all things condoms

Archive for the ‘Communication’ Category

Withdrawal as effective as condoms. Let’s be honest.

Posted by Condomologist on June 9, 2009

While I try to stay focused on condoms on the blog, the fact is that such a focus stems from my larger goal of promoting safer, more responsible sex. And that means providing a forum in which I discuss a means of contraception that can prevent both pregnancy and STDs. But occasionally the word “condom” keeps popping up amidst discussion of some other related topic — in this case the act of withdrawal, or “pulling out”, prior to ejaculation as a means to prevent pregnancy — and I can’t ignore it. The blogosphere is rife with debate and commentary since a piece came out in the June issue of the journal Contraception outlining data which shows withdrawal to be comparably effective to condoms: Couples will get pregnant 18% of the time with typical use of withdrawal, compared to 17% of condom users.  Props to my hometown Philadelphia Inquirer not just for summarizing the issue fairly well, but for highlighting the hypocrisy and dangerous views of some of the sex-postive sexual educator crowd. 

Science isn’t perfect here, as the data collection methods leave something to be desired in terms of providing greater insight and detail into how exclusively withdrawal is used, how exactly it’s used, how often it’s even reported as a method of contraception…but I won’t get into details, as the larger point stands that withdrawal is not only a decent option, but it’s fairly commonly used. Check out the blog from one of the co-authors of the study for a good synopsis of the debate. My goal is simply to bring awareness to the issue and make the point that we need to start addressing all forms of contraception openly and honestly and then believe that users — young people included — have the ability to make an informed decision. That includes information on condoms, of course, and it definitely includes information on abstinence and monogamy.

Still, we see and hear too much from professionals in my field espousing their own personal biases and essentially committing the same sin as the abstinence-only crowd by denying their students the truth — something they vehemently claim to support and practice. Case in point, from the above Philadelphia Inquirer article:

“I’m certainly not outraged by the article, but I’m concerned about how it could be interpreted,” said Dayle Steinberg, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania. “The whole thing about withdrawal is that it’s hard to control yourself when you’re in the middle of the act. For someone who has no access to anything else, sure, it’s better than nothing.”

The “better than nothing” rap is one of several misconceptions about withdrawal, Jones and her coauthors say.

Really, the CEO of Planned Parenthood, for which I volunteer as an educator, is on record as saying withdrawal is simply “better than nothing?” She’s not arguing with the data — although, to be clear, Planned Parenthood hasn’t yet updated their website to account for this story, which summarizes data which has been around for quite some time — but rather arguing that men simply aren’t that good at controlling themselves. Well most men I know do know when they’re about to ejaculate, but regardless, the point here is that the numbers speak for themselves.

But Steinberg is not alone, and her company includes other very prominent sex educators:

“For plenty of young couples using withdrawal, it doesn’t take long to get to a time when a male partner decides to go without withdrawing on purpose – often without consulting his partner,” wrote Heather Corinna, a Seattle sex educator who runs, a popular sex advice Web site.

Yikes! All the comprehensive sex ed crowd is running for cover, quick to rationalize their years of avoiding the withdrawal discussion with stories of irresponsible, incompetent men who can’t be counted on to make withdrawal effective. It’s fair to mention the downsides of a contraceptive method, as Steinberg sort of does, and as we all do in our programming. But if we’ve reached the point where we’re essentially telling women that men can’t be trusted and that their intentions are selfish — and, as such, implying that men have little role to play in the safer sex process — then we’re a long way from doing our job.

Part of our failure to find common ground with the abstinence-only crowd is a failure to address the need to address the cultural values and sexual mores of young people that contribute to astronomical teen pregnancy rates in this country. And one step in that huge process of achieving meaningful dialogue involves accepting young people’s sexuality while encouraging them to engage in meaningful relationships in which they can communicate with and trust their partners. Achieving progress on that front means continuing on with our goal of making sexuality less taboo, but in the process treating teens like human beings capable of making difficult decisions; that might (and often should) mean postponing sexual intercourse until they’ve known their partner for some time, and then it will follow that, if and when they engage in vaginal intercourse, they’re able to discuss condoms, rings, patches, IUDs, pills, and — yes! — withdrawal. But as long as men are pushed to the side and dismissed as pointless in the reproductive health world, and as long as we condescendingly treat young people as not worthy of science-based information, then we have a long, long way to go.


Posted in Activism, Communication, Education, News and Current Events | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

