Sex feels better without a condom. You know it, I know it and it’s okay to admit it. Though this may be true, it doesn’t outweigh the consequences that come with not wearing a condom. From sexually transmitted diseases to unplanned pregnancy, making the conscious decision to not put on a rubber comes with a hefty price tag. Despite this truth, one in three women are still having unprotected sex every single time, according to a recent study. This doesn’t even address the fact that stealthing, or removing a condom mid-intercourse without a partner’s knowledge, is now trending.
Having been on the birth control pill since I was 18 years old, I have never given a second thought to contraception. The condom, however, was another beast entirely. While frequenting the twin-size beds of certain athletes on my campus, talking about condoms was always equal parts crucial and awkward.
Few college students would assume that a 20-year-old male college basketball player who just slid into some girl’s DMs has plans to be exclusive with her. Even so, I’ve spent a lot of my younger years feeling uneasy about pausing a breathless make-out session to ask, “Do you have a condom?” Luckily, most of the time, the man in bed with me would reach across and retrieve a foil-wrapped latex from his desk drawer. But there was always that one asshole who’d throw his head back on his pillow and, in his mini-man-child tantrum, groan, “I’m out.”
Many college-aged women say they have condomless sex because they are in serious, committed relationships.
At the age of 23, I got my first full STI test following a few condomless nights with a New York City fling. I was lucky to walk away unscathed. But considering one out of every six people aged 14 to 49 years have genital herpes, I could have just as easily been unlucky. Such was the case for Madelyn, a student at American University.
“I was having a lot of unprotected sex with a lot of different partners freshman year,” Madelyn says. “I didn’t even think twice because of course nothing bad could ever happen to me, the poster child of sexual health. My grandma was a sex-ed teacher, which is ironic in a lot of ways.” Getting an IUD after freshman year made Madelyn feel more free to have unprotected sex without having to think twice about it.
Then, in December 2016, she suffered a genital herpes outbreak. “It was horrifying,” she says. According to the Centers for Disease Control, one in six people have some form of the herpes virus. “It’s incredible to know that even with such a high number, most people who have herpes won’t tell you they have it. None of my partners told me they had herpes. They probably didn’t know. I consented to sex. I consented to unprotected sex. But I did not consent to herpes.”
Jacqueline, a student at Emerson College, tried to use condoms with a guy she was dating one summer but he told her he had an allergy. “We tried sex with the condoms a few times and it always hurt him,” she says. “Eventually we got rid of them. He showed me all his tests that said he was clean and I was tested to say I was clean, too.” Some time after, she started feeling pain, so she went to her gynecologist, who informed her she had HPV.
“There’s currently no test for a man to take to determine if he has HPV or not,” relays Jacqueline. “Regular testing in women also does not screen for HPV. Only a Pap smear can show if a woman has it. Men don’t really ever know. No one taught me that in sex ed and it’s not something any doctor I’d ever seen had said to me before,” she says. “It’s unnerving to hear that one in three women never use a condom. I would say that’s probably because they and their partners think they’re clean when they’re not.”
Seventy nine million Americans have HPV currently, and it’s now estimated that most sexually active people will get it at some point in their lives.
Many of the college-aged women I spoke to say they have condomless sex because they are in serious, committed relationships. Becca, a former student at the University of Pittsburgh, says her and her boyfriend stopped using condoms after she got her IUD about a year and a half into their relationship. Brogan, a student at Indiana University, states her and her boyfriend of two years sleep together “pretty consistently,” so buying condoms all the time would be costly.
According to one source, a couple using condoms twice a week would spend about $150 on them a year—which may be steep for those relying on meal plans for dinner and student loans for rent. But it’s not entirely impossible if budgeted properly, given that most students probably spend more than that in a year on Starbucks. Demi, a student at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, says she does use condoms with her boyfriend of a year—but only when she’s on her period.
Both of us were tested so we know we’re both clean.
Georgia State University student
Nicole, a student at Georgia State University, says she recently got an IUD because of the complications her and her boyfriend had with condoms. “Both of us were tested so we know we’re both clean. The problem we had was lubricated condoms irritated me so we would use unlubricated condoms with lube and it wasn’t comfortable for either of us. Plus, I have really good insurance, so my IUD was just a $15 copay. That’s way cheaper than buying condoms.”
“My boyfriend and I both think sex feels better without a condom,“ says Allie, a student at Denison University. "I also think it feels more intimate with your partner when he’s not wearing a condom.” She says it “somewhat” ruins the mood when your partner pauses foreplay to put on a condom and that the smell of condoms is “absolutely disgusting” and “lingers on you for hours.”
For some, like Susanna, a student at Virginia Tech, ditching the condom doesn’t necessarily require a relationship as long as both parties have agreed to be exclusive between the sheets. “I generally use condoms about 80 to 90 percent of the time, unless I know my partner isn’t sleeping with someone else and he’s gotten tested.” While this may be the case for many college women—myself included—the same study cited previously reports only one in five women are likely to ask their current or most recent partner if they’ve been tested.
But what surprised (and impressed) me the most is the promising number of college-aged women who are unashamed to admit that they do use a condom every time. “I’ve never not used a condom. Better safe than sorry,” says Betsy, a student at University of Arizona. Julie, another student at Denison University, says, “I’m a strong believer in safe sex and condoms. My main reason [for using them] is for peace of mind and good health.”
Personally, I never fully appreciated the peace of mind using a condom brings until I had to watch a friend suffer through a non-surgical abortion—and then endured my own pregnancy scare shortly after. I realized as I sat in my bathroom, praying for a sign of menstruation, that having a brief awkward exchange with a guy I probably wouldn’t bring home for Christmas anyway shouldn’t outweigh the risk of me having to make a potentially life-changing decision.
These are the questions we should all be asking ourselves—both men and women—whenever clothes start coming off during a heated moment: Do I want to turn this man-child into a father? Can I afford an abortion, if that’s the route I choose to take? Am I ready to face the stigma of living with an STD if it can’t be treated? In the face of such life-altering questions, pushing someone away and reminding him or her that you won’t go any further unless a 99-cent condom is involved should hardly be a second thought.
For help on finding the right condom for you and your partner, check out Playboy’s His-and-Her Guide to Modern Condoms, which rates 11 rubbers based on material, cost, feel, texture and more.