Updated: Mar 1
It's possible that being in exclusive relationships may solve some issues, but one thing it does NOT do is prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and infections. Continuing to perpetuate this lie is detrimental to public health and safety.
As a kid growing up in the 1990s, when HIV/AIDS was really showing itself in NYC and the rest of the country, I can remember seeing lots and lots of pamphlets about STDs, HIV/AIDS and "safe sex" whenever I'd have to visit the doctor. I was a nerdy kid, so I always bought home every health pamphlet I could get my hands on and educate myself on various health topics. It's common accepted science and health knowledge that "safe sex" is sex in which a barrier such as a condom or dental dam is used to prevent mixing and passing of bodily fluids that are normally exchanged during sexual intercourse, like semen and vaginal secretions. Pretty standard info, right?
Well these days, apparently not. One would think looking at the current landscape of the surge of new STD infections in NYC that we've learned nothing at all when it comes to engaging in less risky sex. It doesn't help that in too many states in the U.S., comprehensive sex education is practically nonexistent, mainly due to those states having majority Republican state legislatures whose single-minded goal is to turn their states into Christian theocracies, not unlike depicted in "The Handmaid's Tale".
And then we have tweets like this.
Naturally, I had to respond to such outright misinformation and malarkey.
So, let's get into why this line of thinking is harmful.
The reality is that people cheat on their partners. Recent evidence suggests that pair-bonding with one person forever isn't inherent within human DNA. Monogamy is a social construct, one that we have been taught to see as compulsory(something required by rules/law to be done;) and the only type of relationship folks should aim for in order to control the behaviors of society. It is not something that all beings inherently go for because of our genes, but due to stimuli from our environment: our parents, families, peers, via the media we consume, and, yes, the religions we are indoctrinated into as children. Another reality: people are NOT using condoms consistently when they have sex. Rates of STD infections nationwide have "reached record highs", specifically gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis. Black people deal with disproportionately high rates of HIV/AIDS infections, mainly because folks aren't enacting safe sex methods and getting tested every 3 months.
Why is this happening?
I think it's a confluence of many things. Maybe as a society, we're in "safe sex" fatigue; we have adults walking around today who didn't have to live through the HIV/AIDS crisis of the 1980s and 1990s. Couple that with the availability of medication for common STDs and folks with HIV living longer thanks to ARVs (anti-retrovirals), folks aren't as afraid of catching something because there's ways to cure or manage disease.
But the main reason I think applies the most to this particular issue re: the aforementioned tweet is that society has long stigmatized sex and sexuality to the point where it actually makes the environment more ripe for risky sexual activity to take place. We all know attempting to inhibit and prohibit folks from taking part in sexual pleasure doesn't work, yet it's still perpetuated. There's shaming stigma that still exists when it comes to sex and condom usage to the extent that many still believe as long as they're in a monogamous relationship, there's no way they'll contract a disease. How can folks still believe in such a myth after acknowledging men and women cheat on each other at about the same rate these days? And with the lack of folks using condoms and getting tested for disease, the chances of people transmitting disease and infection to other sex partners is astronomical, so assuming and perpetuating the idea that a monogamous relationship is the key to staying disease-free is ludicrous and health-endangering!
I've seen and heard every excuse for lack of condom usage:
a lack of trust for one's partner or spouse
"it doesn't feel the same with a rubber on"
"You're using condoms, you must have a disease!"
Condom usage is against my religion/deity of choice
"Women who have condoms are loose/sluts/hoes/whores, etc"
Honestly, NONE of these excuses are worth putting one's sexual health at more risk, so let's break them down.
1. Condoms may be associated with casual sex encounters, but that doesn't mean they don't serve a purpose with exclusive partners. Trust in your partner doesn't prevent unintended pregnancies; and not every woman with a uterus can take hormonal birth control for various health reasons, so condoms become a necessity. And unless you've both been tested consistently for STDs, you don't know for sure if you or your partner are disease-free. Common STDs like chlamydia and gonorrhea don't present outward symptoms like herpes and warts and it can take a while before one becomes symptomatic, so it's imperative folks be sure of their status.
2. It's still more than possible to further develop intimacy with your partner with condom usage and to still feel sexual pleasure. There's way too many types and sizes of rubbers for any shape and size penis for folks to continue using the excuse of "diminished sensation". I can understand the want for the feelings and sensations that come with condomless sex and fluid exchange, and if that's the kind of sex life folks want, the answer is to get tested regularly and demand the same from their sexual partners. Communicate wants and expectations before getting into sexual activity so that all parties are on the same page. Also, be aware that you're not entitled to other's bodies, so if they're not comfortable with condomless sex, then that's YOUR cue to find someone who's into what YOU'RE into. We're not gonna be sexually compatible with everyone and that is OKAY!
3. Being accused of having a disease because one advocates for condom usage is a non-sequitur, and operates as a defense mechanism because one may feel they're not trusted to be disease-free on sight or on principle. This reads as an issue of patriarchal power struggle; meaning, in our patriarchal society, women aren't supposed to express any sort of agency regarding her sexual health (or pleasure) as our concerns are irrelevant. This is antiquated nonsense that needs to die. Women are human beings who are every bit as capable and deserving of sexual pleasure as men and other groups.
4. I, uh....really got nothing for this one, because I'm an atheist, sooooooo, I'm not bound by any man-made religion to not give a damn about my sexual health. Religion is the oldest mechanism used to control human behavior, and well, it's shown to be ineffective over the years; hell, the Catholic church has actually been responsible for enabling women access to birth control and abortions, so religious institutions are MORE than aware their parishioners be fuckin'. Don't take your faith so damn seriously. Your sky daddy/momma/animal of choice wants you to have the best and most healthy sex you can ever have, so drop that bag of guilt bricks and go learn to do it healthy and safely!
5. Again, this excuse is just another patriarchal fiction created to control women's sexual behavior in favor of men having all the sexual power and agency over others' bodies. There is no such thing as a "slut", "whore", or "hoe" in real life, so there's really no reason that women cannot do what's in their best sexual health interest, especially if men refuse to or don't take it seriously. This is just another aspect of patriarchal sexist power struggle that we must take on, if we're to experience true sexual freedom. We must not be afraid to lose sexual partners because of their own fragile perceptions about condom usage; if men care more about their own pleasure than their own sexual health, it's not awful to assume that they will not/do not care about your sexual health, let alone your pleasure, and in that case, such a partner is not worth keeping around.
These issues will not go away with just women doing the work; men must also partake in the work of eradicating sexism and sexual oppression, in order to experience the type of sex they often talk about wanting, but because of their sexist conditioning, often project their fragility onto women as a means of exercising the small measure of power they've traditionally grasped onto for dear life as men. Take your sexual health seriously by using condoms consistently, or at least get tested consistently and be honest about your sexual health history to future partners/spouses. There's many reasons that the rates of STIs, especially HIV/AIDS, have experienced surges in BIPOC communities, and that's due to sexism, stigma, and dishonesty. I wonder if Kristin aka @livingforjc would still push that "safe sex is with your spouse" nonsense after meeting Nell, a Black woman who met her ex husband via her church, whom was faithful to her ex-spouse, only to discover that he knowingly infected her with HIV before they were married and didn't tell her until she found his test results in their bedroom.