For straight people, there are two types of sexual partners in this world: those who will use a condom when they have sex with you, and those who won’t. The condom test is that split second before you’re about to have sex, when you say to your partner, “Hey, can we use a condom?” What you’re really asking them is, “Will you sacrifice an ounce of your sexual pleasure, so that we can avoid having an unplanned pregnancy and not share a nasty sexually transmitted infection (STI) that you might have?” If they answer “Yes”, they are a decent human. If they answer some excuse in the form of “No”, they might be an asshole.
The truth is, as a straight person with a vagina, I have a lot to lose if a sexual encounter goes wrong. If I have sex regularly with no birth control at all, I have an 85% chance of getting pregnant within 12 months (1) . As a couple, we should help each other keep “Have an unplanned pregnancy” off our To-Do list, and using a condom is the most basic way to do that.
These days I have a Hormonal IUD for my birth control, but I can still get a sexually transmitted infection from having unprotected sex (2) . What I didn’t know until I wrote this article is that contraception researchers have found that STIs often exhibit “biological sexism” (3) . When infected with a disease like Chlamydia or Gonorrhoea, “compared with men, women suffer more severe long-term consequences” from the disease, including “infertility, ectopic pregnancy, chronic pelvic pain, and cervical cancer” (4). Thank you, evolution!
True, condoms can get in the way of the moment. But as a decent human being, it is a sign of respect to offer to use one with your partner. At the very least, it shows that you take the risk of ruining their life or health seriously. I wish condoms were no longer needed, and that we had invented some new technology in the centuries since they were first used. But we haven’t. Additionally, the rates of STIs are at an all time high, with over 1.7 million cases of Chlamydia reported in 2018 in the United States alone. The condom is all we got, so we have to use them consistently, or risk being assholes.
Two of my previous partners stand out for the best anti-condom excuses. The first, James*, refused to wear a condom because he said he was “a man”, and “men do not wear condoms”. Another, Simon*, said he didn’t need a condom because all the people he had slept with in the last couple months didn’t have an STI, and he was clean. Simon obviously had no idea if this was true, because he hadn’t been tested (and only 12% of people get tested for STIs every year (5) ). Yet, somehow, I trusted both James and Simon and had unprotected sex with them anyway. What was I thinking?
James told me soon after we had sex that he wanted to focus on studying and didn’t have time to see me. Simon ended up cheating on me as soon as we started dating. They both failed the condom test, and both of them were assholes. Plus, it only takes one case of condom-less sex for me to contract an STI and ruin my health. Why did I let them fool me?
In the context of the #MeToo movement, my experiences with James and Simon brought me to an interesting realization. In our culture, people have historically taken men’s opinions and statements more seriously than women’s. It is only now, in the wake of #MeToo, that women are being believed. #MeToo taught me that not only did I have to believe other women about their standards of sexual contact, but I also had to believe myself.
With James and Simon, I put their needs above my own. I was too compromising when it came to James’ masculinity issues and Simon’s lengthy sexual history, that in the end I got screwed over and took a gamble on contracting an infection. Neither of them ended up having an STI, thank god. But I still feel that I let myself down. To this day, I replay each situation in my head, and wish I had either refused to have sex with them, or persuaded them to wear a condom.
The condom test teaches us that when having sex in a casual setting with any partner, we must always stick to our standards of decency and conduct. A condom is more than a barrier to sperm and infection: it is a test of a sexual partner’s values. Are they a good person? Do they respect me and my health? And ultimately, should I have sex with them or not? Their answer will tell you everything you need to know.
(1) Hatcher RA et al., eds., Contraceptive Technology, 21th ed., New York: Ayer Company Publishers, 2018; p 830
(2) Hatcher RA et al., eds., Contraceptive Technology, 21th ed., New York: Ayer Company Publishers, 2018; p 583
(3) Hatcher RA et al., eds., Contraceptive Technology, 21th ed., New York: Ayer Company Publishers, 2018; p 581
(4) Hatcher RA et al., eds., Contraceptive Technology, 21th ed., New York: Ayer Company Publishers, 2018; p 581
(5) Cuffe, Kendra M. et al. Sexually Transmitted Infection Testing Among Adolescents and Young Adults, United States Journal of Adolescent Health 2016, 58(5); p 512–519