Think Ahead, Before you Bed: real life condom challenges

I really like step #3, “discuss safer sex options with your partner”.

February is National Condom Month!  This ‘awareness month’ may prompt the question, how well do you know the steps to correct condom use?  But what about, how comfortable are you discussing and actually using condoms with an intimate partner?

Educational programs and campaigns have traditionally placed a lot of emphasis on the JUST DO IT and here is  HOW TO use a condom.  Lessons abound on How to purchase,  How to put on, How to remove, and even How to discard (not in the toilet!)- these are all REALLY important.  But are teachers also adequately addressing the how to use WITH a partner?

As much as we might teach students the steps of using a condom correctly and encourage them to use them as much as possible,  implementing those steps can be far more complicated, and our educational programs need to reflect the complexity of actual intimate situations. What are some of the challenges that may be faced in real life, in addition to not knowing all the steps to correct condom use?

  • Preferring the feeling of sexual activity without a condom, “It feels better without one!”
  • Believing that if two people are committed, condoms aren’t needed, “If you’re just with me, we don’t need to use a condom.”
  • No perceived risk associated with the sexual act, “I can’t get pregnant/STIs.”
  • Lack of concern about the risks involved, “It’s no big deal if I get an STI.”
  • The rewards of sex without a condom outweighing any risks, “Even if I get an STI, my partner will like me more because we have sex without a condom.”
  • Difficulty communicating with a partner about condom use, “I can’t talk to my partner about condoms!”
  • A male’s challenge maintaining an erection while using a condom. (I don’t have a quote for this one.)
  • A female’s allergy to latex. (Or this one)
  • Simply not thinking about it. “Well, I guess we won’t use a condom!”

These challenges are often not directly addressed in real life- the quotes above are often barely even acknowledged as thoughts. Or they are recognized as afterthoughts!  It is our job as educators to establish a safe space where these challenges can be discussed and explored ahead of time, so that individuals are better prepared to assert a response that they are confident in when a condom challenge is faced.

So in this conversation about condoms, it shouldn’t be as simple as “No Glove, no Love” or “You could get a germ if you don’t cover your worm.”  Although, these slogans are loads of fun and make me smile, and I’ll admit that marketing needs to be concise and catchy in its messaging.  But something is missing, because despite the hilarious messaging out there encouraging us to “wrap it before you tap it,” there are still cases of STIs and unintended pregnancy, not to mention the individuals with ‘oops’ syndrome. (Ooops! We didn’t use a condom.)  Sexuality educators need to devote time in their programs to examine all of these challenges, because they pose a much larger hurdle to overcome than learning the steps of correct condom use and just telling people to “avoid your frown, contain your clown”.

Ps. For more condom slogans, check out: http://www.condomslogans.com.  and as a warning, some slogans listed on this link are heteronormative and potentially offensive.

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Preaching Partnership

In the season of Valentine’s Day, I am reminded of how partnered our society is.  In US society, a significant measure of perceived success relies on an individuals’ status as ‘in a relationship’, especially one that will result in a long-term commitment such as marriage, and/or kids.  Think about the last time you spent time with someone you haven’t seen in a year (and they aren’t on Facebook!).  Did your conversation include the relationship status for either, or both of you?  Most likely yes.  The topic of relationships comes up A LOT in conversation, and that can put an enormous amount of pressure on an individual to be in a relationship.  Not only is this emphasis evident in social culture, and our media, it is also highly present within the field of sexuality education.

As a standard in sexuality education, when teachers are discussing the ‘appropriate’ context for sexual activity they say that it is best when in a committed relationship.  (Many programs actually dictate that the only acceptable context for sexual activity is within the confines of marriage, but that is probably a whole other post!)  The advantages described include increased likelihood of communication, an established rapport, and less risk for sexually transmitted infections.  However, I believe that there are some distinct disadvantages to ‘preaching partnership’ as the best option for sexual activity:

  • Some individuals may never be in a long-term committed relationship. (gasp!)
  • Lots of people stay in unhappy, frustrating relationships because of the perceived importance of being partnered.
  • Being in a relationship could actually put someone at higher risk of sexually transmitted infections if one partner is engaging in sexual activity outside of the partnership.  (This is a lot more common than many would admit!)

So what’s the alternative?  I believe that by individualizing the conversation about sexual decision-making, it lessens the preachiness of a message.  Rather than telling students that the BEST option for sexual activity is in the context of a relationship, encourage individuals to identify their own parameters for engaging in particular actions.  Some people may articulate that the best context is within a partnership.  It would make sense that if an individual comes to that realization on their own (rather than being told), they will be feel better about that decision and more likely to stick to it and be true to themselves.  And some people may prefer to be single, and they are still sexual beings and need to be prepared to make sexual decisions.

Focusing so much on the value of partnership for sexual activity can have some emotional side effects even years down the line, and our goal as educators should be to help individuals feel more comfortable, not freaked out because it didn’t turn out the way ‘they’ said it would.  As a sexuality educator, I challenge myself to be not only fearless, gender neutral, and pro-pleasure, but also non-partnered.  Describe the options that people have for expressing their sexuality, just don’t say that one of them is the best- because that is likely different for everyone!

What’s in a name?

In the last few weeks, as I have been telling my friends about my new blog, I have had quite a few responses regarding the length of my site’s title, fearlesssexualityeducator.  I will admit, it is pretty long, however, I saw no way around it- and I will tell you why.

Fearless.  This word characterizes my own personality, my own outlook on life, and my approach to learning environments.  I believe that going through life being afraid of what might happen will limit our experiences exponentially.  I certainly have my own fears…for example heights make me very queasy, but that doesn’t mean I don’t muster the courage to look over the edge!  However there are plenty of educational agendas (either in the classroom, among peers, or through the media), that try to scare people out of doing things.  Alternatively, I seek, as an educator, to encourage critical thinking about  topics that could be scary, so that when faced with a scenario that involves risk, individuals are better prepared.  I hope that none of my participants ever leave a program feeling afraid of sexuality; in fact, I hope that they will feel more comfortable and at ease with the topic, which is pretty much the opposite of fear!

Sexuality.  This is the topic on which I have become an expert (or I am striving to become).  Every professional in this field has thought long and hard about this word.  When describing the work that I do, I am extremely intentional about using the full word, sexuality.  If I chop off the ‘uality’, it just leaves ‘sex’, which is merely an action.  If I’m just educating about actions, there isn’t really that much to talk about! But when you consider ‘sexuality’ as a whole, it encompasses much more than actions, but also concepts such as attraction, identity, intimacy, relationships, anatomy, reproduction and sexual health.  While it may be more concise and convenient to just say ‘sex’, what I’m talking about is much more than that!

from teachingsexualhealth.ca

Educator.  This is the role that I have adopted in order to help people learn about, and become more comfortable with the topic in which I have become expert-like.  For me, being an educator comes hand in hand with being a facilitator.  I utilize discussion and interaction in all of the learning environments I lead, because I believe that much of ‘learning’ about sexuality is about self-reflection and discovery.  I struggle to describe myself as a teacher, in part because of the myriad of negative connotations with the term that date back to horrible grade school math teachers, and also because I rarely find myself in conventional school settings.  So I find that the term educator applies well to my skills and approach.

And there you have it.  I felt I couldn’t really compromise on any of those terms, because they all make up an important part of what this is all about.  And what’s so bad about a long name?  Made you think about it, at least. 🙂