Young but Stubborn
Dear Patrick: I am pretty new to sex. I'm really glad I decided to start having sex with my boyfriend, but I want to be smart and protect myself from pregnancy or an infection. He says he is faithful to me, but we are only 19; who knows what might happen if we had a fight and then he went out and had too much to drink or something? I tried using birth control pills but they made me gain a lot of weight, and I got very depressed. Besides, they do not protect you from things like herpes and AIDS. So I want to use condoms and spermicide. But he is having a lot of trouble getting used to condoms. He complains that they are the wrong size, he can't feel anything, and he doesn't like the way they look. He also says they are awkward to use and interfere with being “spontaneous.” I have just kept insisting that we use them anyway, but I am getting tired of having these arguments. What can I say or do to get past this conflict? Sex feels the same to me whether we use condoms or not. It took me a long time to lose the extra weight I had put on, so I don't want to go back to the pill, even though it was no effort at all—for him!
If I was a 19-year-old guy who was getting regular sex, I don't think I'd complain so much. He ought to be thanking his lucky stars. Oh, well, some people just don't know how good they have it. I'm glad at least one of you is smart enough to insist on protection. I wish more straight men understood how much birth control pills can wreak havoc on a woman's hormones, emotions, and physical size. Not to mention the increased risk of strokes and heart attacks! Condoms are the only birth control method that offer protection from sexually-transmitted infections (STIs), and they are often free at family planning clinics or treatment centers for STIs.
I do understand that using a barrier takes something away from the sexual experience. For many of us, if we can get all of our senses involved in sex, the experience becomes more intense. The lack of skin-to-skin contact can be a psychological as well as a physical downer. But knowing you don't have to panic the day after a sexual encounter does a lot to make up for that. So does the extra staying power you can get from using a condom. I would rather stretch out the encounter and make my partner come a bunch of times than have sex for five minutes, even if it's an intense five minutes. You might want to remind him that when he lasts longer, you enjoy sex more (if that's true), and make him feel like a bit of a stud. If he is worried that using condoms somehow makes him unmanly, a little flattery might fix the problem.
Experimenting with different kinds of rubbers might also help. Condoms are now available made out of four different substances--”natural lamb” condoms made out of animal tissue, latex, polyurethane (a kind of plastic), and polyisoprene, synthetic latex that lacks the proteins that can make some people develop an allergy. The lambskin condoms have tiny pores that might allow disease-causing microorganisms to slip through, so they are only recommended for preventing pregnancy for monogamous couples. But some guys really like their larger size and the way they feel. And there is no proof, so far, that STIs can navigate their way through the walls of a lambskin condom. They can be used with oil- or water-based condoms, unlike latex, which requires water-based products only. Latex is very stretchy and can be made so thin that they are almost see-through. This supposedly allows warmth and sensation to reach the sensitive skin of the penis. Polyurethane condoms developed when there was concern about a sharp increase in latex allergies. They are not very stretchy, but they are even thinner than latex, and they can be used with both oil- band water-based lubricants. The polyisoprene condoms are pretty new but we know they offer protection against sperm and viruses. They require water-based lube. Some men say they are softer than plastic or latex, and stretchy enough to create a pleasurable fit.
Let your boyfriend know that you care about his issues. Getting different brands and sizes of condoms may result in a product he likes more than what you are using now. Make sure to use lubricant inside of the condom as well as outside.
There are two different strategies for keeping your erection and enjoying sex while wearing a condom. The first, and most popular, technique is to find a condom that is as thin as it can be without breaking, and get a very tight fit. This supposedly makes it feel better. But another strategy is to use the condom the same way you would use your foreskin, if you had one. The foreskin's original purpose, before Western civilization went gaga for circumcision, was to move up and down over the penis, providing stimulation in addition to the wonderful feeling of moving in and out of one's partner. Some guys like a looser-fitting condom, if they can be persuaded to try one, because it actually provides more stimulation.
