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Author Topic: Some less asked Questions on Condoms & ECP
N7
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Hi there, I am a 32-year old male (i.e. no longer a teen nor in my 20s!), and over the last few years, this site has been invaluable to me in answering many questions regarding sex. I apologize for my long post, but I have not seen answers to these questions before, please bear with me!

A little about me before I begin:
While I am 32, I have only just begun having intercourse. I also work as a model and this site really helped me through all my questions and worries, especially when people did not believe I was a virgin and often giggled thinking I was making a joke. Needless to say that only made things more difficult in terms of asking questions.
To be honest, I have always been risk-averse, and avoiding unintended pregnancy is the main reason why I have delayed engaging in intercourse or having a girlfriend up to now.
In order to avoid problems like delays in getting the emergency contraceptive pill (ECP), and to take responsibility for my own actions, I now keep a limited stock of ECPs with me along with condoms. This is because I find no matter what protection I use, I feel ECPs give me the greatest reassurance. The only problem is that it isnt entirely upto me whether or not the woman in question would be willing to take it!
Recently I have had intercourse with a few women whom I have known for some years. They are NOT generally into 'casual sex' and most have had 3 boyfriends or fewer. With this backdrop in mind, my questions below are excluding any concerns as to STIs.

First, my questions on condoms which appear to be less documented on the web:

1. I find that the condom substantially 'moves' during intercourse. Mostly, I notice then when switching between positions and removing the penis, I find much of the condom scrunches at the top, and I have to pull it back down to smooth it out. Other times, I find most of the top of the condom has 'slipped off' looking much like an unrolled flat condom, but the ring is still on the penis, but higher up the shaft.
My first question is, how normal is this - if at all? When people say 'use an emergency contraceptive if the condom slipped' does this constitute slippage, because this happens almost *every* time. I find this very worrying because while the condom has not completely slipped, I dont know if anything has leaked out (I have used tight fit condoms but they are uncomfortable).

2. I find after ejaculation, with the condom still ON, I can see sperm on the shaft of the penis (once even a drop or two outside the base of the condom), although most of it is still in the reservoir tip.
This happens regularly - so Id like to know if this is normal and does it constitute failure?

3. During intercourse, I can sometimes see a milky substance on the outside of the condom - I know a likely reason is that this is vaginal fluid mixed with the condom's lubricant; but is there any surefire way to know other than taking off the condom and examining it? I find it extremely distressing to see this fluid on the outside of the condom during sex since it closely visually resembles sperm!

4. I always hear about people who use the condom imperfectly - i.e. they put on the condom 'halfway' through sex. My question is, since the majority of people (while taking a risk) dont have complications with this, does this mean the main purpose of a condom comes into play only at ejaculation? And is the reason people do this because they enjoy bareback sex?

5. Finally on condoms, I am concerned with putting them on while avoiding tainting myself with fluids.
Naturally, you only reach for a condom before penetration, but that means I have to always keep in mind - and remember - that during foreplay, both of us MUST be aware to avoid touching my penis and/or then touching a woman's genitals.(i.e. as you normally would do during foreplay, removing clothes, etc.)
From a purely instructional standpoint, I cannot see how one person can undress himself and hold the penis erect and put on the condom while being *absolutely* sure he has never come in touch with pre-cum/seminal fluid.
This is because - for me - there is almost always pre-cum at the tip, and depending on what we were doing before, on underwear and other parts of the body/penis too. And with upto 150million sperm/ml, there is no way I would know for certain if I have inadvertently touched a tiny fraction of that and somehow transferred it to the exterior of the condom before penetration.
Because this is - by far - to me the most important point in using a condom perfectly, I have resorted to breaking off foreplay, thoroughly washing my hands, and then put on the condom. Not only is that a mood-killer, but one partner commented I appeared so methodical, that I looked like I was performing a medical procedure! No question then, that condoms while simple devices have caused me worry. Whats even more frustrating is that on every occasion I found myself going back to asking my partner to take the ECP for my own reassurance, which means the condom was useless to me physically and psychologically despite a lot of worry and time wasted. We might as well have had bareback sex. My question is, what are your thoughts on the best way to put on a condom while avoiding your hands being tainted by sperm?


Now for my questions on the ECP:
6. If I am engaging in intercourse with a partner say, only once a month, then could my partner rely solely on the ECP as birth control? i.e. take it on average, 12 times a year?