Safer Sex Messages are Getting Stale

Posted by Condomologist on April 29, 2009

Seth Michael Donsky writes a thoughtful, in-depth piece over at New York Press highlighting the failure of safer sex messages to radically change the risky behaviour of gay men in 2009. On the contrary, he notes, part of what holds us back in the sexual health field is an inability to navigate the complex implications of the simplistic Wear a condom mantra we’re so good at repeating ad nauseum. Donsky peeks into the bathouse culture, as well as the minds of acquaintances and experts in the field, and brings awareness to a reality many doing the HIV-related prevention, testing, counseling and outreach — like I do daily — have yet to face: throwing condoms in people’s faces and telling them what they should do often ignores and misses the point. Some men see HIV as a liveable, chronic disease (which, in a sense it is, though we don’t really know what the long-term outcomes are for the current generation of HIV-positive folks). Others lie about their status — or at least lie by omission. Many men simply don’t care. A good many people either can’t negotiate safer sex or aren’t very good at it. And condomless sex not only feels damn good, but it retains an appeal in that it’s taboo, dangerous, and the opposite of the instructions they’re bombarded with day in and day out. At least in America, most sexually active adults know full well that condoms reduce the risk of HIV transmission; and yet the numbers of new HIV cases certainly aren’t going down. It’s easy to place blame on the right wing homophobes and the abstinence-only religious types — believe me, they deserve a hefty serving of it — but hopefully sooner rather than later, those of us in sexual health, with the best of intentions, also need to take a good, long look in the mirror. Handing out condoms and counseling those getting tested on risk reduction are worthwhile ventures (assuming one wants to reduce his risk), but aggressively tackling homophobia and the shame and stigma around HIV and AIDS seems to me an equally important piece of the puzzle. Read Donsky’s piece, for it reveals much more than just bathouse culture and bareback sex. It’s a call to rethinking strategy and tactics and understanding for the sex-positive crowd I’m proud to be a part of.

Posted in Communication, Pleasure, Research and Study | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Bea Arthur: Sexual Pioneer

Posted by Condomologist on April 28, 2009

I wrote awhile back about the Golden Girls making condom buying funny, and in the wake of Bea Arthur’s death this week, TV Guide revisits some seminal moments in television history as sexual taboos are shattered (including an old-school Jason Bateman clip from a 1987 episode of Valerie, where he and his girlfriend discuss condoms and birth control). It’s well worth viewing a clip of the Golden Girls if only for one of the catchiest theme songs of all time, but it’s pretty remarkable to hear the old ladies talking HIV and AIDS and condoms back in the 1990s given the shame and stigma still surrounding those issues today. 


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Posted by Condomologist on April 23, 2009

Interesting Q&A over at Time Out New York’s dating advice column. An over-50 recent divorcee writes in because she says all the older men ready to get in her pants refuse to wear condoms because they can’t keep it up with them on. They’re suffering from COINED, as I wrote about a few weeks back, or condom-induced erectile dysfunction, something young bucks aren’t at all immune from either. But it struck me that older men who otherwise can stay hard really may suffer more from this problem, as there’s a good chance they’ve spent a good chunk of their adult lives having condomless sex with their previous long-term partners. But now they’re divorced and back on the market — or cheating or whatever — and not having seen a condom in 20 years, they’re penis goes droopy with a hat on it. With a divorce rates around 50% and the over-50 crowd not worrying about pregnancy and with STD/HIV rates going up amongst the gray-haired lot, I imagine there are a good many women in similar situations, wanting to get down with a new man, wanting new man to use a condom, but new man unable to perform under the circumstances or simply unwilling to entertain the possibility. The response is spot-on: If she’s gonna stick to her guns, make sure the guys get tested before things get hot and heavy and then proceed without a condom. But what fun is putting off a one-night stand when you’re over-50 and single and eager? So old men dating old women, it’s time to start masturbating with condoms on or doing whatever it takes to allow you to keep an erection while protected. Or else you’ll be seeing me down at the testing center soon enough.

Posted in Communication, Pleasure, Research and Study | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Condom Condom

Posted by Condomologist on April 22, 2009

Check out the mass media campaign launched over the last year or so in India. Funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and produced by the BBC World Service Trust, the campaign aims to normalise condom usage and make it more socially acceptable, encouraging Indians to do away with the taboo nature of the word and say and hear the word “condom” out loud. Play condom trivia with parrot mascot, download the sweet condom ringtone — all the cool kids are doing it — and watch the ad of the old lady and her dog named Condom.

Posted in Activism, Communication, Marketing, News and Current Events | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Pleasure Project in India

Posted by Condomologist on March 4, 2009

The Washington Post takes a look at efforts  in India to reinvent the safer sex wheel by making it sexy, and highlighted is the approach of The Pleasure Project (a group I mentioned earlier tonight) and its application in promoting the female condom as an erotic tool in the fight against STDs/HIV and pregnancy.The irony and genius of their approach, which focuses on sex workers, is that it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the actual make-up or use of a female condom — which by all accounts, including my own, is not the least bit sexy and doesn’t seem to enhance pleasure — but rather how the female condom is discussed and viewed in the first place. It begs the question, and it’s one highly relevant to the debate of what creates pleasure and sexual satisfaction using certain contraceptives: How much is one’s pleasure or satisfaction during sex with a condom affected by your thoughts versus your genitals? If we’re led to believe that sex is more erotic with a female condom — because we laughed and played around with it when learning about it — or if the men who pay for sex are told ahead of time that the female condom will increase pleasure, can one’s mind then override the lack of sensation down below such that one or both partners come away giving the condom high marks? On a different but similar note, a question I posed a few days ago: Can we come away from really bad sex giving a condom high marks, or will we equate the bad sex with the condom and not be able to remain objective? Can we ever really be objective with condoms? If I’m really into my partner on a given night and we have the hottest sex of our lives, it seems to me I could be quite oblivious during and afterwards as to whether I used a Crown or a Lifestyles or a Trustex. None of this is to say that we most certainly find certain brands and styles to be more pleasureable and comfortable for both partners, but we can never discount the attitude we have before, during and after sex and how that can blur the lines of judgment. All of which is to say that having a pleasure focus from the moment we introduce contraception to youth and adults alike — as was on clear display at this youth festival in India — has the potential to work wonders and drastically improve sexual education around the world.