The amazing feeling of grabbing your own cock and working it up and down will always win out over the way it feels to have intercourse with a condom, provided you discount certain factors like being able to look at and hold an attractive partner and drive her or him crazy with the skillful use of your own body. This is why I recommend jacking off with condoms. For some guys, this is a ludicrous notion. Why bother? But the fact is, we learn how to have sex from jacking off. Masturbation is the way we teach our bodies to process sexual feelings. A penis that is used to a rapid, very hard jerk, for example, may not last very long during intercourse. If you have trained yourself to masturbate really fast so you don't get caught, it's hard to relax and enjoy the leisurely experience of adult lovemaking. And if you manipulate your cock in exactly the same way every time you come, you may find it difficult to stay hard, let alone come, during new sexual techniques like oral sex or allowing your partner to use their own hands to pleasure you.
Many guys assume that if they have access to sex, they should stop jerking off. But I think masturbation holds its value even after getting hitched. It's a great form of self-comfort and sex education. Many, many guys have told me that the only way they learned to love condoms was to use them when they jerked off. This is how they learned how much lube to use outside and inside it, how much abuse it would take before breaking, what it felt like when it was slipping off, how to get off despite the decrease in sensation, etc. Sex is a powerful reinforcer. It is also remarkably adaptable. We can learn to eroticize just about anything. Just as there are girls who tremble and get wet when they see or hear somebody snap on a latex glove, there are guys who get horny every time they see a small square of foil.
Yet another option you can try with your boyfriend is the female condom. He ought to understand that birth control and disease prevention is important for BOTH partners. But if he resents the fact that the condom mostly affects him, offer to wear a latex barrier part of the time so that he can go to it bareback. Or sort of bareback. Female condoms are often available from the same clinics that distribute other types of condoms, dental dams, lube, etc. This sheath of clear plastic fits inside of you, so you are protected. They can be used with any type of lubricant. But you should never combine use of a male and female condom during the same bout of intercourse. That could make both of them break or come off.
Whatever you do, don't let him talk you out of consistent, 100% use of the condom. This is absolutely essential for your health and safety. He might have an infection without knowing about it. For example, many young men who think they are healthy give their girlfriends human papillomavirus, which causes genital warts. This virus can later cause cervical cancer. Outbreaks of the warts are painful, unsightly, contagious, and difficult to eradicate. He could even have herpes without knowing about it. You are right to have some doubt about the power of monogamy, as well. Vows to be faithful are quite romantic, but a partner who strays is unlikely to tell the truth about it, and any adventure with outside partners might bring new, wee disease-causing beasties into your bed.
I hope the suggestions above will ease his aggravation. It sounds like you are very happy with him and with being sexually active. But I want to warn you that there are a handful of men who can't enjoy sex or a relationship without trying to control their partner in an unhealthy way. Men often get some crappy socialization about their role in a relationship or what their expectations should be of the women who love them or have sex with them. It's not uncommon for a man to be told that pregnancy is her problem alone. Being virile means trying to impregnate as many women as possible. It's not manly to take precautions. A man who wears a condom is pussy-whipped. Some guys use sex to try to degrade a woman; they may perceive the risk of disease or pregnancy as something she deserves for acting on her sexual feelings.
If he can't accept using condoms, evaluate his behavior in the rest of the relationship. Does he do his share of the shit work that couples have to do to keep their living space clear? Is he putting up his share of money to cover expenses? Does he try to cut you off from friends or family members? Do you feel that he has a hidden agenda? Does he get angry for no reason? Are you physically afraid of him? Do you feel that he supports your life goals? Does he share your values? Do both of you have the same understanding of where this relationship is headed? I don't want to see you getting hurt by somebody who may not have your best interests at heart. If friends tell you that birth control or protecting your health are not important enough to cause a breakup, those friends are stupid and dumb and wrong. Get new friends. And a new boyfriend. One who is an adult who won't complain like a spoiled child about having to take responsibility for making sex a safe, enjoyable experience for everyone involved.