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via college candy By Lena Chen - Harvard

Whatever happened to “no glove, no love”?

These days, forgoing condoms is practically considered proof of love … but intentionally unprotected sex isn’t merely a practice exclusive to the betrothed or married. “Forget ’sex without condoms is the new engagement ring’,”writes journalist Rachel Hills in this month’s edition of Australian women’s mag, Cleo. “For a lot of people, it seems, sex without condoms is the new ‘going steady’.”

I see where Rachel is going with this one, but I’d even take it one step further and say that condomless sex (the non-accidental variety) isn’t even limited to those in love.

In my post-high school romances, the sexual exclusivity (A.K.A. “Who else are you sleeping with cuz I’d like to ditch the condoms”) talk has always preceded the relationship talk, but I’ve also discussed the issue with guys who I never had an interest in seriously dating. The subject has been broached with f**k buddies, casual interests, and boyfriends alike. What I’ve learned is that the nature of the relationship — whether it’s a serious romance or a sexual fling — matters less than how well I know and trust my partner. I might go out on regular dates with a new guy for a couple months and never suggest giving up condoms, but will bring it up after a just few short weeks of sleeping with a trusted male friend.

That doesn’t mean I approach unprotected sex with a flippant attitude. Rather, I bring up sexual exclusivity not so I can secure a regular hook-up, but as part of a larger conversation about responsible practices. Unfortunately, the only thing more awkward than officially defining a relationship is initiating a conversation about sexual exclusivity. You may be concerned about appearing presumptuous, especially if you’re sleeping with someone who you’re not dating and don’t want to send the wrong romantic signals. But uncomfortable as the conversation might be, you can’t skip that step altogether if you’re thinking of losing the glove (nor should you be having sex if you’d rather cross your fingers than actually communicate about these issues).

Rather than leaving it up to a drunken game of “Just The Tip”, think ahead and bring up sexual monogamy when you’re sober, coherent, and level-headed. The most important question isn’t always “Who else are you currently sleeping with?” but rather, “When’s the last time you got tested?” You might not think your current partner has picked up anything sketchy along the road, but when it comes to sexual health, seeing is not believing. Just because someone isn’t sporting warts doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re clean. It’s not uncommon for a person with a STI display no signs of infection.

Hills warns, “Many STIs have no outward symptoms, so if there’s nothing obviously ‘wrong’ with the person you’re sleeping with, it’s easy to assume that they’re STI-free.”

But being asymptomatic doesn’t mean that either of you are in the clear. Symptoms or not, STIs can still be transmitted and can cause serious health problems like infertility if you leave the infection untreated. Hills notes in her article that the majority of new HIV infections happen because people don’t realize they’re infected. In a post-AIDS world, there’s a reason why mandatory condom use has become sex ed canon. If you make the decision to ditch the glove, certain prerequisites should first be met: an agreement to be sexually monogamous, up-to-date test results, and a clear understanding of each other’s stance on issues like accidental pregnancies.

Even if you decide to leave condoms on your grocery list for now, these are conversations that you should be having with your partner anyway. Since even consistent condom users wind up with broken rubbers, you need to be comfortable with discussing the possibility of pregnancy and STIs. The golden rule of intercourse? Do others as you would have others do you.
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