Features and Occasionals

A Conversation About Condoms

By Greta Belanger deJong

When sexologist Alfred Kinsey published the first Kinsey Reports in 1947 and 1953, 6% of the women questioned had had sex by age 16, compared to 21% of 16-year-old males. It was before the Pill; before the Summer of Love (1967, for all you youngsters); and on TV, couples (married, of course) slept in separate beds. Sixty years later, evaluations show that 37% of 16-year-old males have already had sex—and 40% of 16-year-old females.

You can rest assured that, sooner or later, everybody plunges or sidles into the pool. Whatever the age, “be prepared” is wise advice. Naiveté may look sweet, until it gets in the way of health and safety.

Monica Dixon, an adolescent and family therapist at Phoenix Rising Counseling in Salt Lake City, is an enthusiastic believer in being prepared.

“Sex is a grownup activity. If you’re going to jump into that as a 15 year old, you’d better know the rules,” she says, “although it is usually the parents, too, who suffer the consequences of an adolescent’s ignorance.”

To this end, all of her sexually active teen clients get a lecture: on condoms.

In March, the Utah Department of Health reported a sharp increase in sexually transmitted disease in Utah. Half of the new STDs in the US occur in young people ages 15-24.

While pregnancy-preventing hormone delivery devices abound, it is as true today as it was 50 years ago: A properly applied condom is the only thing short of abstinence that protects against both pregnancy and disease.

“This is how I counsel adolescents —and everyone, actually: If your personal rule is that you always, 100% of the time, use a condom, no matter where you’re at in your cycle if you’re a woman, then for you it becomes part of the sexual experience.”

Thoughts of pregnancy or disease may not be topmost in mind when things get hot, but then the thought crops up. Five or 10 minutes into it you may start thinking, “Where am I in my ovulation cycle?” You wish you had used a condom. “The first reason to use a condom is to prevent the anxiety of not using the condom,” says Dixon.

Condoms protect you well, if you take good care of them. Heat, friction and age deteriorate them quickly. She reminds her young clients to skip the glove box and the wallet in the back pocket. Always check the expiration date. Never use it with body lotions, massage oil or Vaseline (you can safely use oils with lambskin).

You can tell by now Monica Dixon is not talking just to teens.

“If you’re having sex regularly, you have a routine.[ If you’re not in an exclusive relationship], make condoms part of your routine. It be­comes easy, not an issue. It doesn’t interrupt the flow because it’s what you always do. If you learn to use condoms, and do this from when you start having sex, if it’s your number one rule, it doesn’t occur to you to skip it, it’s just what you do.” It sounds a lot like flossing.

Get out a few condoms. Separate them. Check the expiration date. If you’re a beginner, figure out the right way to put it on. If you make the rookie mistake of putting it on backwards, grab a new condom. Otherwise, any pre-cum will end up against the woman’s cervix.

“Whether there’s semen in the pre-cum depends on when he’s last had an orgasm,” says Dixon. “If the guy has ejaculated in the last 24 hours, there will be sperm in the pre-cum. You can’t know that unless this is your regular partner. Rule of thumb: Never flip a condom over. If you put it on wrong, toss it and get a new one.”

When should the condom go on?

“Put it on during foreplay, before you’re actually going to have sex, so it has time to raise to body temperature before penetration. It feels a lot better for both of you,” Dixon advises. For guys who have a hard time maintaining their erection when the condom’s first put on, this gives them time to get used to the new feeling.

Who carries the condoms?

“It depends on the circumstance,” says Dixon. “If you’re someone who is interested in having casual sex, or who’s even open to that, then you should carry whatever you personally need.” Also, some people find they are allergic to latex and will want to carry their alternative of choice.

What about the conversation when you’re having sex with someone for the first time?

“You’re sitting up with all your clothes on, ideally. You’re saying, ‘we’re gonna have sex, yay for us, so let’s talk about this for a second.’ Say it’s with someone you know briefly. Do you want this to be a one-time event? Or maybe you want this to be one night and see what happens. Do you want to be dating? Are you looking for a longterm relationship? The person, if he or she is paying attention, will say, ‘Thank you for asking.’

“Usually there’s a moment where it’s clear you’re going to have sex. When you stop and say ‘let’s have a conversation about this,’ at that point, you have their full attention. Women have so much more power than they think they have. Men will do whatever it takes to get to the sex. ‘I will have sex with you but this is what I need.’ ‘Ay ay, m’am!'”

You might ask when is the last time they were tested. How often do they use protection? “You have to determine for yourself: What level of germ exchange are you comfortable with?

“Know where your line is, and clear it before you take your clothes off. Others may have a different line. For example, I don’t want penis germs in me. This is not something I’m available for. Say it all up front.

The more detail you can get into in the beginning, the better the sex, Dixon says, because all cards are on the table. “You can really enter this new experience with a roadmap,” and you know the boundaries. “If you have sex under false pretenses because you did not manage expectations in the beginning, someone’s more likely to get hurt. What we’re talking about here is grownup sex. Adult sex.

“Being a good lover is a life skill,” says Dixon. “Sex is part of life.” If skill and knowledge go hand in hand, young Utahns are missing out. Trojan’s 2014 Sexual Health Report Card scored four of Utah’s universities in the bottom third for sexual health information and resources, with BYU dead last. Is Utah’s #1 position in internet porn subscriptions an attempt at DIY sex education?

“If you’re never exposed to any information outside of pornography, because nobody talks about sex, because they don’t want you to be doing it for whatever reason, that’s a huge oversight,” says Dixon. “Porn sex” is not “real sex.” “Know the difference,” she says.

One important difference, of course, is that porn sex, wildly unrealistic in so many ways, does not involve condoms. Real sex, the smart and healthy kind, does.

Greta Belanger deJong is the editor and publisher of CATALYST magazine.

This article was originally published on May 31, 2015.