleteen.

BY HEATHER CORINNA | Scarleteen

Jess asks:

Can a woman become pregnant off of pre-cum fluid alone?

Heather Corinna replies:

The short answer is that it is possible, yes, but is not very likely.

The longer answer is that there are a lot of variables, and we still need more study to be done on this to give a better answer.

Do we know that pre-ejaculate fluid can contain sperm? Yes, we do. We also know that there are far, far less sperm in pre-ejaculate — when there are any at all — than there are in a full ejaculation: a full ejaculation contains as many as 100 million sperm, whereas when sperm is in pre-ejaculate, it’s more like a few million, if that many. But it only takes one active sperm and a few hundred helper sperm to create a pregnancy, so sometimes there may be more than enough sperm in pre-ejaculate when sperm are present in it to make that happen. However, sperm also need the fluid they’re part of to create a pregnancy, so the limited volume of pre-ejaculate is also an issue, as is the far fewer sperm which may be (and often are not) part of it.

There’s no 100% way to know at the time if pre-ejaculate contains sperm, but it’s generally agreed upon that it is most likely or only likely to when a man has recently ejaculated and has not urinated afterwards (urine flushes the urethra out, removing traces of sperm). It’s generally considered to be least likely to contain sperm when a man either hasn’t ejaculated in a while and/or has recently urinated before he’s pre-ejaculating.

Since you’ll often hear a lot of argument when it comes to whether sperm are or are not present in pre-ejaculate, here’s what some other credible folks have to say on the matter:

Go Ask Alice at Columbia University says:

Sperm could be in pre-cum, but only after a recent ejaculation, after which some sperm may be left hanging around in the urethra. “Recent” means masturbating earlier and then having sex with a woman, or during the same sexual episode of the recent ejaculation. Urinating in between ejaculations flushes the urethra of stray sperm and makes the way clear for the sperm-less pre-ejaculate fluid. If sperm remains after a prior ejaculation, then it’s possible that they can enter the vagina and make their way to meet an egg.

The Feminist Women’s Health Center says about it:

During sex, the penis releases two kinds of fluids. The first is pre-ejaculate or pre-cum, a lubricant made in a gland in the penis. This fluid usually contains no sperm, but can transmit infections. The second, released with ejaculation, is semen, which is made in the testicles and carries thousands of sperm in addition to any sexually transmittable infections that may be present.

Many sources that discuss the ineffectiveness of withdrawal argue that pre-cum can contain sperm. This is because previous ejaculations can leave some sperm behind in the folds of the penis. While there is a need for further study, it is likely that urination before intercourse washes leftover sperm from the urethra, the tube from which both urine and semen exit the penis.

Here’s what Student Health Services at Oregon State University has to say:

Pre-cum is the pre-ejaculate fluid that can be released from the penis during sexual activity. It is usually released before the male reaches orgasm, which results in the ejaculation of semen. Pre-cum prepares the urethra for the semen and helps in lubrication during sexual intercourse. Also the pre-cum may contain sperm. Since the pre-ejaculate can contain sperm, a pregnancy can occur if the man’s pre-cum comes in contact with the woman’s vaginal canal.

However, there is inconclusive evidence as to where the sperm in the pre-ejaculate comes from. Many researchers suggest that the sperm in the pre-ejaculate comes from leftover sperm from a previous ejaculation of semen. These researchers suggest that urinating after the ejaculation of semen will remove any sperm from the urethra, so as to prevent the pre-ejaculate from containing sperm. However, research is still being conducted to support this widely accepted idea.

And here’s what Contraceptive Technology has to say:

Some concern exists that the pre-ejaculate fluid may carry sperm into the vagina. In itself, the pre-ejaculate, a lubricating secretion produced by the Littre or Cowper’s glands, contains no sperm. A study examining the pre-ejaculate for the presence of spermatozoa found none in the samples of 16 men. However, a previous ejaculation may have left some sperm hidden within the folds of the urethral lining. In examinations of the pre-ejaculate in a small study, the pre-ejaculate was free of spermatozoa in all of 11 HIV-seronegative men and 4 or 12 seropositive men. Although the 8 samples containing spermatozoa revealed only small clumps of a few hundred sperm, these could possibly pose a risk of fertilization. In all likelihood, the spermatozoa left from a previous ejaculation could be washed out with the force of a normal urination. However, this remains unstudied.

So again, the only right answer we can give right now is a maybe.

But we also do know that withdrawal isn’t one of the most effective birth control methods, in either perfect or typical use, and that enough people report using it perfectly — saying they withdrew well before ejaculation — and still becoming pregnant (including my parents as well as a close friend of mine, for a personal perspective), that we’d be remiss to rule out pre-ejaculate as a pregnancy risk. Bear in mind that during the Baby Boom in the United States — a period in history when we had more births than any other — that withdrawal was the most common method of birth control people were using. Of course, many of those pregnancies may well have been due to men who said they pulled out on time not realizing they had actually ejaculated, and we have no way of knowing what the real deal was. What we can know, for sure, are the success and failure rates of withdrawal as a method, however it is practiced, and know that most other methods of birth control are more effective.

Too, unprotected sex, period — ejaculate or no — poses risks of all sexually transmitted infections, which should be just as great a concern as pregnancy. And pre-ejaculate can transmit the HIV virus just as much as full ejaculate can.

So, having unprotected sex, period, just isn’t a good idea unless you are trying to become pregnant AND you and your partner have both been practicing safer sex for at least six months, monogamously, AND each have at least TWO full and clear STI screens under your belts. While it’d be nice if we had more data on pre-ejaculate at this point, at the same time, it’s not all that essential. We already have the essential information we need, which is that ANY unprotected intercourse presents risks of pregnancy and STIs, and that people who want to prevent pregnancy achieve that best with the most reliable methods of contraception, used properly and consistently, or by abstaining from the kinds of sex which present pregnancy risks.

If you want to engage in intercourse safely, you need a condom at a minimum, and if, for whatever reason, that or some other reliable method is not an option, then the only good choice is to choose not to have sex until sound contraception can be used.

Here are some extra links to grow on:

heatherHEATHER CORINNA is an activist, artist, author and the director of Scarleteen, the inclusive online resource for teen and young adult sex education and information. She is also the author of S.E.X.: The All-You-Need-to-Know Progressive Sexuality Guide to Get You Through High School and College and was a contributor to the 2011 edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves. She’s received the The Champions of Sexual Literacy Award for Grassroots Activism (2007), The Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality, Western Region’s, Public Service Award (2009), the Our Bodies, Ourselves’ Women’s Health Heroes Award (2009), The Joan Helmich Educator of the Year Award (2012), and The Woodhull Foundation’s Vicki Award(2013).

 

scarleteenSCARLETEEN is an independent, grassroots sexuality education and support organization and website. Founded in 1998, Scarleteen.com is visited by around three-quarters of a million diverse people each month worldwide, most between the ages of 15 and 25. It is the highest-ranked website for sex education and sexuality advice online and has held that rank through the majority of its tenure.
Find Scarleteen on twitter @Scarleteen

Disabled People Need Sexual Health Care Too

Image by Maria Iliou. From the Disabled Artist Guild.

Image by Maria Iliou. From the Disabled Artist Guild.

