When you have sex, both of you are responsible for your own sexual health and your partner's sexual health, i.e. protecting yourselves against pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
Some people think it’s OK to pressure their partner into having sex without a condom. It’s not.
People might have several reasons for not wanting to use one. Dr Petra Boynton, agony aunt and psychologist, has heard them all before. Below, she responds to the most common excuses, and provides knowledge that will give you the confidence to insist on using a condom.
It doesn't matter how healthy and fit you are: if you have unprotected sex, you're at risk of catching an STI and dealing with an unwanted pregnancy. It’s easy to think it won’t happen to you, but it can. Each year, 790,000 STIs are diagnosed across the UK. You can’t tell whether someone's got an infection by looking at them.
You or your partner may not realise that you have an STI because many people have no noticeable symptoms (70% of women with chlamydia and 50% of men with chlamydia don’t have symptoms). Just because you can’t see any obvious symptoms, such as sores or warts, doesn't mean that you’re free from STIs.
‘I like it natural’
Sex with a condom can feel natural. With the new superfine condoms, you often can't tell that you're using one. Some men find that using a condom can make their erections last longer. Having sex without a condom may seem natural, but it puts you and your partner(s) at risk of infection. Using a condom protects against unwanted pregnancies and STIs.
‘I can't be bothered’
Your response to this should be: "If you can't be bothered to use a condom then I can't be bothered to have sex with you."
Using a condom is easier than having to visit a genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinic to treat an STI, which may have unpleasant symptoms.
It's easy to get into the habit of not using a condom and to think that unprotected sex won't give you an infection or result in pregnancy. However, condoms don't just cut the risk of pregnancy or infections. They can help both of you to have more fun in bed. Try a coloured condom for some fun, a textured condom for extra sensation, or a flavoured condom for oral sex.
‘I don't like them’
Some people don’t like condoms because they’ve had a bad experience with them in the past. Perhaps they couldn't keep an erection with a condom on, or they found them difficult to use. Other people are told that they shouldn't like condoms, so they never try them.
There are plenty of brands that offer a variety of condoms to suit your needs. You can both get involved in putting the condom on, so it becomes part of having sex together.
There are textured, flavoured and coloured condoms, condoms that make you and your partner tingle or feel hot; condoms that make you look bigger or help you keep erect longer. All these condoms protect you from STIs and unwanted pregnancy.
‘I lose sensitivity’
If condoms have made you lose sensitivity in the past, look for brands that sell light condoms. Some are very thin, and it barely feels as if you're wearing one.
Alternatively, you may want a textured condom to boost sensitivity for you and your partner. Some people prefer condoms that reduce sensitivity, which can be great if you're worried about coming too quickly.
‘I forgot to use one’
Getting drunk is one of the most common reasons people give for forgetting to use a condom. No matter how much you know about the risks, drinking too much can make you ignore the consequences of having unprotected sex.
Keep a pack of condoms by your bed, and carry some with you when you go out or go on holiday. Even if you aren't planning to have sex, put a condom in your bag or pocket at the beginning of the night, just in case.
‘It affects my performance’
Some people find it hard to keep an erection with a condom on. This is often because the first time you try to use a condom is when you're just about to have sex. You find that your erection starts to go, you get worried about it, then you lose your erection and associate it with the condom.
You're also anxious about what your sex partner might think. Practise putting on a condom when you're not about to have sex with someone. Learn to enjoy sex while wearing a condom. Try masturbating with a condom on to help you learn to stay hard and to have an orgasm. This way you'll feel confident about staying erect next time you have sex.
Putting the condom on together can make it an enjoyable part of sex, rather than an interruption.
‘It ruins the moment’
We don't think of reaching for a sex toy or unpeeling sexy underwear as a distraction although they briefly interrupt sex. But we don't mind because we find it sexy.
Get used to putting on a condom and thinking about sex while you're doing it (your partner can put it on for you, or you could watch your partner undress or masturbate as you're putting the condom on). This way, you'll stay aroused, and it will become part of sex, not an interruption.
‘They hurt’ or 'they're too small'
A condom that's too tight may feel uncomfortable. But condoms come in a range of sizes, so you can easily find one that fits properly. A condom can hold 14 pints of beer, or around 24 cans of soft drink, so it should fit around your or your partner's penis.
If the condoms that you've been using are too small, look out for brands that come in a bigger size. Try one on before you have sex to see how it feels. Your GP, community contraceptive clinic or pharmacist can help you to find a brand that suits you.
It may hurt to use condoms because you're allergic to them.
'I'm sterile’ or 'I can't have children'
Only a small number of people under 30 are sterile, so if someone tells you that they are, they may not be telling the truth. Whether a person is sterile or not, they can still get and pass on STIs by having unprotected sex. Always use a condom to protect yourself and your partner(s) from STIs.
‘I've got no change for the condom machine’
Keep condoms at home and always carry them with you when you go out, so that you're always prepared. This way, if you or your partner hasn't got money to buy them you’ll have some with you.
‘We've been seeing each other for a while’
Many STIs, such as chlamydia, don't have any noticeable symptoms and can lie undetected for a long time. Even though you may have been with your partner for a while, you still may not be risk free. Discuss your sexual history with your partner and get checked at a sexual health (GUM) clinic before you stop using condoms.
‘I'm allergic to them’
Only a very small number of people are allergic to condoms, so don't always trust someone who tells you that they are. An allergy is not a good excuse to have unprotected sex, because there are condoms that don’t cause allergies.
People who are allergic to condoms may react to:
- the latex that condoms are made from,
- the chemicals that are used to manufacture condoms, or
If you or your partner are allergic, you could try:
Remember: use a condom every time you have sex to protect against STIs. To protect against unintended pregnancy, use another form of contraceptive as well.
- non-latex condoms made from polyurethane or polyisoprene, which don’t cause allergic reactions.