Hi. I’m an over-educated gynecological surgeon. I’m also divorced and now single… and I need to talk about condoms.
I walked away from my divorce devastated, depressed and angry, a combination of feelings that proved rather incompatible with dating. Nevertheless, I was determined to get back on the horse, and did so about two months after signing our divorce papers.
What you have to know about me is that, while I had always considered myself to be quite progressive sexually, I had been a serial monogamist and had only two lifetime sexual partners: my textbook-perfect college boyfriend, whom I had been with for seven years, and my shithead ex-husband, whom I’d been with for five. So, as a newly-single and sexually-frustrated 33 year-old liberal woman, I set out on the sexcapade that would consume the next year (maybe two) of my life.
Casual sex was my jam, so of course I used condoms… half the time
Apps like Tinder, Thrinder (yes, it is what it sounds like), Hinge, Coffee-Meets-Bagel, and OK-Cupid led me to a host of DTF suitors. “Dating” was not hard. I’ve since had my fair share of rejections, but in the beginning, I was on fire. I don’t think anyone, least of all me, really knew what my goals were, but I managed to catch plenty of dick with pretty minimal effort.
Casual sex was my jam. I had a routine, and the whole thing took three, four hours, max. I prided myself on fitting everything I could ever need on a “date” into a surprisingly tiny cosmetic bag: toothbrush, toothpaste, face wash, eye makeup remover, washcloth, moisturizer, ibuprofen, Zofran, Xanax, iphone charger, extra pair of underwear, and condoms.
I mean, of course condoms were in there. I was having casual sex, of course I was using condoms, that’s just what one does. Right? I mean, while it was always my intention to use one, in all honesty, a condom did not always make its way onto a penis prior to its arrival in my vagina.
So, what’s wrong with me?
I am a gynecologist. I have a Master’s degree in public health. If ANYONE knows better, it’s me. And I really know. I’ve done (and published!) research on attitudes about contraceptive methods and condom use. I know the risks and benefits of “barrier methods.” Nevertheless, my own condom-use was hardly better than 50%.
In the beginning, I had an IUD, so, while I was clearly putting myself at risk for all manner of STIs, there really wasn’t much of a chance of an unintended pregnancy (less than 1%, in fact). But, I took out my IUD when I was preparing to freeze my eggs and I did NOT significantly improve my condom-use, sometimes relying on the rhythm method and, sigh, the pull-out method to avoid an unintended pregnancy, not to mention taking my chances against Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, HIV and the like.
…Did I mention that I’m a gynecologist?!
I always intended to use a condom and I always had condoms in my little bag. But, I hate condoms. They are the worst. I was easily talked out of using a condom.
But that’s the thing: I was always talked-out of condoms.
The way I typically “asked” a guy if he wanted to fuck was by suggesting, “let me grab a condom,” which was frequently met with resistance.
I found that single dudes reliably fall into two camps: they either always used a condom without any discussion or conversation (these were frequently the ones putting a condom on before I could even use my line because, duh, it’s casual sex, we don’t even know each other and of course we’re using condoms), or, way more commonly, they resisted and pouted, with varying degrees of explicitness.
The reasons dudes use to avoid using condoms
I’ve heard and seen it all… The most subtle, yet insidious, was the sigh/eye-roll paired with the reluctant “okay.” This was probably the most effective way to get me to relinquish my condom request. I hate asking people to do things for me, even more than I hate condoms, and this subtle-yet-obvious disappointment made me uncomfortable, which too-often quickly manifested as complete abandonment of my condom plan.
Some were more direct. I heard many versions of, “I mean, if we have to, but I just got tested and don’t have anything and, I mean, you’re a doctor, so I’m sure you’re clean.” Not untrue, but a fascinating assumption made by many.
Another theme was the common inability to maintain an erection while sheathed in latex. Some would simply claim this plight, while others demonstrated it to me. Instead of pursuing non-penetrative sex activities, I rewarded and perpetuated this bad behavior by relinquishing and letting condoms slide off many a semi-erect dick.
Sometimes I met his resistance with a firm, “yeah, we have to use a condom,” but, what I often found puzzling in this situation, was that, even in cases where a condom was on the dick as fucking started, he, whomever he was, would not infrequently continue to make a case for its discontinuation. Like, every time there was a position change or some break from penetration, the condom would conveniently fall off and dudes would be like, “do we still have to use a condom?”
…As if circumstances had somehow changed since the time 20 minutes ago when I specifically asked him to use a condom.
I am struck by general risk-perception among these dudes. They didn’t know me, no one ever asked me if I had any STIs or when I was last-tested, and seldom did they ask if I was on some reliable form of contraception. They knew I was a gynecologist and, perhaps, assumed I was on top of it.
Now, what about that coercion?
The most troubling part of the widespread resistance to condom use, especially after one’s partner explicitly requests that a condom be used, is the coercion embedded in the protests. Coercion grays the notion of consent. I mean, I ultimately, if not reluctantly, consented to having unprotected sex with nearly all these dudes, but the bare-backed nature of the event was never, ever, my idea, nor was it my preference.
No one likes condoms. They smell bad, taste worse, and are just plain ugly. But, come on, casual sex necessitates their use! If your partner expresses his or her desire to use a barrier method during causal sex, or any kind of sex, for that matter, that is not a starting point for debate (!), it is a mandate to wrap up one’s dick prior to (and throughout the duration of) penetration.
I’m working on my shit
As a gynecologic surgeon, ridiculously over-educated about all risks and benefits associated with all the nuances of contraception-use and non-use, I am keenly aware of the hypocrisy associated with my imperfect condom-use. But, help me out!
Grow the fuck up, boys! Don’t abuse centuries of socialization that have helped to shape me into a woman who, apparently and rather unfortunately, values people-pleasing above her own health and well-being.
Be a respectful human and, if asked to use a condom, consider it a condition without which sex is not happening. Do not challenge or resist the request.
Coercion undermines consent and insidiously contributes to rape culture in the United States. It’s taken me two years to recognize the pattern and identify the problem in my own sex life. While, as a doctor, I’ve offered much worthless advice to patients on the subject, I truly don’t know the secret to “successful condom negotiation.” But, I do know that the fact that “condom negotiation” is a fucking thing that we gynecologic public health nerds talk about, study and, all too-often, assign to women, is evidence of a problem. And this problem is not going to be solved by its description in weird jargon in medical journals.
We need to stop assuming we’re all using or not using condoms during casual sex and start talking about it
While public health nerds talk a lot about “risky” sex, in my experience, they are not generally having a lot of sex. So, while I’m grateful for the academic discourse, let’s move the conversation to the mainstream, specifically into the bedroom.