BY ROBIN MANDELL | ReadySexyAble.com

Most safer sex guides take it for granted that all of us are going to have the manual dexterity (ability to move our hands) to unwrap and use a condom, that getting STI testing is as easy as booking (and keeping) an appointment at a free or low-cost sexual health clinic, and that communicating with a partner about safer sex is as easy as having a few face-to-face conversations about it. For those of us who have any sort of physical, cognitive, or psychological disability, these and other “basic” safer sex strategies may not be so easy.

It doesn’t help that disabled people are assumed to be nonsexual, or to have more important things to worry about than the “luxury” of sexual feelings or a sexual relationship, or any number of other myths about sex and disability all of which miss the mark in one way or another.

People with disabilities who are sexually active, or planning to be sexually active, need to practice safer sex, and get regular sexual healthcare, just like anyone else.

A Quick Overview of Safer Sex

If you’re disabled, know that you have the right to whatever expression of your sexuality you want to have, and you have the right to be safe when expressing your sexual self, both alone and with partners.

Safer sex is about taking care of your sexual health, and protecting yourself from sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Preventing unwanted pregnancy is known as birth control, not safer sex, but it’s still part of your sexual healthcare if pregnancy is something that can happen to you or someone you’re sexually involved with.

Safer sex includes using barriers (such as condoms or dental dams) for genital contact with a partner, and getting regular sexual healthcare, including STI testing.

Let’s look at a few considerations around safer sex specific to being someone who has any kind of disability. You can get more safer sex info by reading through the other articles on this site.

Sexual Health Care

Most sexual health services aren’t set up to meet the needs of disabled people. In the U.S., many providers don’t get training in working with patients who have disabilities. Coupled with assumptions about disability and sex, this can lead to you not getting the sexual healthcare you need. That might be a healthcare provider who doesn’t ask you about sex, or asks in such a way that assumes you’re not having it.

Or, it means examination tables that don’t accommodate people whose bodies don’t move in the ways expected for traditional exams. This includes staff unable, unwilling, or untrained to assist with positioning your body on the table.

Or, it means reams of forms to fill out, and informational pamphlets and brochures that are only available in print.

Even one step into a building- or doorways that are too narrow- can keep you from seeing a healthcare provider of your choosing.

Healthcare providers aren’t immune to the myths about disabled people and sex, which can result in them assuming their disabled patients aren’t having sex and consequently not asking questions about sexual health, evaluating someone’s need for birth control or STI testing, or even conducting routine genital exams.

Sometimes healthcare providers can fall into the trap of thinking that any problem a patient presents with is related to their disability; or, it may be assumed that what would be a problem for some people (such as fertility problems or the need for frequent STI testing)) will not be a priority or even a problem for disabled people.

Steps you can take to get the sexual healthcare you need if you have a disability:

  • Look for a sex-positive healthcare provider.
  • Find a provider who can meet your disability needs. Members of the Gimp Girl community have put together this list of accessible gynecologists. The list is short, but can give you an idea of what sorts of accommodations you can ask for, and expect, from any private medical practice or clinic.
  • Be prepared to ask for the sexual healthcare you need. Sadly, preparing yourself might also include being ready to fend off judgment, condescension or surprise.If your provider doesn’t bring up sex, you can. You can ask for STI testing, or to discuss birth control options.
  • Be sure when you’re discussing birth control, or if you are being treated for an STI, that the treatment won’t interfere with any medication you take and that any possible side effects won’t trigger physical or psychological symptoms of your disability.

Some assumptions you might encounter:

  • “Oh, I guess we don’t have to talk about birth control, do we?” Quickly followed by the next question in the provider’s list.

Possible response: “Yes, actually, I do need to talk about that. I’ve been wondering what method would be easiest to use considering the problems I have with my hands.”

  • “Is there someone who can help you with your birth control pills?”

Possible Response: “No, I want to keep that private. Maybe I need a different kind that will be easier for me to use on my own.”

  • “I know it’s hard for us to do a pelvic exam on you. Let’s skip it this year.”

Possible Response: “I know it’s hard to examine me, but with what I told you about my sexual history, is a pelvic exam advisable medically? I don’t want to skip any steps I need for my health.”

Sometimes, if the provider assumes the answer to a question, like that you don’t need to have birth control, or of course you’re not sexually active so there’s no need to talk about that and they can move right along with the questions, their words are accompanied by nervous laughter. You might want to drop through a hole in the floor when hearing that, but just because they’re nervous doesn’t mean you have to be. As disabled people, we’re often encouraged to help people feel less nervous around us. This is your healthcare provider, though; it’s their job to meet your healthcare needs and to deal with whatever feelings they have around doing that on their own time. So, just take a deep breath and set them straight about what you need from them.

Once you’ve found a provider you’re able to work with, talk with them to make sure you’re getting the best care you can. The following resources might help you and them. (Unfortunately, most of the writing and research on this topic has been geared towards patients who have what medical people have defined as female genitals. If you don’t have a vagina/vulva, your healthcare needs will be different but your provider can still work with you to find creative solutions to disability-related problems that might come up during examinations.)

Table Manners and Beyond: The Gynecological Exam for Women with Developmental Disabilities and Other Functional Limitation, and Reproductive Health Care Experiences of Women With Physical Disabilities: A Qualitative Study are both resources you and your provider can read through together to help problem-solve any accessibility challenges you’re having with your healthcare.

Accessing Safer Sex Supplies

Transportation problems, inaccessible buildings, worries about being judged, or lack of trusted help can keep you from getting safer sex supplies. Perhaps you’re in a wheelchair and need to ask a store employee to reach your preferred pack of condoms. Or maybe you have a visual impairment and need to ask for help reading the wide variety of lube bottles. Being in these situations may make you feel vulnerable to being asked intrusive questions or judgmental comments. Considering that people ask visibly disabled strangers how they have sex, these fears aren’t unfounded. How can you get supplies while maintaining self-respect and privacy?

Many resource centres on college campuses and sexual or reproductive health clinics provide free condoms. If you get your healthcare needs taken care of at a private practice, and you have a good rapport with your provider, consider asking them if they can obtain condoms, gloves, or other safer sex supplies for you.

You also might consider asking a trusted friend to pick supplies up for you- they can find somewhere that offers them for free so no one has to pay -and handing them over when you see each other.

Many reputable suppliers also sell safer sex supplies online at decent prices and provide clear , detailed information on what you’re buying.

Communication

Do you have the words to talk about sex, and about your body? A lot of us, whether we’re disabled or not, don’t grow up learning the right words for our body parts, or clearly understanding how our bodies work.

When you’re talking to someone you are (or want to be) having sex with, making sure you can communicate accurately and clearly is important. You can’t consent to take part in a sexual activity if you can’t understand your partner, or if they can’t understand you. It’s hard to agree on safer sex practices if, say, one or both partners are unable to speak clearly, are hard of hearing or deaf, or has trouble paying attention to written or spoken words for more than a moment.

You and your partner might want to have a few ways you communicate with each other about sex, both when you’re discussing it and when you’re doing it.

Your communication toolbox can include talking or signing, gesturing, writing notes back and forth, or any other way you can both understand each other. If verbal communication is difficult, or doesn’t happen at all, you’ll want to agree ahead of time on how you’ll communicate things during sex like “I need more lube” or “let’s get the dental dam.”

If talking and writing are both difficult, you might try reading through safer sex information together, and using words or body language (such as nodding your head, shrugging, looking confused, and so on) to indicate when you’ve read something you want to start doing, or that you want to learn more about.