7. Putting aside STIs and side effects to the person taking it, is there any reason why is the ECP is often quoted as 'not being effective as regular birth control'?

I have now reached a stage where I want to try bareback sex. This means as I explained above, I am once again, looking to use the ECP with foresight: its not an actual emergency but its actually pre-planned that way. The reason as said above, is because none of these women are in relationships and thus, they are not taking any form of birth control. Still, as you can guess from my cynical and naturally-worrisome personality, I am worried about birth control since the common mentality that seems to come to mind with trying this kind of sex is "that is crazy risk-taking".
My questions are:

8. First off, from a standpoint of birth control, am I ludicrous to even entertain this idea?
i.e. have bareback sex and plan to take the ECP after sex as the primary method of birth control? Is there a safer alternative to bareback sex?

9 a. If a woman takes the emergency pill within 24hours, how 'real world' risky is this if:
A. we tried this without ejaculation (i.e. bareback sex and assuming pre-cum enters the vagina, but putting on a condom before ejaculation)?
B. we tried this with ejaculation into the vulva?

10. Because I can only use on-the-spot birth control methods given my scenario, (as I explained none of these women are on birth control), and I want to avoid using the condom, is there a backup I can use or anything I can do aside from using the ECP to minimize pregnancy risk?
Two things that came to mind were choosing a time in her cycle when shes less likely to ovulate, and using a spermicide which is placed into the vagina 15minutes before intercourse but both of these things are not very practical.

11. Does the brand of ECP have any effect on its effectiveness or reliability? As I know, all single-pill ECP contain 1.5mg Levonorgestrel including generic ones?


Many many thanks for your reply, and for all your advice in the past years! Thank you for putting so many people's minds at ease.
Thanks!

[ 11-15-2012, 05:45 PM: Message edited by: N7 ]

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Robin Lee
Volunteer Assistant Director
Member # 90293

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HI N7 and welcome to Scarleteen!

As you've noted, you are outside the age bracket we serve. WE're happy to answer your questions, just know that wait times might be a little longer both because we're short-staffed right now and because we will often be ensuring that our younger users are given priority.

We also ask that, if you are able, you make a donation to Scarleteen, which you can do via our main site.

First of all, can you say y more about why you are not concerned about STI (sexually transmitted infection) transmission? The fact that your recent partners haven't themselves had a lot of partners is no assurance that they do not have an STI. You also mention that your experience of intercourse is very new, but you haven't mentioned whether or not you were engaging in other sexual activities before you started having intercourse. Intercourse is not the only way to get or transmit an STI. So, it sounds like STI protection warrants more conversation than you may be giving it credit for.

There are a lot of questions here, so I will likely answer them in a couple of posts, possibly with a break in between.

1. I'm having a little trouble understanding what you're asking here, but let's talk about how a condom is supposed to fit. When put on the penis, a condom should be completely unrolled, or nearly so, with the ring snug around the base of the penis, right up against the body.

If you find that the condom is moving around a lot on your penis, you might try experimenting with different brands as they all have a slightly different fit. You can often find sampler packs of different condom sizes and brands in drugstores, and they're easily found online. How about you get a variety of different condoms and try them on to see if any work better than the ones you've tried.

Here are a few articles that address this in greater depth:

http://www.scarleteen.com/article/advice/fed_up_with_saggy_condoms

http://www.scarleteen.com/article/advice/your_map_to_the_condom_aisle

http://www.scarleteen.com/article/boyfriend/condom_basics_a_users_manual

2. If the semen is still within the condom, even if it is not inside the reservoir tip, this is nothing to be concerned about. Related to your first question though, i'm not entirely certain from what you describe that you've been using condoms properly. If you are unrolling the condom all the way down to the base of your penis, and a little bit of semen slides up but not out from under the condom, this is not a problem.

3. Condoms do not leak, so the fluid you're seeing is not semen or pre-ejaculate leaking through the condom. When a condom breaks, it really breaks...as in splitting or shredding.

4. Putting a condom on halfway through intercourse is not effective use of a condom. Not only does doing so reduce the likelihood of the condom protecting against pregnancy, but it reduces its protection against the transmission of sexually transmitted infections. Many STIs can be transmitted through genital-to-genital contact, regardless of what genital fluids are involved.

5. From the standpoint of preventing pregnancy, getting fluids on your hand is of no concern. here are some links that will explain this further.

