The first time I had sex without a condom, I was a senior in college and had been with my girlfriend at the time for about six months. We’d both been tested—I was clean because I’d never had sex with anybody else—and she was on the Pill. It seemed relatively responsible. But while I found the experience pleasurable, I also felt exposed, as if I were playing hockey without a cup or driving without a seatbelt. It wasn’t gratifying enough that I wanted, afterward, to ditch condoms altogether. For the most part, I appreciate what they do.
Surprisingly, my position puts me in the minority, as an increasing number of men are going without condoms. The vast majority of guys don’t use them often or for long, according to Men’s Health sex and relationships advisor Debby Herbenick, a sexual-
health researcher at Indiana University, and most people don’t even use them in casual sex after their mid-20s. This is jarring in light of recent data from the CDC, which reports that which reports that sexually transmitted diseases are on the rise. In 2017 nearly 2.3 million cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis were diagnosed in the United States, a record high.
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Given those numbers, you’d think that guys would be using plastic wrap and an elastic band before they go out in the morning. So why aren’t more men reaching for their rubbers at a time when they need them most? The reasons are many, according to sexual-health experts. There’s a lack of education around sex. There’s the influence of no-condom pornography. There’s a general sense of ambivalence, along with a distrust of public-health recommendations, particularly in low-income communities. There is also, as always, alcohol.
The guys I talked to soke mostly of pleasure. “It feels a lot better if you don’t” wear a condom, says David, a 21-year-old college student in Ohio who’s had sex without a condom in about 20 different casual hookups, by his estimation. The women he’s slept with, he adds, often prefer, and consent to, him not using one. “I guess they think it feels better,” he said when I asked about the reasons women prefer that he not use condoms. David asked that I not use his last name because he didn’t want his mother to know he doesn’t use condoms. Maybe maternal censure is the best prophylactic.)
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Angel, a teacher in Delray Beach, Florida, who is single and in his late 30s, abandoned condoms 15 years ago in favor of the bare-backed approach. He acknowledges that it’s “super dangerous” but gets tested regularly and hasn’t contracted any diseases yet, he says. “The thing is, I know that it’s not the smartest thing,” says Angel, “but when you’re in the moment, and ready to go, sometimes you’re not thinking logically.”
Few people are, I guess, when they have sex on the brain. I’ve heard the same about syphilis.
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