If you use any assistive or augmentative communication devices, you might find the following list of sexual vocabulary words and phrases useful. These can also help you when you’re communicating with a healthcare provider or caregiver.

A Word On Coercion

Disabled people are at an increased risk of experiencing sexual assault. Sometimes that abuse can take the form of sexual coercion, someone talking you into sex you don’t want to have, or attempting to convince you to ditch the safer sex practices you’ve made it clear you want to use. Some people with disabilities are told—sometimes by partners, sometimes by family or friends–that they should be grateful for any sexual attention they get even if it’s not precisely what they want or need.

I call BS on that!

If someone is trying to talk or force you into sex that isn’t safe for you in any way, and they’re trying to use your disability (or anything else) to convince you, that’s just not okay. A person’s disability is no excuse for abuse.

More Resources on Sex and Disability

The following are some sex-and-disability resources that you may find useful:

ROBIN MANDELL is a healthy sexuality and disability rights advocate based in the Washington D.C. area.
She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Women’s Studies from Queen’s University in Canada and a Professional Writing Certificate from Washington State University. Over the years, Robin has amassed extensive experience working with people at vulnerable times of their lives, both as a crisis hotline worker and a sexuality and relationships education advocate with Scarleteen.  Robin has discovered over the years that disability issues receive significantly less attention in academia and social justice movements than they’re due. She has developed a passion for starting dialogues on sex, disability and accessibility, and has come to the realization that, as much as she just wants to be like everybody else, she can use her visible reality as a blind woman to start these dialogues. Robin blogs on disabilities, sexualities, and the connections between them at ReadySexyAble.com and has published articles on various sexuality and sexual health topics at Scarleteen and Fearless press.

One Thing About Sperm I Bet You Didn’t Learn in Sex Ed

This video is much more pleasant and accessible than anything I bet your teacher showed you in health class.

Do you remember when you learned how babies were made? Do you remember what information was covered? There are a lot of new and important things we know now that were not available in 1990s textbooks.

Here’s a snappy video from Bedsider delivering a lesser known fact about sperm. Watch this and you’ll be convinced how necessary preventative birth control really is (if you aren’t already!).

BY BEDSIDER | Bedsider.org

Video originally published on Bedsider

bedsiderBEDSIDER is an online birth control support network for women operated by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen & Unplanned Pregnancy. Bedsider is totally independent (no pharmaceutical or government involvement). Honest and unbiased, Bedsider’s goal is to help women find the method of birth control that’s right for them and learn how to use it consistently and effectively, and that’s it.
Find Bedsider on twitter @Bedsider

Emergency Contraceptives: Setting The Record Straight

Photograph: Gilbert Rodriguez

Photograph: Gilbert Rodriguez

BY JOELLEN NOTTE | theRedheadBedhead.com

In the wonderful world of sex, things don’t always go as planned— Condoms break, pills are forgotten, folks get drunk and reckless. When these things happen, Emergency Contraception (EC) can mean the difference between a brief panic and an unplanned pregnancy. However, before you can protect yourself with EC, it’s important to know your options and how they work. This is trickier than it should be though, as rumors, myths and misapprehensions regarding EC are rampant.

So let’s clear up some of the confusion, shall we?

What’s in a Name?

Emergency Contraception frequently goes under another name that confuses the issue greatly – The Morning After Pill. That name on its own confuses people on three separate issues:

  • “The” implies that there is only one kind of EC. Nope!
  • “Morning after” makes it sound like you must take it immediately or you are screwed. Not so!
  • “Pill” leads us to believe that EC only comes in pill form Incorrect! (That’s right folks, pills are not your only choice.)

There go three big fallacies before we even get past the introductions!

So, what are your options? How do they work? Where can you get them?

Well, they range from over-the-counter one-dose pills to IUDs (for real, IUDs can be used as EC!). To get the skinny on what’s out there, how you can get it and how much it might cost you, check out the Emergency Contraception page from our friends at Bedsider. It includes an emergency contraception locator and guidelines on following the Yuzpe Regimen – a way to use your regular BC pills as EC.

Mistaken Identity

Also, EC suffers from a huge case of mistaken identity! There are a lot of folks out there who think that Emergency Contraception and medication abortion are the same thing or that EC is an “Abortion Pill”. This is just plain wrong.

Emergency contraception prevents pregnancy, it does not end it.

Here’s how I like to think about it: Imagine you are a car and sex is driving (go with me here). In this world, EC would play the role of your brakes – there to prevent an accident. Medication abortion fits in the same category as things like air bags- there in case said  accident occurs. For more information on medication abortion and what it actually is, head over to Planned Parenthood’s Abortion Pill page.

The New Ella and The Great IUD

So, those are the big misconceptions but they are far from the only ones. Thankfully, once again, Bedsider to the rescue with 5 myths about the emergency contraceptive pill, busted. A quick disclaimer about this one, it does include one out-dated piece of information, which is that all of the pill options become less effective the longer you wait to take them. There is one pill, Ella, (which is the newest and available by prescription only) that doesn’t decrease in effectiveness.

Finally, be aware that the IUD is the only method that, once inserted, protects you against future pregnancy. Also, it is the most effective in terms of the pregnancy you are currently trying to prevent. Check it out:  IUDs Work Best for Emergency Contraceptive.

JoEllen-NotteJOELLEN NOTTE is helping to share the gospel of better living through better sex ed (amen!) – serving as both the Education Coordinator & Lead Sex Educator for the Portland Academy of Sex Education and a co-Emissary of Sex Geekdom Portland. Working as an adult retail consultant, she is working to help promote better sex through better adult retail. JoEllen first began fighting sexual mediocrity on her site theRedheadBedhead.com. Follow JoEllen on twitter: @bedheadtweeting

Hello, Birth Control!

Image from Bedsider

Image from Bedsider

All of us who need birth control want to find the right method that fits perfectly in our lives. Each of us have different needs, and those needs change throughout life. Thankfully, there are many effective methods to choose from today. Before you start deciphering between different brands, you should first look at what method are available. Take into consideration your lifestyle, personality, self-agency, sexual relationships and health history. It’s important to match the right method with all these aspects.

Because when it comes to birth control, you’ve got a lot to choose from.

Some health care providers divide methods up into 10 to 12 choices. Bedsider, however, has one of the most accessible schemes, breaking down birth control options into four simple categories.

This post was originally published here.

BY BEDSIDER | Bedsider.org

Birth control may seem like a modern idea, but it’s actually been around for thousands of years.

They say women in ancient Egypt used crocodile dung suppositories to avoid pregnancy. (Um… ew!) Condoms made of animal intestines were used in Europe as early as the 17th century. And guys have been “pulling out” for as long as anyone can remember.

Lucky for us, there are lots more effective methods to choose from today. And remember, if a certain method doesn’t fit your life or your body, it’s easy to find another one that will.

Hormonal Methods

There are a bunch of hormonal methods out there—not just the pill. There’s the ring, the patch, the implant (or Implanon), and the shot (Depo), too. All of them release hormones into your body, but they work in slightly different ways. Check out their individual pages to learn more.

Intrauterine Devices

Okay, first of all, “Intrauterine Device” is a horrible name for a really effective method. Intrauterine just means “in the uterus.” IUDs are little, t-shaped pieces of plastic (some also contain copper) that get put in your uterus to mess with the way sperm can move and prevent them from fertilizing an egg. Sounds odd, but they work like a charm.

