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My current partner recently got a vasectomy. Because we're also monogamous, well-past six months of monogamy and barrier use, and both are current with our STI testing -- the combination of things and time period I know massively reduces our STI risks -- that means we're not using condoms right now.
This is very unusual for me: in around 25 years of sexual experiences and many partnerships, the vast majority of the times I have had male partners, including long-term partners, there have been condoms. As someone who wants to be able to enjoy her sex life as much as possible, who knows preventing infection is part of that, and also as someone who can't use most other methods of birth control, condoms have been my BFFs.
I've never found them to be the drag some people frame them as. Rather, I often find myself perplexed by folks who frame them that way, even though I know as a sex educator that more often than not, the folks who do frame them that way either a) haven't even used them or have used them only very rarely, b) are copping that attitude because it's perceived as cool or macho, c) worry the pause for a condom may give a partner time to reconsider sex, or d) are into a level of risk-taking for themselves or partners that condoms curb. We can't accurately say condoms massively dull physical sensation (and we've got studies to show that clearly), but for sure, if people get off on sex posing high personal risk to themselves or their partners, condoms are going to seriously dull that buzz.
All the same, I know there are people outside of those situations and mindsets who experience them as a drag, particularly when it comes to how they feel condoms "interrupt" sex. Even in birth control literature comparing methods, we'll often see methods like condoms framed as "interrupting" things. That given, even though I have had condom-free experiences in the past and not found them anything to write home about, I was prepared to discover that walking into a change in my sex life where condoms absolutely were not needed, and also where I had a new birth control method that was as reliable as it gets and totally foolproof might give me some new insight on why some folks feel that way. I was prepared to be wrong: to find out that suddenly what I perceived as no interruption at all had been, in fact, more of an interruption than I realized.
Bzzzzt. So far, that's not what's happened. While I really do try to leave work out of the bedroom -- something that can be challenging when your work is so often all about what happens in the bedroom -- I couldn't help but notice something.
On the whole, the difference in time when it comes to getting from want-to-do-that to game-on, between using condoms and not using condoms? It's maybe around 30 seconds. If it's even that long.
So, this got me thinking. Why, then, do so many people make it sound like those seconds are many minutes or hours? Is there something special my partners and I have been doing over the years that made it so much more quick and easy? I'm not sure, but I figured I'd share some of the basics just in case.
I keep condoms handy. Really handy. In the places where I tend to have sex more than others, there are plenty of condoms within arm's reach. I keep them in my bag or coat pocket if and when I'm going out and I suspect, even just slightly, sex may be something I may want to pursue. While keeping them around my house can be easier for me as an older adult not living with my folks, it seems to me that if you're hiding condoms from parents, you're hiding sex. It's a LOT easier to hide something as small as a few condoms than to hide something as big as having sex. So if you can figure out how to be sneaky with sex? You can figure out how to be sneaky with condoms.
If and when I think myself and a partner may be getting towards the kinds of sex where a condom is needed, I or they often pull the condom out then and put it within even closer reach. That action alone has often been the only condom negotiation, if you can even call it that, I have had to have. Almost always, when I do that and the time does come for condom use, my partners have just put it on with little more than a raised eyebrow or a few words first to be sure I wanted to have the kind of sex the condom was going on for. If I have wanted them used earlier than they reach for them, a simple, "Hey would you put that on now?" almost always suffices.
For the record, taking out or putting out a condom isn't a promise or guarantee you'll have sex of any kind: you still get to choose not to have any kind of sex at any time if you want to. If you worry your partners won't understand that or will make assumptions, talk it over. If you do talk it over and they still aren't getting the gist, you're probably better off kicking folks like that out of bed full-stop than keeping them around as a sexual or potential sexual partner.
I try and keep a variety of condoms around, especially if I don't know what a given partner likes already. That way, I can easily avoid someone seeing a condom brand they know hasn't felt good for them and being momentarily stumped. I even have the funny feeling that sometimes I may have had partners more inclined to use a condom just because they saw something new in my stash they hadn't tried yet.
How can you do that, too? Well, you can buy sample boxes with different styles at drugstores, or order samples mixes online. If you're strapped for cash, you could make a day of getting around to a few different public health department clinics and/or family planning (sexual health) clinics, and make yourself a pretty good collection from the free stash most have sitting out there for everyone to take.
I don't leave having condoms up to my partners. I've always kept condoms myself, both at home and when I'm out where sex seems at all possible. Because of that, I have a hard time thinking of a time when I've ever had that "Who's got a condom?" conversation. Instead, it's more a Quick Draw McGraw situation where it's just about who flips one out first. I usually win.
I know that practice makes perfect. If not perfect, way better. My current partner and I are old hands at this: we've both been using condoms regularly for longer than many of our Scarleteen readers have been alive. We both may well be quicker at opening them, getting them on, and lubing them up than some of you might be just because we've used them for longer. But that's not because we have special skills (in my case, quite the opposite, since I have a hand disability), it's just because we've had practice.
That's practice you can get for yourself, too. Male-bodied people don't have to start balding or have lots of sex partners or lots of partnered sex to get good at putting condoms on: that's something you can do all by yourself, at home, with or around your own masturbation. Since that's also a much lower-pressure environment than with a partner, I'd say spending some time learning that way could be awfully helpful.
