Breaking The No Condom Habit

screen-capture-5It is not uncommon for people to falter. Practicing safer sex every single time can be a challenge for some. One reason for this is feeling insecure about initiating condom use. How can you shore up an assertive and sexy way to lay down the condom rule?

Basic courtesies in sex may feel unfamiliar because there simply is no discussion about it in our standard sex education or popular media, which is why we highly recommend this article by Robin Mandell of Scarleteen. It unpacks from where these nuanced communication difficulties stem. The author gets straight to the heart of why it is so important to take responsibility in managing your sexual safety. She offers great tips on how to incorporate condoms as a normal part of sex.

Here are some stellar points to remember next time you feel uneasy about introducing safer practices:

  • Taking care of your body and your partner’s body is smart and sexy!
  • Stigma around STIs has twisted safer sex practices to seem like an unsexy act of distrust. This is complete ignorance! It is about caring for each other’s health and what’s wrong with that?
  • No matter who your partner is, you can say “no” to sex if the person refuses to use a condoms. Because after all, to refuse or complain about such a thing is not respecting your sexual boundaries. Now THAT is unsexy.
  • Talk about STI testing and safer sex practices with all your sex partners. Using condoms is something that can come into casual conversation.
  • Practice how to put on a condom yourself and be prepared with your own stash of safer sex tools.
  • Condoms also make oral sex fun and safe.

The original article was published on Scarleteen

BY ROBIN MANDELL | ReadySexyAble.com

This question was posed to Scarleteen.

CuriosityCat asks:

I am 20 and sexually active. I don’t have a long term partner but have had and do have various partners. I have an IUD so I’m protected against pregnancy, however I know condoms are still hugely important. My problem is that I am completely stuck for what to say to make a man put one on. At the moment, it’s just getting carried away then really kicking myself later. I have to be more diligent with this, but please- do you have any advice for laying down the law? A non awkward, but still sexy way of asserting myself?

Robin Mandell replies:

In a sentence: you could just take one out of your bag, hand it to your partner, and say “Here, put this on.” Or, “Let’s get a condom on first.”

Or, if you want to keep the touch between the two of you going without a condom-stop, how about, “Why don’t I slide this on for you.” Remember, you can put a condom on, too, and some folks find making putting condoms on part of sex, rather than having them be an interruption, sexy, playful and fun.

It really is as simple as any of that, yet I know it can feel a whole lot more difficult. Especially when you’re not yet in the habit, so it feels out-of-place instead of typical. Once condom use and insisting on it is your normal, it really does feel a whole lot different, and can be very easy to be totally relaxed about. Bonus: when you’re relaxed about it, your partners will tend to be too, so there’s likely to be no muss and no fuss.

There are a few things I’m not sure of, in answering this question: Are these partners friends? Strangers? Something in between? Do you have some type of ongoing sexual relationship with them, just single encounters, or does it depend on the partner? Answers to these questions may impact how you negotiate condoms, but they don’t have to have any impact on whether they’re used or not. Where these sexual encounters take place can also affect the mechanics of how you incorporate condom use in a way that feels comfortable and still sexy for you.

No matter who your partner is, though, or where you are, using a condom really can be a hard limit for you, hard in that if a partner refuses, you can take that sexual activity off the table, instead opting to engage in other sexual activities that don’t pose the same kinds of risks. And that doesn’t have to be paired with any drama or ultimatums (nor should it be.) It can be as mellow as, “Yeah, I wanted to have sex, too, but I need condoms to be used for that. If you don’t, that’s cool, but not when it comes to sex with me. You’ll need to find someone who is okay with that, then.”

It can be tough to say “no” to something you really want, or to say “no” to someone you really like or are attracted too, but this is your health we’re talking about. Theirs, too.

Taking care of your body is sexy as far as I’m concerned, and doing things that show you’re caring for someone else’s body is also sexy in my book.

The huge stigma society has built up around STIs and STI transmission, plus the very real dangers of some STIs, has made safer sex practices seem like a chore, or like the unsexy part of sex. There’s even some cultural weirdness around just being caring about ourselves and other people when it comes to sex, which is pretty strange for something that’s supposed to involve our humanity.

Really though, any action that ensures people’s health and safety, whether it’s checking with someone to make sure they’re okay with a given sexual activity, readjusting positions to avoid a sprained knee, or, using barriers to make sex safer, can feel like a natural, normal, typical part of sex. Just like, say, “Does that feel good?” can.