Behavior-Based Methods

“Pulling out,” or withdrawal, is a method of birth control. So are Fertility Awareness-Based Methods (which means observing your body and counting the days of your cycle to figure out when you’re fertile). Both methods work better than nothing, but before you rely on one of them, consider this: These methods take a lot of self-control and 100% consistency on the part of both partners. Like, A LOT. You can’t say “just this once” and you can’t have any “oops” moments.

Barrier Methods

These methods literally block sperm from getting to the egg. The male condom is a perfect example. There’s also the diaphragm, the sponge, the female condom and the cervical cap. (Some of these have to be used with spermicide, which is a barrier method itself.) The only tricky bit with barrier methods is that you have to remember to use them every time you have sex. And sometimes, when you’re in the heat of the moment, finding a condom is the last thing on your mind.

 

bedsiderBEDSIDER is an online birth control support network for women operated by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen & Unplanned Pregnancy. Bedsider is totally independent (no pharmaceutical or government involvement). Honest and unbiased, Bedsider’s goal is to help women find the method of birth control that’s right for them and learn how to use it consistently and effectively, and that’s it.
Find Bedsider on twitter @Bedsider

Love the Glove: 10 Reasons to Love Condoms

screen-capture-15
The rate of STI infection among Americans between the ages of 15 and 24 is exceptionally high and this can be owed primarily to young people either not using condoms or other barriers, or failing to use them properly. Scarleteen, the internet’s source for comprehensive, inclusive sex ed and support for young people, is here with 10 reasons to  love condoms- reasons many of us never considered before.

This article is meant to help you understand the effects of inconsistent and unassertive condom use, and provide you with ten insightful reasons to use protection correctly, every time.

Here are the main points:

  • Correct and consistent use of condoms reduces the risk of HIV/AIDS transmission by approximately 85%.
  • Proper condom use decreases transmission risk of human papillomavirus (HPV) to women by approximately 70%.
  • Issues like maturity, pleasure and communication all have an impact on one’s level of confidence using condoms.

View the original article here

BY HEATHER CORINNA | Scarleteen

lovegloveAt the present time, the United States now rules when it comes to sexually transmitted infections (STIs). And not in a Whoohoo, go USA! kind of way. You’ve probably also heard that the rate of sexually transmitted infections in people 15-24 years old is exceptionally high.

Figuring out why isn’t tricky for those who work in sexual health. Some people will say this is because teens are having more sex than ever (not true: you’re having less sex than teens a generation or two before you did), or because people are having sex outside marriage (a fine fairy tale for those who don’t see lab results for STIs among some married people or who don’t know about the history of STIs). But those of us who work in direct care know why STI rates are so high and why they’re so disproportionate in young people right now.

It’s primarily because so many young people — and namely those in the 18-24 group, as younger teens are often better with condom use than people of any other age group — are not using latex or polyurethane condoms and other barriers to protect themselves and their partners, or are not using them correctly and consistently. As someone who talks with people every day about their sexual behavior, and who also tracks young people’s sexual behavior and health over time, I know this all too well. We observe users who come to Scarleteen and see that those who have not used latex barriers at all or consistently are overwhelmingly the same users who eventually come to report an STI. Sure, every now and then we do hear from a user who always used condoms properly and who still got an STI. But that happens about as often as I find a $5 bill on the sidewalk.

There are other reasons the STI rate is so high in younger people. Cervical cell development of younger women isn’t complete, making the cervix more prone to infection. People in your age group often tend to have more sexual partners and shorter relationships than older people. The overall rate of STIs is higher than it used to be, making it easier to land one. But we know that the main reason is that overwhelmingly, many people in your age group are either not using latex barriers at all, or are not using them all the time, every time, correctly. While many older adults aren’t much better with condom use, it does matter more what you do because two thirds of all individuals who acquire STIs are younger than 25 years old.

It’s not complicated: most people who acquire a sexually transmitted infection are simply not using condoms or are not using them every time and properly.

A report from Child Trends DataBank in October of 2008 (based on data from the CDC) found “53 percent of teen boys say they don’t always use a condom. Among girls, about two-thirds say a condom isn’t always used. Sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV/AIDS, and unintended pregnancy are major health consequences associated with unprotected sexual activity. Although a similar percentage of teens are sexually active in the United States as in western European countries, the U.S. has much higher teen pregnancy and STI rates than does Western Europe. This is due to lower consistency and effectiveness of contraceptive use in the U.S.” They add that “Condom use is higher among younger students than it is among older students. In 2007, 69 percent of sexually active ninth grade students, compared with 62 percent of eleventh graders and 54 percent of twelfth graders, used condoms. Part of this drop is due to higher levels of use of other forms of birth control among older students, although it is still a cause for concern since condoms are the only form of effective control against STIs for those who are sexually active.”

Condoms work very well at reducing STI transmission: According to a 2000 report by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), correct and consistent use of latex condoms reduces the risk of HIV/AIDS transmission by approximately 85% relative to risk when unprotected, putting the seroconversion rate (infection rate) at 0.9 per 100 person-years with condom, down from 6.7 per 100 person-years. Analysis published in 2007 from the World Health Organization found similar risk reductions of 80–95%. The 2000 NIH review concluded that condom use significantly reduces the risk of gonorrhea for men. A 2006 study reports that proper condom use decreases the risk of transmission of human papillomavirus (HPV) to women by approximately 70%.

You can read more about STIs all over Scarleteen, like here and here and here and… you get the picture. But you probably already know why you should use condoms. Our users generally report higher use of condoms than the overall demographic, so maybe you don’t even need to read what I’m about to say. But you’ve probably also heard or thought some things about condoms that might be keeping you or others from using them or from using them consistently, and I’m willing to bet you haven’t heard everything I’m about to say. Even if you’re already using condoms and using them every single time properly, I bet you know someone — a sibling, a friend, maybe even a sexual partner — who could stand to hear some of this. So, why use condoms and other barriers?

In a nutshell:

1. Because it can help you to get closer
2. Because barebacking isn’t as cool as you think.
3. Because chances are good that eventually, you’re going to either have to use condoms or knowingly be putting partners or yourself at a high risk of infection.
4. Because it pays it forward.
5. Because it feels good.
6. Because it helps you learn to be truthful in and with your sexuality and about sexuality in general.
7. Because it can keep you from proving people right who say you don’t have the maturity or the ability to have sex responsibly.
8. Because if you’re male, you can help to show men are better than the lowest common denominator.
9. Because being unassertive really isn’t sexy.
10. Because I love you.
For more details on all of these points, keep reading.

1. Because it helps you get closer

I know: I’ve heard some people say that condoms and other barriers keep people from getting close, too. But the folks I hear say that rarely seem to be the folks whose relationships are all that close or intimate. The people I hear from who DON’T say that about condoms, and who practice safer sex in their relationships seem to be the ones getting closer and feeling closer to each other.

Avoiding potentially sticky or difficult conversations doesn’t bring us closer: it keeps us apart. Asking someone to care for you in any way is not a barrier to intimacy: it’s not asking that keeps space between you and yours. Having to discuss sexual anatomy, 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. Talking about these things together, working through any misunderstandings or emotional issues around them and having something that adds extra communication to any sex you’re having are all the kinds of things that nurture closeness and real intimacy. Silence doesn’t bring people closer: communication does.

