My relationship with condoms is complicated, to say the least. There have been times in my life when I’ve used condoms with every single man I had sex with. There have been times I’ve had minor slips, and then there have been times I’ve just gone balls to the wall, barebacking like it’s going out of style.
Per my therapist’s suggestion, I started PrEP about two years ago. My guncle (gay uncle) warned me that if I started PrEP, my condom use would dwindle rapidly. (Before taking PrEP I was pretty close to 100% with my condom use.)
I looked him right in the eyes and assured him that wasn’t the case. I literally sounded like the perfect advertisement for Truvada. “I know it doesn’t protect me against other STIs, and it’s just a safety net, in case I get too drunk or the condom breaks. It’s my plan B to prevent me from getting HIV.”
He looked at me skeptically and said, “Sure, Zach. We’ll see.”
At first I was determined to prove him wrong. I still used condoms, even when it meant I couldn’t have sex with the guy I was with. There were times where, because of the condom, I couldn’t maintain my erection, or I couldn’t finish, but I still thought it was worth it. I still didn’t bareback.
Then one time I got too drunk, and decided “Screw it!” I forgot how good it felt to have sex without a condom. Then it happened again. Then it was like the floodgates opened and condoms got thrown out the window.
What surprised me the most wasn’t the slippery slope that led to my eventual disuse of condoms. (My uncle gave me a big, fat “I told you so” when I told him about my sexual activity.) What surprised me was that out of all the guys I was sleeping with — and I was sleeping with a lot — I think only a handful of men asked me to use a condom. Since I was no longer the one initiating the condom talk, the talk didn’t happen. We just carried on our merry way having unprotected sex.
I got gonorrhea twice and chlamydia once. (No real shocker there.) After my third dose of antibiotics in a year, I figured it was time to get back to reality. Also, I’m not trying to get that newly evolved antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea that’s floating around.
Fun fact: my mother, grandmother, uncle and two friends sent me a link to this article. Apparently everyone knows I’m a whore, and everyone’s worried for me. So it’s high time I start worrying for myself too.
[Editor’s note: We encourage everyone to read our article from July titled “How Worried Should We Really Be About Antibiotic-Resistant Gonorrhea?”]
I made an effort to start wearing condoms again for the first time in about a year. Without realizing it at first, I always sounded apologetic when I asked to wear a condom. When both of us revealed we were on PrEP, but I still wanted to wear a condom, many of the guys were confused. I could see it in their facial expression. It’s like they were thinking, “Well if we’re both on PrEP, why?”
Then there were a few guys who didn’t want to have sex with me because I wanted to wear a condom. That confused me. I mean, condoms are really annoying, I’ll be the first to admit it. But not having sex with someone because he wants to wear a condom seems a little much. It’s still sex. It’s still fun. It’s still absolutely worth it to have sex. (Or at least that’s what I thought.)
So then I found myself getting nervous about having the condom talk. That’s why I was unconsciously apologizing to every guy for wanting to wear a condom. That’s why I’d justify why I’d like to wear one even though I’m on PrEP. I felt this need to explain myself.
“Hey, I know it’s annoying, and we’re both on Truvada, but do you mind if we still wear a condom? I don’t want to get any other STIs.”
I didn’t realize this pattern until a boy I had a crush on came over. We had been texting prior, and he was sending me naughty things about “breeding his hole” and the like. Then when we finally met up, after a while of seeing each other randomly at parties, I invited him back to my place.
I then started my usual spiel of why I wanted to wear a condom. He interrupted me. “Zach, that’s completely fine. I’m down for either. Those were just silly texts. You don’t have to apologize for wanting to be safe.”
He was 100% right.
The thing is, I’m staunchly sex-positive. I’ve embraced the word slut so much I have a necklace that dangles from my neck with that exact word. I believe we’re in the midst of a sexual liberation revival, and I am here for it.
But in this push to be sex-positive and to proudly embrace my “pig” identity, I think I’d inadvertently shamed folks who fall more on the prudish side of the spectrum. I also began to equate safe sex with sex-negativity and bareback/breeding with sex-positivity.
Needless to say, this is false, but I think many sex-positive activists accidentally have fallen into the same trap I did.
The sexual liberation movement isn’t about shaming anyone. In fact, that’s the exact opposite message of the sexual liberation movement. It’s about feeling free to have as much or as little sex as you want. It’s about being able not to feel ashamed or embarrassed about acquiring gonorrhea. It’s about clear, direct and honest communication. It’s about being able to disclose your HIV status to someone without someone thinking you’re “dirty” or diseased. It’s about having the knowledge and information about safe sex so that you can make an informed decision on what you would like to do regarding condom use. It’s about being a society that doesn’t slut-shame or prude shame. It’s about giving autonomy regarding how, when and with whom we decide to have sex.
So let’s not sex shame people who want to wear condoms. Let’s also not sex shame people who take preventive measures to avoid STIs but do not wear condoms. Let’s live our damn lives being vocal, honest, respectful and sex-positive.
I know from now on, I will no longer apologize for wanting — or not wanting — to wear condoms.
Featured image by Louis-Paul St-Onge via iStock