Gay men versus condoms. Where are we at?
When it comes to having sex, condoms can be the elephant in the room.
They might offer protection from certain sexually transmitted infections, but for some people they can be a bit of a buzz kill.
Perhaps it’s no wonder that some of us struggle about talking about condoms in the heat of the moment.
To use or not to use?
Paul seems quite insistent when it comes to whether or not to use condoms with new partners, “It was just a given: no condoms, no sex.”
“More often than not, there was no conversation,” he explains. “I use condoms with all new partners, to protect against STIs.”
As for when it comes to who would bring the balloons to the party, Paul says that he mostly brings his own condoms.
Tony is a little more indifferent. “Sometimes yes, sometimes no,” he says of using condoms.
He is single and likes using condoms with guys he hasn’t met before, yet will go without condoms with more regular partners.
“I’m mostly top and tend to initiate the conversation,” he says. “As part of that conversation I’ll talk about being on PrEP and test status. I’ll encourage them to do the same, so we can agree what we want to do.”
Like Paul, Tony also brings his own condoms when meeting up with guys, yet agrees that there have been times when the other guy hasn’t been on board with the idea of using them.
“I stopped putting my PrEP status on my app profiles at the beginning because people assumed that meant I wouldn’t use condoms,” Tony says. “But my initial motivation was to take the fear out of condom sex.”
Tony explains that before being on PrEP, he had anxiety of HIV even when having sex with a condom.
He also says that he and his partner might have agreed to using condoms before meeting up, but then they might change their minds in the moment.
James goes to saunas to hook-up with guys, and will always bring condoms with him. “I take condoms when I go to a sauna, where multiple men might fuck me,” he explains. “I insist on condoms being used there.”
That being said, he won’t use condoms with his friend. “He has sex with me bareback, as we have trust.”
Not just about STIs
Sometimes the reason behind using condoms are much broader than just being worried about getting an STI.
Tony says he has had reactions to several of the antibiotics used to treat bacterial STIs in the past, so even though some STIs are treatable, he uses condoms because his treatment options are limited.
“Also, without being too gross, condoms are a good idea if the bottom hasn’t had time to prepare himself,” he adds. “Quite the boner kill to experience that without a condom.”
James says that his reasons behind using condoms is also linked with pleasure. “I do feel slightly frustrated by not receiving the other man’s semen,” he remarks. When it comes to the sensation of sex when using condoms, however, he says he doesn’t mind.
Although he has “rules” concerning condom use, there have also been times when James hasn’t used condoms.
“I was really attracted to him, so I backed down and let him fuck me,” he recalls. “I know it goes against my rules, but occasionally most of us give in or change the goalposts. It has happened a few times.”
He says that his decision-making can also be influenced by his use of cocaine. “I’m more likely to not mind if a guy insists on bareback when I’m using cocaine – an obvious drug to lose inhibitions. I’ve had unprotected sex on cocaine over the years.”
“Condoms, in some form or other, have been used for hundreds of years as an effective way to prevent HIV and other STI’s such a Chlamydia, Gonorrhoea and syphilis,” explains Dr Jake Bayley, sexual health doctor.
“Since the AIDS crisis in the early 1980’s, they have formed the central part of most HIV prevention strategies; along with more recently a combination of treating people living with HIV so they cannot pass on HIV (U=U), post exposure prophylaxis (PEP) and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).”
Dr Jake also says that condoms are the most cost-effective way for men who have sex with men to prevent STIs, including HIV. He agrees that using a condom during sex is sometimes easier said than done.
“There are a myriad of reasons for some men not using condoms,” says Dr Jake. “These might include difficulties around condom negotiation with partners, drug use in a sexualised setting leading to impaired ability to assess risk of HIV, and erectile dysfunction.”
Some people might say that the use of PrEP might reduce condom use, but Dr Jake explains that this isn’t being reflected by current research. “In fact, studies show that the results are mixed with not all data showing a compensatory increase in sexual risk taking.”
How can you talk about condoms with a partner?
“Never have the sex you don’t want,” advises Paul, who thinks that if somebody wants to use a condom during sex then they shouldn’t feel pressured into not doing so.
He says that being confident in the moment is also important, as well as sticking by your decision. “If you want to use them and he doesn’t and it’s a deal-breaker, fine, stick to that if that’s what you want. There are plenty more fish in the sea.”
Confidence is also something that James and Tony think is important to expressing whether or not you wish to use a condom.
As somebody who takes PrEP, Tony advises people to not assume that just because somebody is on PrEP doesn’t mean they don’t wish to use condoms.
“Just be clear about your personal rules, be up-front, ideally before you meet up,” he says. “Also be prepared to not meet up with someone who wants something different to you.”
Perhaps Tony makes a point that’s worth remembering, when it comes to communicating with partners about safer sex: “Talking about what happens in bed is sexy!”