Survey Suggests Relationship Potential, Not Safety, Decides Condom Use


Apr 16, 2019


Heterosexual men and women, and men who have sex with men use different strategies when it comes to using condoms with a new partner, a study published recently in the Journal of Sex Research has found.

Conducted with people between ages 18 and 25, it revealed that for heterosexual men and women, condom use is largely determined by the relationship potential. Straight women may abstain from using a condom if they trust their partner, or find the partner motivated to be in a relationship. They may also refrain from using condoms, if a male partner doesn’t want to, or dislikes using condoms, in order to please the partner.

When they want to use a condom, the survey found, heterosexual women use more verbal forms of condom insistence strategies than men, such as by using statements like ‘no condom means no sex with me tonight,’ or directly insisting on using one.

Heterosexual men, on the other hand, are quite the opposite when it comes to using condoms. If they are in or interested in a relationship they tend to take less risk when it comes to protecting themselves and partners from sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or unintended pregnancies. Alternatively, if they are not motivated enough to be in a relationship, they are likely to depend on their partner for protection.

Among heterosexual couples, it was also observed that many individuals worried about being perceived as promiscuous if they insisted on using condoms. They view discussions about condoms as interfering with intimacy or threatening to the future of their relationships. “Proposing condom use is seen as less romantic,” the study concluded.

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Whereas for men who have sex with men, they are more likely to verbalize their negotiations about condom use as compared to heterosexual couples, “possibly because they may view themselves on a more equal playing field with their partners,” according the study. Unprotected sex among this group can be interpreted as a signal of trust and a way of showing interest in developing a stronger emotional connection, the study stated.

However, with the advent of a daily pill called pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP meant to prevent HIV, the usage of condoms among this group has decreased and that has also led to an increase in the incidence of other STIs, according to a recent study published in JAMA, a medical journal.

Closer home, not only is the use of condoms very poor, but also determined by gender, the stigma associated with sex and the social embarrassment buying a condom causes among people.

Not so long ago, Durex, the condoms and sex toys brand, tweeted: “What’s happening India? 95 percent of Indians don’t use condoms! We’d love to know why.”

Durex meant that roughly 95% of sexually active Indians aren’t using the contraception that offers the best protection for STIs. The figure is based on 2015-2016 research by the National Family Health Survey (NFHS), which found only 5.6% of sexually active women, aged 15 to 49 use condoms for birth control, and only 5.8% of sexually active men in the same age group used condoms in their last sexual encounter.

The same survey also revealed that three out of eight men believed contraception was women’s business and not theirs.

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Interestingly, the numbers changed very little from the previous NFHS survey conducted a decade earlier, which revealed that only 5.2% Indians used condoms.

The survey also mentioned that the usage remained unaffected despite more Indians, particularly men, displaying more knowledge about HIV and STIs.

Their reluctance to use condoms is possibly due to reasons such as that, “condoms reduce sexual pleasure,” and another form of contraception such as, “vasectomies make men sterile.”

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These reasons mean that the responsibility of avoiding unwanted pregnancies and the prevention of STIs fall on women, and also expose them to adverse health effects from constant use of morning-after pills.

To prove this, the same NFHS survey showed that the maximum use of female condoms among unmarried women was seen in the 20-24 years age group, while the overall use of condoms among unmarried, sexually active women between ages 15 to 49 years had gone up from 2% to 12% in the last 10 years, although a large number of women still use “traditional contraceptive methods such as following the menstrual rhythm or withdrawal.”

Although individuals may experience a strong, innate need to form lasting relationships, and that influences their condom use behavior, it is also important to remember that STIs are a significant and increasing health concern, especially among young people, particularly since untreated infections can lead to reproductive health complications and increase the risk of HIV transmission.

And since it is unprotected sex that accounts for a majority of the above, using or negotiating the use of condoms will be an important step to reducing the incidence of all these and unwanted pregnancies.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the number of Indians who do not use condoms. Roughly 95% of sexually active Indians do not use condoms, not 95% of all Indians.


Written By Anubhuti Matta

Anubhuti Matta is an associate editor with The Swaddle. When not at work, she’s busy pursuing kathak, reading books on and by women in the Middle East or making dresses out of Indian prints.


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