When it comes to having sex, condoms can be the elephant in the room
They might offer protection from some sexually transmitted infections, but for many people they are increasingly seen as unnecessary and a bit of a buzz kill.
In the heat of the moment, it can be a bit awkward to have a conversation about whether or not condoms are part of the deal. We’ll try and give you the information and the options here.
Should I be using a condom when having sex?
Paul seems quite insistent when it comes to whether or not to use condoms with new partners. “It’s just a given – no condoms, no sex.”
“More often than not, there’s no conversation…” explains Paul. It is confirming that he ensures he always has condoms with him. “I use condoms with all new partners, to protect against STIs.”
Tony is a little more indifferent about how condoms feature in his sex life. “Sometimes yes, sometimes no.”
Tony is single and likes using condoms with guys he hasn’t met before. But he will have sex without condoms with more regular partners.
“I’m mostly top and tend to initiate the conversation…” explains Tony. “As part of that conversation, I’ll talk about being on PrEP and my STI testing history. I’ll encourage them to do the same, so we can agree what we want to do.”
Like Paul, Tony also brings his own condoms when meeting up with guys. However, Tony confirms that there have been times when the other guy hasn’t been on board with the idea of using them.
“I stopped putting my PrEP status on my app profiles at the beginning because people assumed that meant I wouldn’t use condoms…” says Tony. “But my initial motivation was to take the fear out of condom sex.”
Before and after PrEP
Tony explains that before being on PrEP, he had anxiety of HIV even when having sex with a condom.
He also says that he and his partner might have agreed to using condoms before meeting up, but then they might change their minds in the moment.
“I take condoms when I go to a sauna, where multiple men might fuck me…” says James, sharing his experiences. “I insist on condoms being used there. But I have a fuck-buddy that I don’t use condoms with – he fucks me bareback, because we know each other.”
However, James admits that he sometimes bends his own rules.
“There was a bathhouse encounter when I didn’t use condoms…” admits James. “I hooked up with this guy and I was really attracted to him, so I let him fuck me without a condom. I know it goes against my rules, but occasionally most of us give in or change the goalposts. It has happened a few times. I’m more likely to not mind if a guy insists on bareback when I’m using cocaine – an obvious drug to lose inhibitions. I’ve had unprotected sex on cocaine over the years.”
Are condoms just about avoiding STIs?
Sometimes the reasons behind using condoms are much broader than just being worried about getting an STI.
Tony says he has had reactions to several of the antibiotics used to treat bacterial STIs in the past, so even though some STIs are treatable, he uses condoms because his treatment options are limited.
“Also, without being too gross, condoms are a good idea if the bottom hasn’t had time to prepare himself…” adds Tony. “Quite the boner kill to experience that without a condom.”
James says that his decisions around condoms are also linked with pleasure. “I don’t mind the sensation of being fucked by a guy in a condom, but I do feel slightly frustrated by not receiving the other man’s cum.”
What do sexual health experts think about condoms?
“Condoms, in some form or other, have been used for hundreds of years as an effective way to prevent HIV and other STIs such a Chlamydia, Gonorrhoea and syphilis…” explains Dr Jake Bayley, sexual health doctor. “Since the AIDS crisis in the early 1980s, condoms have formed the central part of most HIV prevention strategies. More recently, we now also have the combination of treating people living with HIV so they cannot pass on HIV (U=U), post exposure prophylaxis (PEP) and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).”
While Dr Jake says that condoms are often the most cost-effective way for men who have sex with men to prevent STIs, including HIV, he agrees that using a condom during sex is sometimes easier said than done.
“There are many reasons why some men do not use condoms…” says Dr Jake. “These might include difficulties around condom negotiation with partners, drug use in a sexualised setting leading to impaired ability to assess the risk of HIV, and erectile dysfunction.”
Will I look weird if I suggest using a condom?
“Never have the sex you don’t want…” advises Paul, who thinks that if somebody wants to use a condom during sex then they shouldn’t feel pressured into not doing so.
He says that being confident in the moment is also important, as well as sticking by your decision. “If you want to use them and he doesn’t and it’s a deal-breaker, fine, stick to that if that’s what you want. There are plenty more fish in the sea.”
Confidence is also something that James and Tony think is important when expressing whether or not you wish to use a condom.
“Talking about what happens in bed is sexy!” says Tony.
As somebody who takes PrEP, Tony advises people to not assume that just because somebody is on PrEP doesn’t mean they don’t wish to use condoms.
“Just be clear about your personal rules, be up-front, ideally before you meet up…” says Tony. “Also, be prepared to not meet up with someone who wants something different to you.”