A lot of what we hear young people say about not using condoms has to do with one or both partners finding it hard to assert themselves, or being worried about a negative reaction: that’s not about closeness. Even more troubling is a conversation about condoms that starts with “I don’t want to use them because I want to be close,” and often leads to a bigger discussion in which what comes out is, “I’m scared to ask him to wear a condom.”

Being outright afraid to ask someone to do something to help safeguard the health of you both shows a serious LACK of getting close (or a desire to avoid getting close enough to find out if someone is or isn’t the person you currently think they are or hope them to be). We can’t say we and someone else are very close and at the same time say we feel scared of, with or around them. When we’re earnestly close to someone, we feel able to say or ask things when we don’t know if we’re going to get a positive response. If we want a close relationship, we have to not only say or bring up the things we know they’ll like hearing, or have a positive reaction to, but the things when we’re not so sure they’ll like or which we know are loaded, but that we need to say and talk about for our well-being and health and the quality of our relationship.

2. Because barebacking isn’t as cool as you think

I’ve been having a sense of déjà vu lately when hearing some hetero girls say they’re “not into condoms” with a wink and a grin, or that they, unlike those other girls who use condoms and who they tend to frame as killjoys, are willing to go without condoms, in this way that rings of trying to aim for a certain social status by being the one willing to risk health and life for… well, a whole lotta nothing much.

Why I’m having déjà vu is because I’m old enough to remember when some gay guys were all about that. I remember seeing how many of them died and were part of others dying because of it, as well as how many of the men who barebacked only because they didn’t know what we and you know now about how to protect ourselves died from barebacking. That trend in the gay community was not only lethal, it also resulted in those who were the least responsible defining a whole group of people culturally in a very negative way that is still strongly harming the GLBT community. It hurt all of us, not just the people it hurt directly.

On top of risking your life and health, any social status you might get from being the girl who’ll take big risks other girls don’t is likely to be temporary, and will also change very radically when you go from “That hottie who doesn’t make guys use condoms,” to “That [insert derogatory term for women of your choice here] who gave everyone Chlamydia.”

Not a pretty thing to say, I know. But it is what tends to wind up happening in the real world. The tide turns very quickly on girls who are sexually active PERIOD in our culture, even responsibly, but all the more so for those who aren’t responsible in their sexual behavior. I don’t like that or the misogyny it’s based in, as guys are rarely treated or talked about like that, but it’s out there. It’s tenuous enough to be a sexually active young woman, but when things go amiss and you do wind up with and spread an STI, it’s usually going to be framed as being YOUR doing, not the doing of everyone or anyone else who had sex with you and made their choice not to use condoms, too. Those are strongly sexist double standards, but they are out there and they can really hurt when directed at you, especially if you have to suffer in silence alone, knowing part of that result had to do with your own choices and actions.

From my point of view, what I see in these cases is a young woman having some big esteem issues and who seems to feel it’s worth it to risk her life and health for a temporarily increased sexual appeal. While our sexuality and our sexual relationships can support our self-esteem, they tend to be poor places to try and get self-esteem, especially if our sex lives involve a habit or precedent of not caring for ourselves and inviting or allowing others `to treat us without real care. Lack of self-care and solid self-esteem can’t coexist. If we have good self-esteem, we see ourselves as valuable and worthy of care. If your esteem isn’t so great, and you want it to be better, then insisting others treat us you care is one way to improve it: accepting or advertising yourself as open to being treated like a throwaway is a way to make sure your esteem gets even lower.

3. Because you are likely to end up with an STI if you do not use condoms and other barriers consistently and correctly

If you have sex with others without using condoms or other barriers correctly and consistently, you are likely to wind up with an infection at some point. And if you and your partner(s) don’t also get tested regularly, you — like most people with an STI — won’t even know you have one that you’re spreading around.

When we have users who interact with us at the boards talking about how they’re not using condoms, it’s a bit like being able to see into the future. Because inevitably, someone like that who sticks to that habit of going without will eventually post about an STI they wound up with within a few years, if not sooner.

A lot of people have a false sense of security based on not having gotten an STI yet. Mind, some of those people haven’t been tested to know their status, but some have. If you go without condoms or other latex barriers for a few months or a few years and didn’t get an STI, it can be easy to believe that not using condoms is going to work out fine for you. But because we don’t wind up with an infection in a month or a year or two of not using barriers doesn’t mean we won’t in time. The studies and statistics on STIs also tend to reflect that very clearly. The highest STI rates in young adults usually aren’t in the youngest sexually active teens: the group with the highest rates is usually those 18 and over who have often been sexually active for a year or two already.

And of course, if and when your luck runs out and you get an STI, especially if it’s one you can’t get treated and which is then out of your system via that treatment, you will then either need to use condoms or be purposefully putting others at risk (and yourself at risk of infections you didn’t get yet).

It’s a lot easier to establish your sex life in the habit of using safer sex practices than it is to add them later. If you start using condoms (and getting tested) early in your sex life, continuing to do so is a no-brainer. You get to be an ace at using barriers sooner, get to learn how to have conversations about safer sex as you’re learning to have all kinds of conversations about sex, and the more you do it and the sooner you start, the tougher it gets to space out safer sex, and the less and less it seems like any big deal. When it’s a solid habit, you just reach for that condom instinctively. And when you reach for it like that? Partners tend to react just as instinctively and just put it on with no fuss.

Most people will need to use condoms at some point to avoid infections. If you’re going to need to eventually anyway, why put it off, especially during the time in your life when you’re at the highest risk of infections and most likely to get one?

4. Because it pays to go forward

Younger people are particularly prone to monkey-see/monkey-do. In other words, if you and yours don’t use condoms, your friends are also less likely to. And then so are their friends. And theirs. And all young people.

Using condoms not only protects your health, it protects and can improve our global health. If you don’t get and spread an STI, you’re part of the solution to the problem: you, all by yourself, literally can help improve the public health just by not getting sick. Sexually transmitted infections impact our public health deeply. While many are easy to treat (once you get tested to know you have one, that is), and many won’t impact the individual health of most who get them, we’re not all at the same level of health nor do we all have the same level of access to healthcare and treatment. Some STIs that are no-big to most of us can be life-threatening to others because of preexisting conditions or suppressed immune systems. You might be able to get something treated easily because you have health insurance, but someone who winds up with an STI from your now-ex you gave one to might not have those same resources.

One thing I’ve always liked about using condoms is that I not only get to know I’m caring for my health and that of my partners, but that I am caring for your health, her health, his health and everyone’s health. Using condoms is one way I can to care for the whole planet while at the same time caring for myself. And that’s pretty awesome to be able to do with just a little piece of latex and an orgasm.

5. Because it feels good

Say what? You thought condoms made things feel less good, right? Actually some studies (Sexual Pleasure and Condom Use, Mary E. Randolph, Steven D. Pinkerton, Laura M. Bogart, Heather Cecil, and Paul R. Abramson) find that those who report that are often those who do not use condoms, haven’t in a while or who don’t use them often. They have also found that men believe this is so (even without any actual experience) more than women do, and that belief influences men’s experiences with condoms and whether or not men will use condoms. While yes, many people do report that unprotected sex feels better than protected sex, overall, people who use condoms and are used to using them tend to report experiencing greater pleasure with protected sex than those who often go without protection. In other words, people who use condoms often — most likely because they have better attitudes walking in the door, and because they learn what condoms they like and how to use them well — don’t really express that using condoms decreases their overall pleasure or satisfaction. The more you use them, the more they feel good, and it’s the people who don’t use them at all who tend to complain about them the most.

