Playing It Safe Might Not Always Be Necessary
by Lynnea Dally


“Use a condom” is probably one of the most often uttered safe-sex mantras in the sexual education world.
Personally, I can’t count how many times I’ve said or typed that directive. But what does it really mean? Do you really need to wear a condom every time? The honest answer is no: you don’t need to wear a condom all the time.

There are certain circumstances when it’s not really necessary to wear a condom. In stable, monogamous relationships in which both partners have been tested for STD’s, it’s not necessary to wear a condom. The blanket command to use a condom every time is disrespectful because it implies that the public can’t think for itself. So why don’t sex educators tell you the truth? It’s because they’re afraid that you won’t follow the true safety guidelines strictly enough, so they over-emphasize the importance of wearing a condom.

Their fears are well founded. First of all, few people actually get tested, or even get tested properly. Since many STD’s are asymptomatic, there’s no way you can be sure that you’re having safer sex if you haven’t been tested. Most people should get tested for Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, HIV, Syphilis, HPV and Herpes. Women (and eventually men) should all be vaccinated for HPV; it’s one of the most prevalent diseases in America. But getting tested isn’t that simple. Our own Student Health Services doesn’t test for HPV and Herpes because the tests can sometimes give false negatives. They’ll only test you for HPV or Herpes if you’re showing symptoms at the time of your appointment. Next, HIV tests can take six to nine months after initial infection to show up accurately, so making sure that all partners involved are clean can be a bit tricky.

Another cause for concern: how can you know that your partner is not cheating and potentially exposing you to STD’s? Most cheaters typically don’t inform their partner that they are seeing someone else, and some can be incredibly covert. If they are cheating, they’re less likely to use protection: taking the time to plan and use a condom is an admission of guilt in the cheater’s mind.

To make matters worse, the partners of cheaters usually prefer to live in denial. They cling to their broken relationship and turn a blind eye. It’s difficult to be sure that your partner is being honest with you. The best way to make sure that your partner is not exposing you to anything is to be clear that both partners will be honest and understanding about any form of cheating. (Taking the taboo off of cheating also makes them less likely to cheat.)

Also, don’t be huffy if your partner wants to use condoms; the fact that they want to protect you even at the risk of exposing themselves shows that they really do care about you.

Health educators know how inconsistent people can be when it comes to making health decisions, so they’ve erred on the side of caution. They’re afraid that if they give an inch of honest leeway, the public will take the unprotected mile.

But is an absolute command really the best policy? I don’t think so. I think that people should always be most fully informed and fully equipped to make their health choices, but that the ultimate decision should be left up to them. People are smart, and I trust them to make the right decisions—at least the majority of the time.

Creating an open and honest atmosphere about sex and protection will do far more for everyone’s health than a “we-know-best-just-do-it” attitude.

Furthermore, encouraging condom use all the time every time portrays a false dichotomy. While using a condom correctly is fairly easy if you’ve read up and practiced, it can be a bit daunting to imagine remembering the condom procedure every single time you have sex for the rest of your life. But the thing is, you probably don’t have to. As already stated, there are certain situations where it’s acceptable to forgo the condom.

Also, the use-a-condom-every-time approach implies that you’ve blown it if you had unprotected sex, even once. How depressingly, and inaccurately, discouraging. While getting STD’s or pregnant from one (or even a few) mistakes is possible, it’s incredibly improbable. It’s like missing a single lecture. Unless you were unlucky enough to miss a midterm, you probably won’t fail the class. However, continuing to miss lectures will almost always get your GPA in trouble. So if you messed up by forgetting, losing or breaking a condom, just resolve to use one properly the next time (and get tested, just in case). No matter how many mistakes you’ve made in the past, it’s never too late to start being responsible by using a condom when and where it’s appropriate.