The fact that we don’t see these safer sex negotiations often happening in media representations of sex — such as in movies, or how-to articles in popular magazines — doesn’t help matters; thus, basic courtesies in sex can feel strange and unfamiliar to us, or we might feel afraid that our partners will be turned off by them. Of course, it’s not like someone feeling turned off now and then will end the world or anything, and that’s bound to happen for one reason or another sometime, whether it’s about asking for condom use or about doing something sexual in the exact same way the ex who broke their heart did. Partners– or us — experiencing a buzzkill now and then is also a typical part of sex in our lives.

Regardless of how casual — or not — a sexual relationship is, it’s still okay to, and advisable to, discuss safer sex practices with partners. Using condoms is something you can introduce in casual conversation, even using a buffer like: “I was reading this article about sex the other day, and….”

It’s also important to remember that in addition to making genital intercourse safer, condoms also make oral sex safer. Many STIs can be and are transmitted through oral sex–such as chlamydiaherpes, and gonorrhea.

It sounds as if up to now you’ve mostly been concerned with preventing pregnancy. It might be helpful to review STIs and their modes of transmission. It’s also worth noting that for STIs transmitted primarily through skin-to-skin contact condoms offer less protection.

Regular STI testing is super-important for any sexually active person, too, whether they’ve had multiple partners or have been in only one monogamous relationship so far. But because one of the markers of STI prevention has been found to be limiting partners, it’s especially important for people who have multiple partners to be tested consistently. It’s also pretty important to discuss STI testing with partners; if you don’t feel comfortable discussing this, or don’t feel as if you are getting a straight answer when you ask about it, it’s even more important to practice safer sex with the assumption that they haven’t been tested or haven’t been practicing safer sex in the past.

For ideas on communication strategies, check this out.

I’m not sure what your concern is with making the effort to use condoms. A few of the reasons we sometimes hear are: It feels like an interruption to the sex. The guy says he can’t feel anything/can’t orgasm/can’t whatever wearing a condom. One partner or another says they don’t have anything, so condoms really aren’t necessary.

In spite of all the sexy, apparently romantic notions about sex, engaging in sex with another person, no matter what the nature of the relationship is, is inherently going to be awkward sometimes. Sticking bodies and people’s deep stuff together closely is kind of awkward, after all. That’s part of the fun of it, as we negotiate the random whims of our bodies and minds to hopefully find mutual pleasure and fulfillment. That said, while stopping to put a condom on can feel like a blip, it doesn’t have to be an awkward blip.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Learn, with the aid of a banana, dildo, or willing partner, how to put a condom on yourself. Like I already mentioned, for many partners this helps the process blend into the sexual experience more. That way, too, you can understand that condom use also isn’t about “making” a guy do something: it’s about something people do together for each other.
  • When you get the sense that sexual activity could happen, take a quick break from what you’re doing and pull condoms out of your purse, nightstand, or wherever you’ve been keeping them. You can say something like: “No pressure. Just wanted to get these out just in case we want to do something where we need them.”
  • Just stop what you’re doing and hand them a condom. Sometimes, you don’t even have to say anything at all. I know it can feel awkward, but the more you do it, the more natural it will feel. The more whatever it feels, the more whatever you act about it, and the more whatever a partner often will, too. Many of us have things we need or don’t in order to be comfortable with sex, or anything else, and those just become part of the deal.

As to whether condoms reduce sensation, they really don’t have to. At least not any more than say, the birth control pill can change how someone taking it experiences sex: sure, there are some differences, but they are most often small ones. Yes, they feel different than when condoms aren’t being used, but no, they don’t have to be a mood-breaker or sensation-blocker.

Two tricks to getting condoms to feel good and comfortable are to put a couple of drops of water-based lubricant inside the tip of the condom before putting it on, and to make sure the condom fits well. Condoms aren’t one-size-fits-all, and a condom that’s too small or too big is much more likely to create big sensation differences than one that fits the wearer well. If you’re providing the condoms, you might find it useful to have a variety of types and styles on hand so your partner can choose what seems right to them. Variety packs can be found online, and at some drugstores. be sure to include some thinner condoms, too: sometimes people think they need the thickest condoms or they will break, when in fact, breakage rates are no different for the thinnest condoms, and a thinner condom means less change in sensation.