For those of you sans-penis, while I know as someone who does condom demonstrations in-person that some of you might find those silly, one part people do unilaterally tend to value is having the chance to use a demonstration model yourself and get some of your own practice. If a sex educator is doing condom demonstrations and doesn't offer you the chance to have a few tries yourself, pipe up and ask! Feel free to use your humor if you feel uncomfortable about being the one to ask. Chances are good you won't be the only person in the room who wants to try, and a group giggle-fest around learning to put on a condom doesn't mean no one learns anything.
(Of course, there are also always those bananas in the kitchen, too.)
I don't have emotional or intellectual baggage about condoms. I ride in a car, I put on a seatbelt. I have sex, I use condoms and/or other latex barriers. One is no bigger a deal than the other for me, and neither makes me question my values, ideas, the way I feel about someone or who I am. Just like I don't have the idea that wearing a seatbelt means my experience of being in a car is somehow ruined or substandard, I don't think using condoms has any negative impact or even the potential for negative impact on my sex life. Quite the opposite.
I was talking to my friend Cory the other day about this, and we agreed that both having come of age using condoms pretty much right from the start of our sex lives, without any sense or idea that there was something weird about doing so, we both feel like we have a leg-up on those who didn't start out with safer sex at the gate; like using condoms has perhaps been easier for us for that reason, and not something we ever thought was somehow not how it should be. I don't have to work through my feelings about condoms when the time comes to use one, nor do I pause or hesitate to yank one out and toss it over out of fear, nervousness, or worry about what the other person will think. Using condoms is so normal for me that it's the times they DON'T get used where everything kind of stops for me and can interrupt what's going on with me sexually. (To my credit, I have yet to shriek "What the hell are you doing!?!" at my partner since we've entered the condom-free zone, something I was worried would happen out of habit. It still might, don't count me out just yet.)
If you have any kind of baggage around condoms, or get the impression your partners do, this is something else I'd suggest talking out and unpack together, ideally before you actually need to use condoms. Sometimes something as simple as each person saying to the other, "You know, I don't think condoms are any big deal and I'm always happy to use them without a fuss," can go a mighty long way.
Dumping any emotional or intellectual baggage around condoms can also mean that the amount of time it takes to put on a condom does not feel like a ticking clock where everyone is tense or awkward or worried.
On that note? I only have sex with people I really want to have sex with, when I really want to have sex with them and am comfortable having sex with them and when I get the strong impression the same is true for them about me. If we didn't really want to be having sex with each other, had reservations, or just weren't fully feeling it, it would certainly be a lot easier for those 30 seconds to feel like 3 hours. If we weren't really into each other and comfortable being together, it would be harder to fill that time with either other sexual activity, like masturbation, for instance, or like turning putting condoms on into something just as sexual as any other part of sex, or with comical or comfortable conversation.
If you have ever sat through a 40-minute class with a teacher you can't stand, or on a subject that bores you to tears, you know exactly what I'm talking about. You can feel whole LIFETIMES pass during those kinds of 40 minutes.
I have always had every expectation condoms would be used. It's never been a question mark for me; a "Will we? Will he?" It's always been a given: if he wants to have sex with me, he will use a condom. If I want to have sex with him or her, I will use a latex barrier. I've said it before here elsewhere, and anyone who has had this conversation with me in person has had the not-so-dubious distinction of having me demonstrate Condom Face in the flesh: a look on one's face one can have that a partner sees and just knows you have every confidence they'll put a condom on. In my experience, when someone perceives it's not a question for you, but a given, and they can see that right on your face, they treat it like a given. That not only better assures condoms will be used, it cuts down on the time it takes to just get the condom on. (The actress in this video makes said face a few times, for the record. She also demonstrates clear expectations her partner would put on a condom, and the requisite shock and awe when he will not.)
The way I see it, sex is no place to be shy. If I'm un-shy enough to be having sex with someone, I'd better be un-shy enough to have, present and use condoms. If I ever feel too shy to do that? I figure I feel too shy with that person or in that situation for sex, and that's that.
I don't see condom use as any kind of interruption at all: I see it as one of many common parts of sex. I used bunny ears around "interrupt" today for a reason, and that's because I think that language and framing is...well, kind of big stupid.
Why? Because sex gets "interrupted" for a millions reasons. Someone has to pee. We're changing positions, shifting to or negotiating another activity. The dog barks. The phone or doorbell rings. Someone wants to stop the action to smell (or really look at) the roses, as it were. Something funny happens and everyone can't stop laughing for a few minutes. Someone gets a leg cramp. We want to stop and talk something out. We want to pause to verbally express that something feels amazing or that something hurts. We need to add more lube, or drop the lube bottle and have to hunt for it under the bed. We need to grab and put on a condom. We need to check or change the condom. We forgot we left the oven on. Someone knows it seems like the worst timing ever, but they just totally have to tell you this thing RIGHT NOW they heard the other day that was so fascinating (though it may only be me who does that). We need to jump up and do a silly dance in the middle of everything just because we feel that freaking good and absolutely cannot help ourselves. We just need a few minutes to catch our breath. As you get older, you will probably find you need to catch your breath even more often. Same goes with the peeing. And the goofy dancing.
For sure, you could view some or all of those things as interruptions, but since they're all also often part of so many of our sexual experiences so much of the time, you could also just view them, including condom use, as part of sex and not as interruptions at all. I suggest the former.