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.
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:
- Girls Who Rely on a Boyfriend for Money Are Less Likely to Use Condoms
- Study: Girls Less Likely To Use Condoms With Boyfriends Who Provide For Them
- Boyfriends’ Money Affects Teen Girls’ Condom Use
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.