Before I give you those, though, I want to clear something up. You keep referring to sperm. The fluid that comes out of a penis is not sperm, it is either pre-ejaculate or semen. Semen contains sperm; pre-ejaculate does not though it can potentially pick up sperm cells that have been hanging out in the urethra.

These articles will explain this further.

http://www.scarleteen.com/article/reproduction/where_did_i_come_from_a_refresher_course_in_human_reproduction

http://www.scarleteen.com/article/body/anatomy_pink_parts_female_sexual_anatomy

I would also suggest that if you are this paranoid about getting someone pregnant, you may want to rethink whether you're emotionally up for this kind of sex. A big part of engaging in different sexual activities is being emotionally up for the risks that they pose, and feeling able to handle the possibility of those risks.


That's a lot for you to chew on already, so I'll leave you with those answers and come back tomorrow with answers to the rest of your questions.

[ 11-15-2012, 08:14 PM: Message edited by: Robin Lee ]

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Robin

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Claire P.
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Member # 96773

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Just to respond to a very small specific part, N7- your statement that you keep a stock of EC because "no matter what protection [you] use," you feel EC "will give you the best reassurance?"

You note that this is in response to taking responsibility for YOUR own actions, but as Robin said, the way to ACTUALLY do that has far more to do with figuring out whether and to what extent you are actually emotionally prepared for sex and everything it entails. And, if you decide you *do* want to continue having sex, it would really be a lot more responsible if you, say, talked with your partner beforehand about which, if any, birth control methods she was currently on and/or interested in using, until you come to an evidence-based reasonable conclusion about protective methods. You could also discuss (even if it's to relieve your anxieties) what ACTUAL pregnancy risks look like, so you would both know if any occurred during your partnered sexual activity.

I say this because keeping a stock of EC actually isn't really putting the responsibility (including the responsibility of relieving your stress) on YOU- it's putting it on your partner. It is very possible that knowing your apparent incredible anxiety re pregnancy risk, your partner may feel pressured and/or bullied (whether or not you mean to present it that way) into taking the EC. And if you have regular partners, that's a pretty intense and uncomfortable situation, emotionally- and physically, because EC can take quite a toll on a woman's body (including a plethora of potential side effects like nausea and pain/cramping) and really is not meant to be taken that often.

So, if a partner of yours DID take EC at your request, knowing there was no pregnancy risk present in your partnered activity, it seems it would just be to lessen your anxiety (which it seems you know and readily acknowledge), but actually, that isn't healthy for ANY kind of trusting, safe relationship (I mean relationship in the more general way), *especially* all the more because of the EC physical effects just mentioned. Do you see why it is a problem to hope partners will agree to take EC to lessen your anxiety, when there is no pregnancy risk present?

[ 11-16-2012, 11:39 AM: Message edited by: Claire P. ]

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Claire P.
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Member # 96773

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So, to respond to your ECP questions:
6. No, your partner should not be taking ECP unless it is absolutely necessary aka an EMERGENCY.

I don't understand why you feel you have reached a stage where you think you want to, and could reasonably "try" bareback sex. You seem to have SUCH an incredibly strong anxious reaction to safer sex as it is. First of all, as Robin has mentioned, it's not clear why you think you're safe from STIs, but you're really not, and it's also possible you have an STI (for just one example, many men have HPV but have no idea and there is still no medical way to test men for it, but they can still pass it to their partners)-- so not using a condom during sex is REALLY putting you and/or your partner(s) at risk for STIs. I'm not sure how many people are involved here, but the risk of the situation is totally heightened because an STI could be passed from any one partner to you, who could then pass it to your other partners!

I am also wondering to what extent your partners are aware of this interest/potential plan of yours to "pre-plan" using EC. Are they all aware of the existence of the 1 or more additional partners of yours? I am wondering particularly this because you mention that each of them are not generally interested in "casual" sex and are more the relationship type. What does each currently feel, would you say, your relationship to each other is? Are you dating all of these women? Is there any chance that one or all of these women could feel that they are approaching a monogamous relationship with you, in keeping with their apparent preferences in the past?

I ask these things because, if your partners seem interested (for whatever reason) in the idea of un-safe sex, they need to know about the extent of the situation and the extent of the potential risk. So, are they aware of the other partners you'd be having unprotected sex with additionally and/or are they okay with this situation?

