Condoms have never been anyone’s favorite sexual accessory, but in recent years, it appears that more people are choosing to have protection-free sex. This new reality is disturbing.
A false sense of security
A recent study released by Online Doctor, a United Kingdom-based online physician consultation and prescription service, found that 55.1 percent of Europeans and 65.5 percent of Americans have unprotected sex. The most disturbing figure the study revealed was that 29.1 percent of Americans didn’t use protection every single time — the gender breakdown for this statistic is 36.8 percent women and 23.5 percent men. Europeans don’t use protection 18.2 percent of the time — the European gender breakdown is 20 percent women and 16.8 percent men.
Although this study is less than perfect — the people who created the study only surveyed 2,000 people (1,000 Americans and 1,000 Europeans), the study doesn’t describe who these people are, how old they are, etc. — it does highlight that many sexually active people don’t use protection during sex.
Why condoms have fallen even further out of favor
Although we live in the age of drug-resistant gonorrhea, teens, adults, and seniors often still choose to forgo protection.
The reasons people make this dangerous decision are simple and sadly, classic.
Lack of education
Lack of education about sexual health comes in many forms, but the most damaging seems to be that people are unaware how to obtain condoms, have a difficult time communicating the desire to use protection, and people tend to not be able to grasp the probability that something could go wrong — they don’t understand how susceptible they may be to unplanned pregnancy, or sexual infections.
“A poor understanding of probability is a real problem,” Nicole Prause, Ph.D. at Liberos LLC, says.
“If you tell people about the dangers of HIV or risk of pregnancy, but they fail to understand that this very rare risk occurs with every sex act, people are lulled into false security.”
According to the CDC, in 2014, there were an estimated 37,600 new HIV infections. In 2015, youth aged 13 to 24 accounted for 22 percent of all new HIV diagnoses in the United States. The CDC also reports that there was a significant increase in sexually transmitted infections over the last 5 years. And of teenagers who become pregnant in high school, there is a cycle of low education, poverty, single parenting, and teen parenting — 70 percent of teen mothers do not finish high school, Grubb adds.
And often, the choice to not wear a condom comes during the heat of the moment. Also: If a person doesn’t see an obvious sign of a STI, he or she may not think a condom is necessary. And, unfortunately, most people don’t ask their partners if they have a STI.
Other methods of birth control work
The pill, contraceptive shots, IUDs, and great period tracking apps have also helped condoms become less “important”.
The U.S. health system has effectively increased contraceptive usage among adolescents and young adults. These methods include long acting reversible contraceptive methods. But because of contraceptives’ effectiveness, adolescents often forgo condoms.
Part of this is because more people associate condoms with preventing pregnancy and not a barrier to STIs. So, women who are using various contraceptives — or their male partners — may think a condom is unnecessary.
Change sex education
So, how can we stop this dangerous trend? A combination of methods is key.
First, sex educators need to be able to rewrite sex education curriculum for the next generation of teens. Comprehensive curriculum is integral and should include scientifically accurate information. Topics that deserve attention are abstinence, condoms, contraceptive methods, pregnancy, STIs, and healthy relationships.
“We need to make sure our kids grow up respecting their bodies and their self. [We need to] talk to them about how to manage situations that they may find themselves in,” Cath Hakanson, founder of Sex Ed Rescue, says.
“It is about respecting yourself enough to do what is right for you. Not what the ‘condomless’ partner wants.”
Second, people of all ages — especially teens — need easy access to condoms. Location, price, privacy, etc. is important.
“If an adolescent must ask a pharmacist to unlock a cabinet for condoms, they are less likely to purchase them,” Grubb says.
Access to free or low cost condoms that are easily available in a non-stigmatizing manner will improve condom usage.
And lastly, educators should teach teens how to safely, kindly, and effectively communicate with his, her, of they’s partner.
“Strong communication skills and being in a relationship that has open dialogue improves condom usage,” Grubb adds.
“Adolescents and young adults must feel empowered to discuss and negotiate condom usage with their partners.”
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