Even for males who report a difference in pleasure between condom and no condom, though, the differential is pretty minor between them and those who don’t report a difference. And in studies on women, there’s most often no real difference in sensation reported at all. Physically — when we’re talking only about physical sensation — for most men, condoms slightly decrease sensation. For women, that’s rare, which isn’t a shocker since unlike the clitoris, the vagina has few sensory nerve endings. The vagina tends to feel pressure, but not fine sensations, like the diff between a condom and bare skin. Mind, for some men, that decrease can be a bonus: for those who are looking to keep an erection around for longer, a decrease in sensation and the pressure a condom puts at the base of the penis can extend erection time for some men.

People who say they “can’t feel anything” with a condom on are either a) being dishonest or b) not using condoms properly. While a lot of people are dishonest, a lot of people also don’t know how to use condoms properly and what can help with pleasure. For instance, thinner condoms are just as safe as thicker ones. There are more condom types than what your average drugstore carries, and some kinds of condoms have all kinds of neat stuff going on to help increase pleasure, like extra headroom, textured dots on the inside, the works. Putting a few drops of lube inside the condom before it goes on as well as some lube outside the condom makes a big difference with sensation and can make sex feel better, full-stop. Having a partner put on a condom for you as part of the sex you’re having — rather than as an interruption — is something a lot of people find enjoyable and sexy.

How something makes us feel with sex is also bigger than physics. A Kinsey Institute study in 2008 (Relationships between condoms, hormonal methods, and sexual pleasure and satisfaction: an exploratory analysis from the Women’s Well-Being and Sexuality Study, Jenny A. Higgins, Susie Hoffman, Cynthia A. Graham and Stephanie A. Sanders, Sexual Health, Volume 5, Number 4) found that women who use both hormonal contraception (for those with male partners who need it) and condoms report higher overall sexual satisfaction than women who go without condoms or only use a hormonal method of birth control. In that study, women who used hormonal methods alone were least likely to report decreased pleasure, but they also had the lowest overall scores of sexual satisfaction compared with condom users. What does that mean? That pleasure as a whole is more than just mechanics or vaginal/penile sensation.

Sex is about our whole bodies, as well as other parts of our genitals than a condom touches and it’s also about how we feel emotionally and intellectually and how sex is part of our whole relationships and our whole lives. It feels good to know you’re taking care of yourself and others, and to have a partner give a hoot about your health and peace of mind. It feels good to have the self-esteem and the confidence to stand up for ourselves and what we need to stay healthy, and to only be in relationships where caring for ourselves is in alignment with what a partner wants: if that’s at odds with what they want, we can’t possibly expect to have a healthy, happy relationship with that person.

It feels good to approach partnered sex smartly and soundly. Knowing we’ll be protected well before sex even starts is going to incline us to be more interested in having sex in the first place. When we know our risks of infections are highly reduced, it’s much easier to relax before, during and after sex, and being able to relax more means our sexual response systems work better so we can get more sexually aroused and enjoy sex more. Worry and anxiety inhibits sexual response and limits pleasure.

6. Because it helps you learn to be truthful in and with your sexuality and about sexuality in general.

Let’s tell the truth right now. You don’t want to risk getting an infection. You don’t want to feel like you can’t ask to be cared for and treated with care with anyone you’re sexually intimate with. You don’t want to argue about condoms when you want to be sexual. You don’t want to be with someone even casually who cares more about getting themselves off than if they make you really sick in the process of doing it. You don’t want to have a sex life where it’s not okay to press pause for a sec for any reason, whether that’s about a condom being put on or adjusting to find a position that feels best. You don’t want to have to risk your health to prove your love to someone else.

There are some fictions that avoiding safety behaviors like condom use holds up, like the lie that sex should be all about either what pleases men, first and foremost, or about men calling all the shots, just because they can. Again, we’re dropping denial here: many guys who say they can’t get off with condoms are not telling the truth. Some haven’t even used condoms, and are just saying what they think they’re supposed to or because they’re embarrassed to admit they’re newbies with condoms, but some are outright lying. They have used condoms before and gotten off just fine, and they haven’t refused to use them with other partners who they know won’t have sex with them without a condom. And some, when they say they can’t get off with condoms mean something else: that what they get off on is seeing if you’ll sacrifice your health and life just to get them off. Not only does anyone want to avoid having sex without a condom with a partner like that, you don’t want to sleep with someone like that, period. Heck, you probably are safest just staying off their block.

Many people still believe the propaganda that there are microscopic holes in condoms that pathogens can get through easily: but that isn’t true, and we have always had every evidence that wasn’t so. Some people have the idea that people only use condoms with partners they feel or think are “dirty,” with sex workers, or for extramarital affairs. But in fact, even many married couples use condoms: according to a Population Reference Bureau survey in 2008, in developed countries condoms are the most popular method of birth control: around 28% of married people use condoms.

Another whopper? Only “promiscuous” people get STIs. I put that in quotes because we don’t ever know what that term means. To one person, that means 300 partners, to another, 20, to another, anything more than one. Many people get an STI from just a first or second partner, and some people who have had 50 or even 100 partners have never had an STI. Plenty of unmarried people have never had an STI, while plenty of married people have: one of the first big waves of sexually transmitted infections here in the states after WWI was among marrieds. ALL kinds of people get STIs. The idea that no one can or is likely to get an STI through first-time sex, or sex with a first partner reminds me of the idea my mother’s generation had that no one could get pregnant with first-time intercourse. It’s understandable given how much cultural messaging cultivates this idea, but it’s also just not true. People of all stripes get STIs every day: good people and not-so-good people. People of all colors and genders and orientations. People who grew up on this side of the tracks and people who grew up on that one. People who have had five or twenty partners and people who have had but one.

Then there’s the fiction that it’s not young people, or people who with their first or second partnership have to worry about STIs, but older people. You already saw the stats about who has the highest rate of STIs, so we’ve hopefully shredded that myth already. How about the one that says only gay men need to worry about STIs? Nope: the highest rates of STIs are in young, heterosexual women. Even HIV, once ignorantly called “the gay plague,” is more likely to be transmitted via heterosexual partnerships than homosexual ones, and worldwide, heterosexual women account for around half of all cases of HIV: 98% of which are in developed nations like the U.S.

Let’s not forget the one about how as long as people love and trust each other, or as long as people are lucky, no one is going to get sick; that STI transmission is all about luck or love or trust and not about something much more tangible and less arbitrary.

We can love someone all we want, but there are some things we can’t control — like how many of us are exposed to STIs via rape before we ever chose to have consensual sex, like how often partners — even in otherwise loving relationships — are dishonest or unfaithful, like how many people have already had sexual partners before they met a person they want to spend a life with. It’s important that we don’t base our ideas about STIs on a minority group or an unrealistic or unattainable ideal.

Viruses and bacteria don’t care who loves who or who trusts who. If we’re exposed to the genitals or fluids of others, we’re potentially exposed to STIs. If we reduce that exposure either by not having genital sex or by using latex barriers when we do, we’re much less exposed. If we go without, we’re wide open to this stuff, just like we are when someone coughs in our face. If your partner has a cold, we may get it whether they love us or not. If our partner has Chlamydia, we may get it whether they love us or not.

