A study published in the BMJ surveyed 51 heterosexual men between the ages of 18-69, showing each of them photos of different women and then gave them a questionnaire. The men were asked to rate the attractiveness of each woman, how likely they were to want to sleep with that woman and how likely they were to use a condom. The results found that a woman’s attractiveness directly correlated to condom usage during intercourse. Simply, the “hotter” each man found the woman, the more willing they were to not use a condom during intercourse. They then also found that the men among the group who rated themselves as “hot” thought they were more entitled to unprotected sex than the others, and they assumed other attractive men also went condom-free during intercourse. Among the questions on the survey was asking each man the likelihood each woman had an STI, and the results found that the more attractive the woman, the less likely the man was to assume she had an STI.
While it was not stated, I am going to take some liberties and assume this article defines men as cis-gender, and that definition of woman also follows as such. Also, the definition of attractive and what the criteria are were not made clear so for my article’s sake I am assuming that attraction was based off of each man’s own personal definition. Let’s just all say that this is another one of those awesome cases that allows people with penises to objectify people with vaginas and put us in categories of their choosing. So what gives here? While that study yields problematic results for many different reasons, what fascinates me is the idea that these men are willing to have unprotected sex with a woman simply based on the fact that she is “hot” and that they do not think really care to investigate STI status. The part of this study that I find particularly alarming but extremely relatable to many comments I have heard on our own campus is that each man equated condom-less sex with better sex and stated that using condoms provided a less satisfactory sex life. The journal states the results as: Male perceptions of attractiveness influence their condom use intentions; such risk biases could profitably be discussed during sex educations sessions and in condom use promotion. I agree that this is an extremely beneficial study to reference during sex-ed classes and I imagine educators discussing this with flashing red lights that read “HOW NOT TO PROCEED WITH YOUR SEX LIFE!!!” This study also led me to wonder if these thoughts and opinions are true with LGBTQ+ individuals or if these findings are only true for heterosexual cis-men.
Why do we carry this idea that sex with a condom is less satisfactory? When did protecting ourselves become unsexy? Is it really true that some men cannot ejaculate while wearing a condom, or is this just another patriarchal myth that prioritizes male orgasm we happen to carry along through history?
Recently, one of my guy friends said to me, “I can’t finish when I’m wearing a condom.” This is the first time I had ever heard a phrase like that and was baffled. While I know that many people do tend to prefer sex without condoms, I had never heard that condoms could actually hinder ejaculation. As a sex educator on campus, I am used to debunking sex myths that college students carry, however, I had absolutely no answer for this statement. Naturally I began researching this topic and decided to write an article on it. I wanted to know if it was the actual condom that was making ejaculation difficult or if it was situational. According to Michael Reece, a professor at Indiana University and co-author of the 2009 National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior, arousal can be inhibited and affected by certain situations, but it can also have to do with who your partner was, issues with alcohol and drugs and other physiological and psychological issues. Basically, it is completely situational and directly depends on arousal and satisfaction with whatever sexual activity you are engaged in. Reece says the bottom line is that most likely the condom cannot be blamed for whether or not you are turned on when having sex; in fact many condoms (especially new pleasure-enhancing innovations) might actually make sex better.
STIs are completely common and educating ourselves on their prevalence and treatment options is so very important when we are having active sex lives (even if we are abstinent, knowledge is power people!). But let’s face it; STIs do get a bad rep (as does any infection or disease we can contract). For the sake of not excluding those individuals that do have or have had STIs let’s view them as a sort of cold, we do not necessarily want to get them but when we do there are many ways we can take care of ourselves. Many STIs are curable and every STI is treatable, so with the right protection having a normal sex life is totally possible post-diagnoses. That being said, if we use condoms and practice informed consent with each one of our partners, we can stop the spread of many of these infections and diseases in general. On UW-Madison’s campus, the four most common STIs are Chlamydia, Molluscum Contagiosum, HPV, and Herpes. For the fluid-bound STIs (i.e. Chlamydia), condoms are 98 percent effective for preventing spreading infections. For the skin-to-skin contact ones (i.e. Molluscum, HPV, Herpes) condoms are roughly 70 percent effective in preventing spreading the infections. While the only sure-fire way to prevent passing along STIs is through total abstinence, these relatively thin pieces of latex magic give us really good odds for protecting ourselves. When used perfectly, condoms are 98 percent effective at preventing unwanted pregnancies. So I think we can all agree together that sex with condoms takes out so much risk.
Let’s review together what we have learned today, folks: Not only can certain condoms enhance our sex lives, they can also help protect our bodies from STIs and unwanted pregnancies. That sounds worth the “discomfort” to me…
Isn’t sex so much sexier when we take the risk out of it?
Sure, while condom-free sex can be a little bit more intimate, there is absolutely no reason that condoms should be seen as roadblocks to good sex. The Sex Out Loud office (located on the 3rd floor of the SAC) here on campus is full of different types of free condoms and lubes that can enhance any sex life. Studded condoms, thin condoms, extra-large condoms; you name it, they have it. Stop letting hegemonic, scientifically false myths get in the way of your sex life.
As Lil Wayne once suggested, wrap it up!
“Safe sex is great sex; better wear a latex cause you don’t want that late text, that ‘I think I’m late’ text. So wrap it!”
Have any thoughts, comments, or questions? Or just want to slide into Sydney’s DMS? Try emailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org.