In sixth grade, I watched four hip-hop dancers dressed as condoms bust a move in the cafeteria. Even then, I’d heard it all before. Safe sex, cool, got it. When I get around to having it, I’ll try to remember that. And by the time their dance became relevant, I was so desensitized, I almost forgot.
Children of the ’80s recall ghoulish tales of HIV interspersed with algebra. We nodded our heads and signed school-sponsored “pacts” to protect ourselves. Then we grew up and found alcohol and hormones to be convenient excuses in our war against better judgment.
Condoms are, unfortunately, about as much fun as swimming in a poncho. It’s no secret that the barrier meant for fluids does a similar job of inhibiting intimacy, but condoms are necessary in the absence of other contraceptives and commitment.
Boynton Health Service conducted a sex survey of 2,920 students in 2007 and reported on their condom use. “Among University of Minnesota-Twin Cities students sexually active within their lifetime, 60.0 percent used a condom the last time they engaged in vaginal intercourse, 31.1 percent used a condom during their last anal intercourse and 8.3 percent used a condom during their last oral sex.”
There are plenty of monogamous relationships in which both parties have due trust and alternative forms of birth control in place. When keeping these scenarios in mind, the deficit reflected in the above figures is not so alarming. But discussions with students and friends revealed disturbing realities about condom use in the case of casual sex.
“I use the ‘pull out’ method, and I tend to take a man’s word for it regarding disease, which goes against all rational thought,” said a candid classmate who admitted to having two partners in the past month. “Pulling out,” or “withdrawal,” was mentioned by almost everyone I spoke to, whether used in conjunction with condoms or not. According to Planned Parenthood, if performed “correctly,” withdrawal results in pregnancy 4 percent of the time. There is no concrete definition of “correct” in this instance — only a firm reminder that men must be able to “accurately predict” their point of no return. But accidents happen, and “incorrect” execution of this method results in pregnancy 27 percent of the time.
Both figures are subject to variables. Pre-ejaculate does not contain live sperm, but it can carry relentless genetic soldiers from previous missions and works just as well toward fertilization. And this says nothing of disease prevention. Withdrawal is not wise to rely on if you’re even slightly skeptical about your partner’s sexual health.
Heterosexual students who were not in long-term relationships spoke much more about pregnancy than infection. When I posed the STD question, many brushed it off. “I usually know the girl in some capacity,” said a male classmate before rolling up his sleeve and pointing to a Band-Aid at the crook of his elbow. “But I got tested at Boynton today because I’ve been a little careless this semester.” To others like him: Let your panicked trip to the doctor serve as a lesson for future encounters.
I asked 25 females on campus if they’d ever used Plan B, the “morning after” pill. Eleven had, and nine of those had taken it more than once. For some, it was used according to its namesake as a form of backup. But three women reported using Plan B in the presence of no other forms of protection. I refuse to condemn a drug that serves a wonderful purpose for many responsible women, but total reliance on Plan B in a small but visible group illustrates an illusion of invincibility.
“I don’t sleep with that many people, so I don’t need to use condoms,” said a female classmate. The hip-hoppin’ condoms from middle school used scare tactics to prevent such misinformation. Like the passing of a collective spit cup, followed by an offering to any brave student who’d like to take a drink.
Condoms are important, but they are not deliverance from all consequence. For example, the human papillomavirus (HPV) is passed through skin-to-skin contact. While a condom offers some protection, the disease can still be transmitted through the skin on the scrotum. The lesson here is that sex partners must still be chosen carefully.
Yes, it’s terribly awkward to ask someone for a piece of paper detailing their latest blood test results, but you should never put yourself in harm’s way because you’re afraid to ask for clarification on a simple statement like, “I’m clean.” If your friend told you they were going to have sex with someone they “knew pretty well,” you’d probably tell them to be careful. Apply that same logic to yourself and always be prepared.
Trojan recently introduced Trojan 2 Go, a discrete condom two-pack the size of a credit card that is designed to fit in your wallet. For $4.95, you can be a wingman for your future self and eliminate obstacles when the heat of the moment strikes.
Safe sex is everyone’s responsibility, male or female. The cost of birth control can run high, but discussing how you’re going to pay for it is a great way to assess your partner’s concern for your sexual health. If they make no attempt to even the financial score, it may not be the last time they disappoint you.
Free condoms are readily available at Boynton Health Service, and there is no reason to be ill-equipped. And if you hate condoms so much, perhaps you should consider commitment.
Allison Fingerett welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.