If we can’t be truthful in our sexual lives about our sexual health and about how we want support from partners in staying healthy, we’re unlikely to be able to tell the much harder truths that are part of a great sex life: like to talk about what we like, what we fantasize about, what we’re afraid of, what we’re feeling emotionally, what we don’t like. If we can’t say no to sex without condoms, we also are unlikely to be able to say no to sex we don’t want, full-stop. Asking someone to put on a condom is one of the easier things to ask for in our sex lives. If we can do that, asking for the other stuff also gets easier. The more truthful we can be about all aspects of our sexuality, including things like STIs and condoms, the better our sex lives are, both when it comes to our health and also when it comes to our sexual satisfaction.

7. Because it can keep you from providing people right who say you don’t have the maturity or ability to have sex responsibly.

Abstinence-only initiatives, for instance, get away with what they do in part because some of the things they say are true. Some young people really don’t — they say can’t, and in certain numbers, it sure starts to look like a can’t — make smart choices with sex, even when they know better. If you read any newspapers or listen to any news, you know that the standard way teen and young adult sex gets presented is as a giant public health problem and a big, scary panic. When you face discrimination about your age and sexuality, that has a lot to do with that presentation.

Some of why it’s presented and interpreted that way is because it is that way: not because young people are having sex, but because so many are without using safer sex and contraception. Right now, and over the last ten years, as a generation your sex life really is becoming a serious public health problem, primarily because you have not been using condoms, or using condoms consistently and correctly.

Do you really want to prove those folks right? Really? Do you want to be the person or group of people who they can use as evidence to show that people in their teens and twenties should be treated like children? I sure wouldn’t want to help anyone disrespecting me to be able to keep on doing it, and doing it with evidence I’m handing right over to them wrapped in a bow. As a youth advocate, I can’t tell you how many times I have had to argue that despite the way some youth behave, I know in my guts that you are all capable of handling your sexuality with care and maturity. It’s so frustrating, because I really do know that you are that capable: I see plenty of young people doing a better job with their sexuality than plenty of older adults are, but what I see and know is continually overshadowed by those who don’t have sex with care and caution and the reality of the level of STIs in your age group. Yep: I admit, I am asking you to use condoms to help make my job of advocating for you easier on me.

Perhaps your competitive spirit might also get riled by knowing my generation did a better job than yours with condom use. From that same AAP report I linked to earlier: “Among sexually active adolescent males 17 to 19 years old living in metropolitan areas, reported condom use at last intercourse increased from 21% in 1979 to 58% in 1988. Reported condom use at first intercourse among adolescent women 15 to 19 years old increased from 23% in 1982 to 47% in 1988. Data from the 1988 and 1995 National Surveys of Adolescent Males indicate that these increases continued, with reported condom use at last intercourse among 15 to 19-year-olds increasing from 57% in 1988 to 67% in 1995. The CDC data indicate increases in reported condom use at last intercourse from 38% to 51% among females and from 56% to 63% among males for those in grades 9 through 12 between 1991 and 1997.”

What about after the mid-to-late nineties? By 2003 (when we were still around that 73%), those increases in condom use started to come to a standstill then backpedal. Current data shows that “only 45% of adolescent males report condom use for every act of intercourse and that condom use actually decreases with age when comparing males 15 to 17 years old with males 18 to 19 years old. Also, females report less frequent use of condoms during intercourse than males, presumably because many adolescent females are sexually active with older partners. Rates of pregnancies and STDs in females are unlikely to decrease beyond current levels unless condom use by adolescents and young adults continues to increase significantly in the years ahead. Condom use by one half to two thirds of adolescents is not sufficient to significantly decrease rates of unintended pregnancy and acquisition of STDs.”

8. Because if you’re male, you can help show men are better than the lowest common denominator.

In a nationally representative sample of more than 3,000 U.S. men interviewed about condoms, the most frequently cited negative reactions were: reduces sensation, requires being careful to avoid breakage, requires withdrawing quickly, embarrassing to buy, difficult to put on, often comes off during sex, embarrassing to discard, shows you think partner has AIDS, and makes partner think you have AIDS.

Let’s briefly deconstruct these:

  • Gander, meet goose. If we’re going to talk about condoms changing how sex feels, we need to remember that something like the pill does too, and, unlike condoms, it changes how a woman feels all the time, both during and outside of sex. And as someone who has had a barrier over a much more sensitive part than a penis (the clitoris) and has also used hormonal medication can tell you (and that’s on top of knowing the data I do as a sex educator) a latex barrier, when used properly doesn’t change sensations more than most methods do for women. Other methods of contraception can cause pain and cramping, unpredictable bleeding, urinary tract infections, depression and a whole host of unpleasant side effects. Condoms are the LEAST intrusive and demanding of all methods of contraception, even though some guys talk about them — without considering this perspective — like they’re the most. If guys could feel what life can be like on the pill, use a cervical barrier or get a Depo shot, they’d easily see condoms for the cakewalk they are.
  • You have to be no more careful to avoid condom breakage than you have to be careful with someone’s body during sex. If you’re engaged with someone’s genitals and treating them the way they need to be treated to avoid pain or injury, you’re already being just as careful as you need to be with condoms. And if you’re not treating someone else’s body with care overall, you need to step it up and start doing that anyway.
  • You also always have the option of putting a new condom on and going back inside the vagina if that’s what the both of you want.
  • Condoms are no more embarrassing to buy than tampons: at least someone thinks you’re about to get lucky. For that matter, they’re not more embarrassing to buy than the magazines some of you read. And as you grow older, your “embarrassing purchases” list will increase, anyway: from Rogaine to hemorrhoid cream, denture cleaner to adult diapers, condoms are hardly the only thing you’ll need to purchase in public sometimes you really wish you could buy privately. Welcome to adult life, folks. That said, you always have the option of buying condoms online if you want.
  • They’re only difficult to put on if you don’t learn how. Practice makes perfect.
  • They don’t come off often during sex unless you’re not putting them on properly, not adding lube when you need to (and when your partner would then likely need you to as well for them to still have sex feel good) and when you’re using a condom that isn’t too big or too small for you.
  • Again, if tossing a condom in the trash is embarrassing, how about tampons, the medication you’re taking for Gonorrhea or a dirty diaper?
  • Condom use does not say you think someone has AIDS. What it says to a smart partner is that you have a head on your shoulders, you care about them, and that you have the maturity to recognize that they shouldn’t carry the responsibilities of sex all by themselves.

While some of these attitudes come from guys who are simply uninformed or misinformed, for those who know better or should, some of this stuff is just plain foolish. And THAT’s embarrassing, no? Male attitudes about condoms have more influence on whether or not condoms get used than female attitudes do. That’s because a) women’s attitudes tend to be better, b) men as a class still have more power than women (and men influence other men more than women do), and c) you’re most often the ones wearing them or the ones who make a fuss about wearing them.