If you make using a condom a requirement for engaging in specific sexual activities, the choices will become to either engage in that activity with a condom or to not engage in it at all. You really don’t need to fall for the claim that condoms ruin everything. They don’t hurt, and, if the fit and style suits the person, they shouldn’t significantly reduce sensation for most people. Then too, orgasm never has to be associated with one particular sexual activity, though I know it often is. If a partner balks at using a condom for intercourse, for example, because he has difficulty reaching climax while wearing a condom, that doesn’t make intercourse impossible. It just means that another activity, such as manual sex, will need to follow if he wishes to reach climax.

Unless you know for sure that someone has recently been tested, and you trust them to report the results accurately (or have seen the results report), it’s safest to engage in sexual activities in ways that protect yourself. The absence of symptoms is not a clear indication, as many STIs are asymptomatic (without symptoms) for a long while.

In short, you can get partners to use condoms by providing the condoms yourself and being relaxed, confident and firm in your conviction that sex just also means condoms.

condom ad condoms too loose

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. She’s discovered 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

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

The CSPH: Q&A Safer Oral Sex

25- Q&A safer oral sexMany (both teens and adults alike) believe oral sex to be the safe alternative to vaginal and anal intercourse. However, the truth is that although less risky, it certainly is not completely safe. STIs, like HPV and Herpes are the top risks when engaging in unprotected oral sex.

A little education goes a long way though, and it only takes a few necessary steps to keep yourself protected.

This article by The Center for Sexual Pleasure & Health (The CSPH) covers the following points:

  • HPV and Herpes are contracted through skin-to-skin contact.
  • HPV is the leading cause of throat cancer above even tobacco use.
  • Gonorrhea and chlamydia are common STIs transmitted during oral sex but are relatively easy to treat.
  • HIV can be transmitted during oral sex although it’s extremely rare. There are only a few proven cases of this mode of HIV transmission in the world.
  • A cut or sore in the mouth greatly increases the risks of infections passing during oral sex.
  • Many STIs show very few symptoms.
  • Condoms, internal condoms or dental dams can be used to prevent skin-to-skin contact. A dental dam can also be made form saran wrap or a condom.
  • According to studies, up to 82% of people practice oral sex without protection, meaning that unprotected oral sex is a societal norm.
  • Lack of knowledge and worry that sensation may be lessened could be the reason why unprotected oral sex is so highly practiced.
  • Flavored lubricants could be a good solution to cover the taste of latex.
  • Safe oral sex could increase sexual pleasure.

This article was originally published on The CSPH website.

BY The CSPH | theCSPH.org

What precautions one must take to enjoy oral sex healthily?

Ahh, the good ol’ Lewinski, giving dome, eating peaches, carpet munching, knob-polishing, and court-addressing.  Many of us are familiar with oral sex (and its various slang affiliates!), but considerably fewer of us have a comprehensive understanding of how to safely engage in mouth-led southern explorations.

Image from the CSPH

Image from the CSPH

The common perception of oral sex is that it is a risk-free sex act.  This belief is most accepted among young adults and adolescents, many of whom engage in oral sex before other forms of intercourse as a deliberately risk-preventative measure.  Indeed, while penis-in-vagina sex is often understood as potentially resulting in exposure to sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy, oral sex is mostly contextualized as wholly safe.  This results in people of all ages being less cautious in their oral sex forays by not utilizing safer sex materials, thereby putting them at greater risk for STI transmission.

With that said, it is in fact true that oral sex is less risky than other sexual activities insofar as pregnancy and STI transmission.  However, this doesn’t mean that we should all be giving and receiving oral sex without appropriate safety measures.  Unprotected oral sex can result in the contraction of a number of sexually transmitted infections, and while there has yet to be research published on the risk of all STIs during oral sex, a closer look at individual infections proves to be enlightening.

There are two primary STI risks in engaging in unprotected oral sex: herpes simplex and human papillomavirus, also known as HPV.  As I discussed in Q&A: Herpes, some 50 to 80% of adults have herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1), also known as cold sores.  Despite its colloquial framing as “oral herpes,” HSV-1 can also be transmitted to genitals, with up to half of new genital herpes contractions occurring as a result of HSV-1.  Unlike most STIs, herpes is not curable, and while there is no shame in contracting HSV, which is in many ways a simple skin condition that flares up occasionally, most individuals would prefer to not deal with it.

Like herpes, HPV is contracted through skin-to-skin contact as opposed to the sharing of bodily fluids, such as semen and vaginal secretions.  Oral HPV affects approximately one in 15 Americans, and is much more commonly contracted genitally, with a projected 80% of people having HPV in their lifetime.  While HPV generally doesn’t require treatment since the body’s immune system tends to be well-equipped in fighting the infection, it’s noteworthy that HPV is the leading cause of oral and throat cancers, more so than even tobacco use.