Is your attraction to condom-less sex based in the idea that there will be more sensation involved? There is a big deal made out of this concept online and in a lot of media, but this hullabaloo isn't too warranted (as is the case with various other sex myths the mainstream media loves continuing to throw around anyhow). So, actually, if you are having an issue with sensation, that usually has to do with the kind of condom you are using. Like, you may want to look into condoms that could be a better fit. There is relatively little to no difference, sensation-wise, for men who are using thin condoms with a lot of water-based lube than men who are using nothing (except the first group is also being a lot safer, so win-win, right?).

7. Yes, because it takes a huge toll on the physical system. If you are interested in the minute details, I can find you some heavier scientific research- or I'm sure you I could find this info on your own, via the right resources.

8. I would conclude that yes, it is in fact ludicrous to "even entertain this idea"- but not only because it exposes you to possible STI risk, but because it's unhealthy for the woman partner to be taking EC in that way, and honestly, it seems pretty potentially abusive to the woman to put her in that kind of situation.

ALL the other methods of safer sex are "safer alternatives" to bareback sex. You should at the very LEAST be wearing a condom, always, and immediately, before making ANY sexual contact. If you care for these women, or at the very least respect them, you can show a partner that by not only helping to protect you both, but by not opting for certain sexual activities you feel may give YOU additional pleasure, but do not technically do anything for her except expose her in to a number of awkward/pressuring situations that could totally and unnecessarily endanger her, her pleasure, and her health.

[ 11-16-2012, 12:28 PM: Message edited by: Claire P. ]

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Heather
Executive Director & Founder
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Just passing through, and think most of the bases got covered here save that I don't see any address of the effectiveness of emergency contraception pills vs. other methods you asked about.

Just so that's taken care of, emergency contraception is less effective in perfect use than any other method with more than a 98% perfect use effectiveness rate, because that's how effective any brand of Plan B is in perfect use.

That means, in perfect use, the following methods are more effective: birth control pills (combined, and the type taken daily, not ECPs), the path, the ring, IUDs, the shot/injection and the implant. Condoms are 98% effective in perfect use, so they have the same effectiveness as Plan B. Spermicides, withdrawal and natural family planning are less effective than all of those.

For more on effectiveness rates for the various methods, check out: Birth Control Bingo!

For estimated effectiveness rates for using any combination of two methods, you can peek at: The Buddy System: Effectiveness Rates for Backing Up Your Birth Control With a Second Method


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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
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Robin Lee
Volunteer Assistant Director
Member # 90293

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HI There,

I know you've gotten responses from other folks here, but I'm back to give you a step by step response to the rest of your questions.

6. No. For the reasons Heather mentioned above. There is no guarantee that taking emergency contraception right after sexual intercourse will prevent pregnancy from occurring.

7. Yes, there is a reason. Again, see Heather's comment above: Studies have shown that emergency contraception is not as effective as other methods.

8. A safer alternative to bareback sex, in terms of STI prevention and pregnancy prevention, is to use condoms or to avoid genital sex.

9. We really don't have studies that have compared these two scenarios. But if we're talking about real-world safety, we're talking about being as careful as we know how to be. We know that people sometimes do get pregnant from intercourse where there was no ejaculation. Using a condom for the entire time reduces this risk significantly.

10. IN terms of birth control that you control yourself, condoms or abstaining from genital sex are your only two options. For a woman to know when her less fertile times are (and note that I said less fertile rather than not-fertile) she would have to chart her cycles for several months, making notes about her basal body temperature, and cervical mucus on a daily basis.

Here's more information about exactly how that works:

Get With the Flow: All About FAM



I'm a little unsure why you say that using a spermicide would not be possible. Can you say more about that? Know though that spermicides on their own are one of the least effective forms of birth control we know of.

11. No.

In general, the surest way to ensure that you're using the most effective contraception in the most effective way is to talk about it with your partners. How do you feel about that?

Here's an article to get you started with talking to partners about sex:
Be a Blabbermouth! The Whats, Whys and Hows of Talking About Sex With a Partner



Here are some additional articles to educate you on the various things you've asked about.

Testing, Testing...

Safe, Sound & Sexy: A Safer Sex How-To

STI Risk Assessment: The Cliff's Notes

Spermicides

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Robin

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N7
Neophyte
Member # 100247

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Hey Robin and Heather, many thanks for your reply. Since your comments have prompted other questions and as you said you were short-staffed I will try to keep my replies brief so perhaps we could we tackle these problems one at a time?