9. And if you’re all hung up on what’s sexy…

Being open about all parts of sex, not just about what you might do to someone to get them off, is sexy in most people’s books. Being all ooh-ahh about giving a blow job or going down on someone, but then recoiling like a kid with mushy peas on their dinner plate about condoms doesn’t tend to be a turn on for a lot of people. For some — including the person with that response themselves — it can be a pretty serious turn OFF. I’m older than our readers, but speaking for myself, when someone reacts that way when I pull out a condom (and they rarely do), I’m just done. It feels seriously uncomfortable, like I was about to be sexual with someone who isn’t really ready for all of sex; like I was about to be with someone who is emotionally and intellectually many steps behind me. That’s not sexy to me at all: it sends a very clear message to my brain — the organ that drives most of our sexuality — that turns all of my turn-on signals into turn-off signals in two seconds flat.

Assertiveness is sexy: look at who you and the world as a whole tends to find sexy and that’s obvious. Being confident about caring for yourself and the firm belief and insistence anyone else you are sexual with must treat you with that same respect and care is sexy. Caring about yourself and your health, and caring about the health of others is sexy. Having limits and boundaries you don’t let anyone else trample on is sexy. Coming to, addressing and responding to the things that keep everyone as safe as possible during sex is sexy. Being confident in yourself and someone else that they’ve got some real maturity and smarts when it comes to sex is sexy. And there is absolutely, positively, nothing UNsexy about handing someone a condom or a dental dam that you’re giving them as a way of cementing a great, big, wholehearted “yes” to you two being sexual together. What could be unsexy about that?

Sexy is as sexy does. There is no one way to be sexy, no matter what anyone says. Being sexy is about how you feel sexy and sexual, and how you project those feelings to others when you’re feeling them. So, for sure, if when it comes to safer sex you are a shrinking violet, that’s probably not very sexy. But if you pull out or put on a condom with confidence and a smile, and if you get it in your head firmly that this is sexy, then it’s likely to be perceived as sexy. If you feel sexy in it, and it’s sexy to you, it’s going to be to someone else. To everyone else? Probably not, especially since there is absolutely nothing in the world that is sexy to absolutely everyone. But.

People who claim their own sexuality in a real way and feel confident in it, which includes taking care of themselves and insisting on the same from others, tend to be the people who both express feeling the most sexy and who others perceive as sexy.

10. Because I love you.

I’d hope that at this stage of my career as an educator, it’s obvious that the primary reason I do what I do is simply out of love for all of you. The benefits are nonexistent, the pay blows chunks and sometimes I have to take a whole lot of crap from people who think I’m Satan incarnate for helping you out with sexuality: if I didn’t love you and think that a good way for me to express that was by doing what I could to help you take care of yourself and have a healthy, happy sexuality, I wouldn’t do this job at all.

Getting an STI is rarely the end of the world. While a couple are literally deadly serious, most are treatable and most will not have that great an impact on your life if you find out you have one early and get treated. But I don’t want you to be sick if you can avoid it. If it can be avoided, I don’t want you to have to deal with the negative feelings around an STI that are tough to avoid in a world that really stigmatizes STIs and the people who have them. I don’t want you to have to get extra pap smears, to have to endlessly experiment with new drugs for HIV or to have to tell a potential partner you have a genital herpes outbreak. I’ll support you if you do, and know that I don’t think anything different about you than I think about someone who has the flu or leukemia, but whatever I can do to help prevent it in the first place is something I want to do.

I know that if you just don’t have sex that you are even less likely to get an STI than if you use condoms. But I don’t just tell you not to have sex because a) I know that most people, once they are into or past puberty, will have and want a sexual life with partners, b) I think that sexuality is part of who we are and can be a great part of our lives and c) I know that you can reduce your risks of unwanted consequences very well and still be sexual when that’s what you want. I also know that a truly great sex life includes protecting yourself and others as best you can from negative or unwanted consequences of sex.

I know from my work and my own sexual life how much more enjoyable and less stressful sex is when you’re safe and smart about it. Not having to worry about the complications of an infection, about giving an infection to someone else, or about taking huge risks with infection is nice: it’s much less stressful than the alternative. It’s often amazing to me, as someone who has had more sexual partners than most of you ever will given generational differences, to talk with many of you who are terrified about the risks you’ve taken after the fact within sexual lifestyles and scenarios that are comparatively more conservative than mine have been, but far less safe as far as protecting your sexual health goes. I don’t panic after sex, and that’s not because I have some secret or don’t care about the bad stuff that can happen: I don’t panic because I know I can keep myself very safe and still have the sex I want to, and I have more than two decades of doing so to look back on and see how well that’s worked. I can see the same with the people I work with as users or clients in my sexual health work.

When it comes to sexuality, here’s what I want for the people I love: I want it to be great for them and anyone they are sexual with. I want them to feel good about their sexual lives, not scared, freaked out, panicked or upset. I want them to stay healthy. I want them to feel empowered by their sexual choices, whatever they are. And I’m not sure how all of that can happen if and when anyone is taking unnecessary risks or avoiding asking for, and insisting on, sexual partners treating them with care, which certainly includes not exposing them to illness when that can be avoided. Because I love you, if and when you want a sex life with others, I want you to have one that is wonderful and enjoyable, but also as safe as it can be so that it can keep ON being wonderful and enjoyable.

I love you, so I want you to use condoms and other barriers if you’re going to be sexually active, and to chillax with the genital sex that presents possible STI risks if you can’t. It’s just that simple sometimes.

Safer Sex Wrap Up

Safer sex is a group of practices of which condom/latex barrier use is one part. The standard guidelines for safer sex suggested by public health agencies are that any two (or more) people who are new partners use condoms or other latex barriers for all vaginal, anal and/or oral sex for at least six months, and then only ditch them (if you want to) AFTER each has had a new round of testing for all STIs with negative results AND those two people have been sexually exclusive for six months.

If you and/or a partner didn’t have previous sexual partners for ANY genital sex of any kind or it’s been longer than those six months since either or both of you did, then if you get tested straightaway w/negative results if you had no partners or tested when it’s been more than six months since a previous partner, then your risks are already very low. That doesn’t mean after all that you’ll have NO risks: rather, it means that so long as you both stay sexually exclusive afterward, at that point, your risks are likely very minimal.

To completely eliminate our risks of STIs, we need to not have sex. With anyone. Ever. We’d need to avoid the nonsexual behaviors that can transmit some infections, like IV drug use. We’d also need to avoid sharing towels and linens, kissing our aunt Mabel who has the cold sores sometimes, and a whole bunch of other things very few of us who live outside a hermetically-sealed bubble will be able to avoid.

If you want to see the safer sex guidelines other sound sexual health organizations advise, here are a few for you to peek at:

Very few people will not have sex with anyone in a lifetime: most young adults will also have at least one sexual partner before their 20’s. If we’re going to be sexual with partners, to reduce our risks and make oral, vaginal and/or anal sex safer we need to use latex barriers, get tested (and treated if we have any infections) and limit our number of sexual partners. Doing just one of any of those things can help some, but it’s all three of those together that public health agencies make clear have been shown to be most effective.

We have much bigger piece on safer sex here. You can also find out about how to use condoms properly here, and find out what all your options are with condoms here. Have questions? Come on over to our message boards and we’re glad to talk things over with you.

scarleteenSCARLETEEN is an independent, grassroots sexuality education and support organization and website. Founded in 1998, Scarleteen.com is visited by around three-quarters of a million diverse people each month worldwide, most between the ages of 15 and 25. It is the highest-ranked website for sex education and sexuality advice online and has held that rank through the majority of its tenure.

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