Posted in Communication, Condom Brands and Styles, Distribution and Availability, Education, News and Current Events | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

“Think, communicate, use protection, go slow, and use lube”

Posted by Condomologist on February 27, 2009

This advice from the sexual health counselors at Swarthmore College (in my neck of the woods) to a young woman who writes in asking for counsel regarding her first foray into vaginal intercourse. I find it fascinating to read college newspaper sexual health advice columns, especially because so much wonderful dialogue takes place at universities, where there’s a general recognition at most schools that college kids are doing it. I think this column is generally very good, but I’m gonna keep fighting to make the educators of the world more sex-positive. This woman’s question seems to be about the fear of sex hurting the first time, and so the above advice is generally excellent — think, communicate, go slow, use lube — but the protection part assumes that she hasn’t thought about that; they’d be better off saying “If you decide to use a condom, there are many brands, sizes, materials, etc. and you can put lube on the inside and outside to make it feel better.” Instead, they feel it their duty to strike fear in her and throughout the piece, remind her of the things that could go wrong.


Why the need to start off advising the young woman to think about “boundaries” and what to do “if [her] partner crosses [them]?” Why can’t we promote communication between two partners without immediately putting into question whether it will be successful? Why the assumption that she needs to protect against STDs, especially when her boyfriend is a fellow virgin? Yes, it’s very possible that she’s at risk — of herpes, HPV, or even a fluid-based infection he has from sex he hasn’t told her about — but it’s also quite possible he has no STDs and a couples date to the student health center to get tested might alleviate the stress of this possibility. And worst of all, how depressing to be told “your first time probably won’t be magical, phenomenal, or particularly memorable (except for the anxious build-up)?” All of this was true for me — other than the memorable part; who forgets their first time? — but at least I went in thinking it would be magical and phenomenal. Hell, a lot of sex isn’t magical, phenomenal or memorable — even the thousandth time. Anyway, like I said, it’s generally good advice, especially the lube part, since I’m the world’s biggest fan of lube.


Lastly, just to keep the people honest, I’ll point folks back to the double-bagging (two condoms at once) myth that continues to be perpetuated by public health experts everywhere. There’s no sound evidence for not using two condoms, so while Swarthmore’s sexual health experts and 99% of their peers will tell you not to do it, I’m keeping the question alive: Why exactly not?

Posted in Communication, Education, Pleasure, Research and Study | Leave a Comment »

New Uses for Condoms

Posted by Condomologist on February 27, 2009

Because we all know the biggest problem with the wind on rainy days is not that it inverts your umbrella, but rather that your umbrella cover blows away. Use a Trust condom to not only keep your umbrella dry, but also as one of the most unorthodox pick-up moves ever. Is this condom really as long as it appears in the video? If so, this should be sized not XL or Magnum but T-Rex. On a side note, how hot is this couple?  And how awesome is the excitement of the old dude in the car? This video from Nigeria.


Posted in Communication, Condom Brands and Styles, Humour, Videos | 3 Comments »

MTV at it again

Posted by Condomologist on February 23, 2009

I’m not sure I fully get the thinking behind this video, but I guess sensationalism works best sometimes. In any case, credit to MTV for continuing to promote safer sex.


Posted in Communication, Humour, Videos | Leave a Comment »

Deciphering Bristol Palin’s Attitude towards Condoms

Posted by Condomologist on February 19, 2009

Thanks to my wonderful sister for leading me to the Bristol Palin interview with the creepy Greta Van Susteren, in which I think she wants to say something like: “So many of the juniors and seniors at my school are having sex, because we’re naturally sexual beings who like to explore our hormonal rages and because sex is fun. And the fact is we’re no different from anywhere else in the world, in that we first engage in vaginal intercourse at about age 16-17. And there’s nothing wrong with that. So to teach abstinence-only-until-marriage is both highly unrealistic and irresponsible and it deprives us of the information about the importance of using condoms — and talking about using condoms — in preventing pregnancy. Levi and I sure wish we had a clue that unprotected sex would lead to this beautiful little baby who is now consuming our lives at age 18. But we didn’t, because religious conservatives and naive parents the country over think it goes against God’s will to have sex before marriage or even talk about it. And we sure wish that wasn’t the case, because we’d do anything to put off having this baby for another 10 years. So I’m here to be an advocate for other teens who are undoubtedly having sex, and I’m telling them to wear a damn condom.” That’s what she meant to say. Here’s about a minute of the interview below. Please don’t waste 10 minutes of your lives watching the rest of the interview; it’s not worth it.


Posted in Communication, Education, News and Current Events | 1 Comment »