Other sexually transmitted infections that are more commonly contracted through oral sex are gonorrhea and chlamydia.  Unlike herpes, however, these STIs are usually fairly easy to treat with the use of antibiotics.  The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), may also be transmitted during oral sex, although this is incredibly rare.  Furthermore, hepatitis and other bacterial infections may be transmitted during unprotected mouth-to-ass play.

Regardless of the STI in question, there is a greater risk of transmission when there is a cut and/or sore in the mouth, which allows these infections to pass into the bloodstream.

It’s important to note that many sexually transmitted infections are asymptomatic, meaning individuals who have contracted the STIs show extremely minor or no signs of the infections.  Furthermore, while annual STI testing should be a tool in everyone’s sexual health arsenal, the fact is that patients are not regularly tested for oral sexually transmitted infections unless the individual is experiencing symptoms.

With all that said, it should come as no surprise that using safer sex precautions when engaging in oral sex is integral in limiting the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.  This translates into using external condoms during fellatio (blowjobs), and dental dams during cunnilingus (good ol’ muff diving) and even analingus (anyone want to toss some salad?).  If you don’t have any dental dams on hand, use saran wrap or make one out of a condom!  These barrier methods allow individuals to engage in mouth-to-genital action without direct skin-to-skin contact, limiting the chances of STI transmission.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of individuals who engage in oral sex do not, in fact, use barrier methods.  One study found that 82% of adults do not utilize these protective tools when engaging in oral sex, while another study suggested the same for 70% of adolescents.  This is significant, not only from a public health perspective, but also because it leads to the conclusion that safer oral sex is something out of the norm, potentially making it especially difficult to have important conversations regarding barrier methods as people may often feel uncomfortable introducing such safety precautions into their sex lives.  Furthermore, many people are resistant to the idea of condoms and dental dams during oral sex specifically, even if they welcome their use in other activities.

Although I can’t make sweeping generalizations on the topic, I’d hasten to suggest that there are two main reasons why people may be contrary to using barrier methods during oral sex: a lack of knowledge on the issue and a worry that protection will limit sensation.  The former reason can be addressed by a casual conversation regarding the potential risk of STI transmission, and,  if you’re regularly in contact with said sexual partner, by directing them to resources such as this Q&A.

Though the concern that barrier methods will make oral sex less “worth it” due to decreased pleasure also tends to be a common argument against using condoms during penetrative sex, just as with penis-in-vagina and penis-in-anus intercourse, safer sex is important in empowering people to care for their bodies, their health, as well as the bodies and health of their sexytime partners.  Besides, what would the individual rather have: oral sex with a condom/dental dam, or no oral sex at all?  When framed as a non-negotiable safety measure, I’d bet the resistant party will find themselves suddenly amenable to using protection.

Of course, like I previously mentioned, due to how relatively rare safer oral sex is practiced, it can be uncomfortable to introduce such measures into one’s sex life.  Feeling unsure as to how to go about having such conversations?  Try out these nifty scripts:

“I think you’re unbelievably sexy and would love to give you head, but I want to you to know that I make it a point to have safer oral sex.”

“I want you in my mouth so bad. Do you have a condom?”

“Have you ever had someone put a condom on you with their mouth?”

Another common concern regarding safer oral sex is the taste of latex; after all, not many people like a mouthful of plastic.  Flavored condoms and lubricants can do wonders in addressing this issue.  With that said, a note about flavored lubes: many of them contain glycerin, which may trigger yeast infections in those prone to them.  For this reason, either opt for a flavored lube without glycerin, or make sure to not apply it directly to the vulva.  Some great glycerin-free flavored lubricants include Sliquid Naturals Swirl and Nature Lovin’.  You can also opt for flavorless silicone-based lubes such as Gun Oil and Uberlube.  For lubricant and other sexual aid reviews, visit The CSPH Blog’s Center Stage Sexual Aid feature.

When you’re ready to go down, keep in mind that, just as with other forms of sexual play, safer sex precautions can be used to not only protect yourself or your partner, but also help to increase the sexual excitement from discovering the oyster, chewing brown, or licking a popsicle.

csphThe CENTER for SEXUAL PLEASURE and HEALTH (The CSPH) is designed to provide adults with a safe, physical space to learn about sexual pleasure, health, and advocacy issues. Led by highly respected founder and director, Megan Andelloux, The CSPH is a sexuality training and education organization that works to reduce sexual shame, fight misinformation, & advance the sexuality field.