First Id like to go back to talking about condoms and specifically about my first question which you said was unclear. Whenever an ECP was used, it was because in our opinion, there WAS pregnancy risk since we suspected leakage therefore we were not sure the condom had done its job. Thats why we took it on the occasions we did, (not every time) and thats why my first Q was the longest as condoms have caused us the biggest worry.

Heeding your advice and after reading the links you provided, Ive tried experimenting on my own and this, along with my experience is what usually happens:
With a lubricated condom rolled all the way down and squeezed for air at the tip:
-No matter my rhythm/speed/position, the base of the condom slips up about an inch or two, on occasion a bit more. No doubt about it, this ALWAYS happens.
-After 5-10 minutes, the top of the condom gradually slips off about 2 inches
-At ejaculation, there is always semen on the shaft never only at the reservoir.
-At ejaculation, at the base of the penis (which was previously exposed when the condom rolled up) I can usually see a thin, clear, sticky/shiny substance. I can also usually see shine/specks of this substance on the pubic area/scrotum, I assume all this is lubrication from the condom/vagina which somehow got there, but I cannot be sure and I worry it could be precum/semen especially since the condom rolled up at some point earlier. (I realise semen is typically white, but from my experience, sufficiently small amounts of it can appear as clear fluid)

I dont really know how else to put it but the fact is, typically, the condom partially slips off, and the bottom ring regularly manages to work up the shaft. I dont know why this keeps happening so frequently but it does. Usually there is a substance at the base of, and around the penis area. All of this happens like A LOT. I usually talk about this with my partner after ejaculation, but neither of us can verify the fluid is NOT semen, and we agree that there is pregnancy risk.
I dont know if observing liquid outside of the penis/condom after ejaculation is considered natural, and therefore its paranoia that is making us consider an ECP. But this happens SO often Im either at some point doing something very basically wrong with a condom, (are they supposed to naturally fasten or tighten down at the base or something?) or Im fussing about nothing. But I dont understand how one can see any liquid outside a condom and not worry. Seeing the unsheathed part of the shaft with a film of something sticky is worrying to both of us to say the least.

1. So to put my original question another way: is observing any substance anywhere excluding the inside of a condom during/after intercourse considered normal?
And aside from an outright condom break, can you reasonably tell the difference between knowing when the condom has adequately and effectively protected you from when you should consider additional protection?

2. On a related point, the only information I have ever found when researching issues like this are "if the condom rolls up, roll it back down immediately", and "if the condom slips off, withdraw immediately and replace with a new condom, consider taking emergency contraception".
Why do some instances of slippage suggest a new condom/ECP while others simply advise just rolling the condom back down and continuing as if theres nothing to worry about? Just because the condom rolls up doesnt necessarily mean no semen/pre-cum has leaked out right?

3. A question raised from the links you provided: one problem could be condom width even though the condom 'appears' to fit. i.e. not loose anywhere but not tight enough to feel constricted. (Im assuming thats how a condom is supposed to feel?) If a condom is even slightly wide at the base, then the latex is not in full contact with all of the penis's base, so does that mean semen - however little of it - could easily find its way out through the base without us really being aware of it or would it still be fairly obvious? Is this a commonly known reason for condom failure?


4. Finally - I know this question sounds a bit strange but, everytime I remove a condom, it can be messy, and seeing clear shiny fluid all over the penis makes me worry that with so much of it, I cant really be certain no precum/semen leaked prior to removing the condom. Does that mean by and large, if you use a condom correctly and it does not 'break', you accept the condom has done its job irrespective of whatever other concerns you may have?

Thanks for your help.

[ 11-23-2012, 02:05 PM: Message edited by: N7 ]

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Robin Lee
Volunteer Assistant Director
Member # 90293

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HI There and welcome back. I'm glad to hear our answers were helpful, and am glad you came back with more questions.

1. It is typical, after engaging in vaginal intercourse, to see some fluid around the base of the penis or ion the pubicarea in general. This can be from lube, vaginal secretions, sweat from the friction of two bodies rubbing together, or a combination of these.
IN terms of knowing whether the condom has done it's job, a condom can be trusted to ahve done it's job if it stays on the penis and does not break.

2. There's a difference between the condom rolling up a bit, and actually coming off, which is why instructions for preventing pregnancy risks are different for each scenario.

3. The condom should feel snug around much of the penis. As far as I know, though, it's okay for the ring at the base of the condom to not completely seal to the penis. Others can correct me if I'm wrong on that one.
No, condom failure is rarely because semen came back out through the base and into the vagina.

--------------------
Robin

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