This is not going to be a piece about basic contraception information. If you would like to know how to put on a condom, or what is the best chemical birth control for you, I would suggestthis.
Birth control is complicated. No seriously. If the world were as simple as selecting when a baby could be created (like with an email subscription service or something) then we would have a lot less anxiety about contraception, and a lot less anxiety about sex.
As it stands though, this utopia does not exist.
And that is okay.
I would like to provide some comfort in explaining what I have learnt in talking about contraception and the consequences of contraception. As a disclaimer I am a cis-gender woman. I would also like to acknowledge that every reproductive set (male and female) is vastly different. Any information that I provide is my opinion, and is not accompanied by a medical degree. SEE YOUR DOCTOR.
The Condom Complex
Condoms are one of the oldest forms of contraception. And you can tell. Whilst historical accounts of early uses are diverse, the most commonly accepted general uses of condoms originated in Asia, with countries such as China and Japan using ‘glans condoms’ (those which cover only the head of the penis). These were made out of materials such as intestines, turtle shells and silk. Fast forward, about a hundred years, syphilis is going a bit nuts in Europe. Italian doctor and/or academic Gabriele Falloppio decided that if you soaked some bed sheets in chemicals (a basic spermicide) and then created a sock (with a nice little bow on it) for your penis, syphilis was less likely to be transmitted. As we fast forward a little more you had a Catholic philosopher condemning the condom, Birth Rate Commissioners celebrating them and all in all a pretty controversial rise to prominence.
Today they are a staple. Flavoured, coloured and in multiple sizes they represent the only widespread, non-invasive contraception for men. There are still limitations to their use, these can briefly be categorised into two parts- personal anxieties and cultural anxieties.
Personal anxieties predominantly stem from machismo stereotypes. The act of putting a condom on is often seen as diminishing the ‘bravado’ or ‘spontaneous animal instincts’ of male sexuality. The origins of this come (unsurprisingly) from both Norse (think Vikings) and Roman (think Gladiator) times. During both eras women were expected to rear the results of male dominance (i.e. Male sex). Whilst we may not see how Glads and Viks are relevant now, you need only ask a man how they feel about condoms. Better responses include “necessary evil”, “bit of a chore”. Worse responses include “I only put them on for a bit” or “she won’t know if I turn the lights off”. Oregon State University conducted a survey in 2015 on what is commonly known as “stealthing”. They discovered that male participants who have anxieties towards sex, or have multiple partners at the same time are more likely to ‘stealth’. Their tentative conclusion was that in the absence of confidence masculine stereotypes would dictate sexual behaviour.
Further to this, cultural and social conditioning can significantly impact condom usage. Most notable is the implementation of the oral contraceptive pill. In the Western World, the pill was introduced in the early 1960s. Becoming widespread later in that decade. This marks a significant decline in condom usage, which has continued as a trend to today. The demarking exception to this was a spike in condom usage during the AIDS crisis. Comparatively, Japan, which introduced the oral contraception pill in 1999, has had a significant condom use, reporting 80% of contraception users relying on condoms alone (2008). Further to that, religious influence can significantly reduce condom usage, particularly with catholic missions based in Africa, which foster the notion that condoms ‘waste’ sperm (2006).
So what does this mean for you?
If you are a person who sleeps with people with penis’, I hope that this provides some insight into the complex evolution of condom usage. From the perspective of the non-condom wearer, we can see this as a small step in the bigger process of sex, however some potential-condom-wearers have deep personal anxieties or cultural stigmas associated with their use.
So what do we do?
Chat. Talk. COMMUNICATE. You will never get consistent condom usage from silence. Nor will you better understand your partner without opening the door. It is important for sexual wellbeing for you to have a mutual understanding of the condom. It has a 98% success rate when used optimally. It’s cheap. It’s readily available. And it can be the difference between a chat about using them and a chat about daycare.