Men and women are more alike than we think, and that’s not always a good thing. Apparently, women resort to the same rascal’s bag of tricks to avoid using rubbers as dudes. New research published this month in The Journal of Sex Research found that almost half of the 235 women surveyed (aged 18 to 21, asked about their sex life beginning at age 14) admitted to seduction, deception and/or sabotage in order to avoid having sex with a bagged peen. Per Newsweek:
Nearly 40 percent of women who fell into this group said they downplayed the risks with their male partners, while 33 percent said they used “seduction tactics,” which the authors described as getting a man sexually aroused enough that he gave into her request for unprotected sex. Roughly 3 percent of women in the study avoided condom use through manipulation, such as withholding sex or actually destroying the condom.
Compare this with a 2014 study on men’s condom resistance tactics, which found that 80 percent of the 313 men surveyed had attempted at least one of these three tactics. If we are keeping score, and we definitely are, this means men — who purchase over two-thirds of condoms — are still more resistant to using them than women, but women are also guilty. Society has always put women as the de facto guardians of safe sex because they bear a much greater burden in the case of an unwanted pregnancy. Meanwhile, men are portrayed as the king condom avoiders, free to pursue sex that feels great with no consequences.
So what to make of the fact that some women don’t like dicks wrapped in latex either? We know why men don’t like them; they have not shut up about it since time immemorial. “Perhaps the most universal truth shared by men across the planet is that they hate wearing condoms,” condom maker Danny Resnic told Men’s Health in 2014. Studies have drilled down to why: They don’t feel good. Condoms make your dick go soft. Stopping to put a condom on kills the buzz and the boner.
But the thing is, women actually share these same complaints. This is not actually news, either: Gender studies professor Jenny Higgins surveyed 3,210 women at the University of Wisconsin, Madison on the issue in 2014. She told Men’s Health that, basically, right back atcha on hating rubbers.
“I think we’ve just assumed that it doesn’t matter as much to women,” Higgins said. “But many women complained about the same things men do: reduced sensation, decreased arousal, just not liking the feeling. In my work I use the term ‘sexual aesthetics’: the smell, taste, and touch of the experience. As one woman put it, ‘I hate the way condoms feel. I hate the way they taste. I hate the way they smell.’”
There are some additional factors at play here: Newsweek reports that there’s a 27 percent decrease in condom usage for women who’ve begun a hormonal birth control option. They also note that women who don’t want to have condom sex are more likely to have been drinking.
Another factor: The women in the condom resistance study who were more likely to dodge the rubber also had a “lower perceived risk” for STIs. This goes the other way, too: A study from 2016 found that men are less likely to wear condoms with women they find more attractive because they believe they are less likely to give them something. In other words, when we have sex with people we think are really hot, we also stupidly believe that they are somehow cleaner, a kind of sexual halo effect.
So, it seems that both men and women are idiots when it comes to sex. But it’s not entirely our fault. Condom marketing knows condoms aren’t our favorite necessity; it has to walk a fine line between ensuring the protective features of wrapping it up while emphasizing how a wrapped dick still feels really good, honest! Maybe even better! Thus their emphasis on prolonging his pleasure and enhancing hers.
We are told often that outside of abstinence, condoms, when used right, are the most effective thing we’ve got to prevent transmission of STIs. So it’s not a stretch to understand that most people wear condoms not because they want to, but because the possible alternatives — disease, pregnancy — are simply too terrifying.
But researchers argue that there’s a culture of resistance to condom use that isn’t based on fact. A 2013 study that found that the idea that condoms somehow reduce the pleasure of sex is a myth. The Journal of Sexual Medicine surveyed a few thousand adults age 18 to 59 and found that safe sex was rated as pleasurably as unsafe sex.
So maybe our aversion is purely psychological. Or maybe it’s distinctly American. MEL has reported extensively on misperceptions about condoms, and our own Tierney Finster found that the reason American men often feel numb with condom use, or complain that they’re too tight or too loose, is that about half of men are wearing the wrong size and the wrong kind. A new array of online condoms — some of the best are from Japan and Germany — offer better guidance to find the right fit, as well as tips on how to use lube to maximize effectiveness and pleasure for both parties.
All this is to say that our takeaway here should not be to point fingers at either gender when it comes to carelessness, but rather, to inch closer to the realization that men and women are both equally responsible for safe sex. Whether condoms really suck or we’re just deeply biased against them, their purpose is clear. It still takes two to tango, and it still takes two people to fuck up a perfectly good sexual encounter with disease and pregnancy. Do better, everyone.