“You mean you didn’t use a condom?!” I nearly dropped the phone.
“She’s clean,” he said.
“What does that even mean? Clean. And how do you know?”
“Well,” there came a pause. “Do you ever really know?” my friend said. He said this with a yawn as if the conversation were no more important than to wear or not to wear socks. The sizzle that followed was the sound of my brain not computing. Those of us who came of age in the 80’s and 90’s are descendants of a very successful Safe Sex Campaign. Sure, it came with a small caveat that many of us chose to ignore – condoms while significantly reducing the contraction of HIV and other fluid borne diseases (chlamydia, gonorrhea, etc.,) do little to prevent skin to skin diseases (genital warts, the herpes strains, crabs, etc.,). Some of us shrugged our shoulders, believing a short course of antibiotics would cure most infections. Others came to find out exactly how wrong this belief was/is. But we can all relate to passion, to that just-the-tip mentality which often goes, well, further than we intended. Nowadays what comes as a big surprise to me is that the avoidance of condoms sometimes has nothing to do with the heat of the moment. Sometimes, it’s a conscious choice.
Andrea Damewood reports on the rise of syphilis and the decline of condom use in her startling article, Coming Unwrapped (Willamette Week, 5/29/13). Her research centers around various (and alarming) sexual issues in Portland’s gay community, but history teaches us that diseases don’t discriminate (syphilis will cross over). And the condom thing according to my research (anecdotal as it may be) is universal. A single friend once explained without any hesitation that she was one hundred percent opposed to using condoms. She hated having to depend on them and felt in her case they were unnecessary anyway since she’d had her tubes removed years before. Bands of smoke rose from my ears as I wrestled with whether or not to drive her straight to the nearest Planned Parenthood for an STD screen. I tried to explain that unplanned pregnancy comes with options, but for some STD’s there is no cure.
“So far I haven’t caught anything,” she laughed. “So I think I’m good.”
“How?” I countered. “A lot of times you don’t have any symptoms!”
It’s true. I spend most of my days in MomLand. But I’m also a Burner, a Thespian, a Writer, and a Sex-Positive Advocate. Many STD’s are asymptomatic, which means they’re transmittable without ever having a single outbreak or symptom. My work on Inviting Desire 2012: The Dawn of Sex brought six months of hard research. We had exhaustive debates around HSV1 (mostly on the mouth) and its big bad sibling HSV2 (mostly on the genitals), viral shed rates, condoms, medications that can help lower the risk of transmission but do not eliminate it. HSV1 can be transmitted from mouth to genitals and HSV2 can be transmitted from genitals to the mouth and/or throat. During these discussions one thing became abundantly clear: condoms suck! We unanimously agreed that skin to skin contact feels waaaaay better during penetrative sex, dental dams are silly, and the last thing anyone wants during oral sex is a mouth full of latex. And yet, the group concluded that for whatever they’re worth condoms are necessary.
The real problem lies with the condom itself. Not only are they a total buzz kill, they’re inconvenient, invasive, they feel horrible, smell toxic, and can interfere with a man’s “performance” if you will. These are the complaints just from women! Ladies, imagine what it might feel like to strangle your clit into a tiny, airtight wrapper. Ugh. There MUST be a way to create a superior condom, one that does not interfere with pleasure. When I mentioned this to a friend over dinner, also a descendent of Safe Sex, he told me that scientists were working on this very problem as we speak. Bill Gates has offered a handsome sum of money to anyone who succeeds in creating a condom that men will actually want to use. Yes, but what to do in the meantime? What of all these delicious sex stories I have the privilege of hearing?
Just use a fucking condom, People, until Bill Gates sorts this shit out!