Who Uses Condoms?

I’m always intrigued by the ways that language shapes how we think about sex. Even seemingly small shifts in how we talk about sex can affect how we behave and feel about it.

even this bear can’t believe it

ABCNews.com posted an article yesterday with the title Money Seems to Matter for Teen Girls, Condoms. And if you look at the title bar in your web browser, you’ll see the headline Boyfriends’ Money Affects Girls’ Condom Use, which I think shows a rather bizarre bias. After all, who’s wearing the condoms? How is it that cisgender women can use a cervical cap and a condom? How in the world does that make sense?

Leaving aside the fact that the research in question was looking at African-American teen girls in the Atlanta area and it might not apply to teens in general, the point of the article is that when young women receive spending money from their boyfriends instead of from family members or jobs, those couples are significantly less likely to use condoms. That’s not really a surprise- after all, we still have a lot of momentum behind the idea that women are responsible for safer sex & contraception. We also tell wildly different stories about women who have sex without condoms than men who do the same, at least within heterosexual contexts. It’s also well-known that when there’s a power imbalance in relationships, the person with more power is likely to get what they want. And of course, a headline about girls not using condoms is much more attention-grabbing than one about boys/men not using them.

But even so, it seems to me that a better title for this article might have been Men Use Money to Convince or Coerce Women to Have Unsafe Sex. Or perhaps When Men Support Women Financially, Safer Sex Decisions Change. Or even Money Changes Everything. Including Condom Use.

Instead, I’ve seen these winners:

All of these headlines do the same thing- they place responsibility for condom use on women, as if men’s willingness and consent have nothing to do with it. Now, I could understand that if the research was looking at hormonal birth control, IUDs, cervical caps, or any other contraception method that women need to be in charge of. But the condom is the only one that requires men being willing to get on board, other than vasectomies. And of course, it’s the only one that protects against STIs.

So how can condoms be something that girls or women use? Either both people use them, or men use them. Nothing else makes any sense. Yes, I know about the FC2. But with the current version, it’s still pretty obvious that it’s there and men need to at least be willing to go along with using them.

I’m really ready for us to stop coddling men around safer sex (and sex, in general). Let’s put the responsibility for this on the guys in these situations. Some of them are talking their girlfriends out of using condoms. Some of them are forcing them. And I’m sure that some of them are just going along with the situation- she doesn’t bring it up, and he doesn’t. But while those are important factors to look at, let’s stop pretending that these guys don’t make their own decisions about condom use. And let’s stop using language that reinforces the idea that safer sex is up to women.

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6 Responses so far.

  1. Mike says:

    I agree that the responsibility for safe sex should fall equally onto both partners, and that the point is that it is wrong for society to make safe sex the woman’s responsibility.

    However there may be a flaw in the study… The confounding variable could be that flow of money from the man to the woman is a marker for a more serious relationship, and more serious committed relationships may be more likely to use other contraception methods, such as the pill.

    So the real result could be.

    – More serious relationships less likely to use condoms
          – This is true in my experiance, if all partners have an STD check and no-one cheats then the pill is good enough.

    – Financial commitments may mean the relationship is more likely to be serious.
    – Therefore the confounding variable is the seriousness of the relationship
    – you get a significant correlation between money flow and lack of condom use. 
    – The prediction is that the associations between condom use and money flow with seriousness of relationship should also be significant. 

  2. Janet Rosenbaum says:

    I’m the author of the study.  Good idea, but not the case in this study.  We matched on 75 factors related to the girls and their boyfriends, including relationship seriousness, length of relationship, recent breakups, and cohabitation.  Even after all of that, girls who relied on their boyfriends for spending money were 50% more likely not to use condoms at all. 

  3. Ted says:

    My first instinct, which is always wrong, would be to say that unhealthy relationships lead to unhealthy condom use, but I should acknowledge that it is entirely possible for one person to be entirely dependent on the other financially and still have a healthy relationship. That said it is the worst sort of victim blaming I can image to shove all responsibility onto either partner, but especially women given how gender roles tend to frame sex.

  4. First of all I want to reiterate my overwhelming respect for Mr. Glickman’s understanding, writing style, and balanced approach towards things sexual.

    Then let me admit to shamefully admit to the outright theft of the warning sign gif posted in this blog.  I wanted it.  I took it.  It expresses an experience I have often had.  Thank you. 

  5. Charlie says:

    The Eroticist, given that I found it on tumblr and have no idea who originally made it, I have no problem with that. 🙂


  6. Clyde says:

    In Australia I think things are changing slowly for the better and whilst more men carry condoms in their wallets I would argue the old adage as you stated of if she doesn’t mention it, I wont still exists in a healthy state.
    This is why I think school based sexual education curricula needs to be raised to the same level of Mathematics, the sciences and English or whatever language you study as your primary.
    I honestly believe that this is the way to cancel out a lot of behaviours that aren’t going to go away anytime soon via reactive policies/education.
    Porn is another area that can help change behaviour and I hope in time that condom use improves to the point whereby it is the default standard for sex.
    Thanks again

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