We’re all familiar with the complaints about condoms from the penis crowd. They’re tight, they decrease sensation and intimacy. However, we don’t know enough about how women feel about condoms.
Turns out, women hate condoms just as much as men.
In a new survey of 95,000 users of menstruation tracking app Clue, 64 percent reported using condoms during vaginal intercourse when not on their periods. That number drops to 49 percent during their periods. (The survey examined only the use of male condoms, not female condoms). Of those not using condoms during menstruation, 30 percent were unconcerned about getting pregnant during that time. One third of the condomless crowd were also “unconcerned” about STIs.
This survey is unique in focusing on the female experience of condom usage; most studies and anecdotal accounts focus on men. “Condoms have traditionally been seen as ‘male contraception’ because they are placed on the penis,” say researchers at Clue and the Kinsey Institute, who collaborated on the study. And yet, only five percent of females who responded to the survey said the male makes the decision on condoms. The rest of the women saId they decide, or it’s a 50-50 joint decision.
These findings counter the notion that it’s men who typically control condom decisions. Indeed, with all the brouhaha about the patriarchy, we forget that women too can be irresponsible hedonists who think “well I just don’t feel very fertile right now.” Or that they want the “more natural feeling” that comes with no condoms, as 38 percent of respondents reported. 42 percent said condoms simply make sex less pleasurable. In short, all those rubber complaints men have, women have them too.
Last year, British pharmacy chain Superdrug performed a similar study on a smaller scale. Just under 37 percent of women (out of the 1,000 Americans who participated in the international survey) said they have unprotected sex every time, while 23.5 percent of men reported the same. We don’t know the genders of the participants’ partners but regardless, it’s clear that women enjoy chucking their sexual safety away for skin-on-skin contact just as much as men.
Researchers at Clue and Kinsey were concerned about the number of respondents who said they don’t use condoms during their periods because they’re unconcerned about STIs. But STI transmission rates can actually increase during the menstrual cycle and even pregnancy is possible during that time, though the chance is lower. Periods are not foolproof timetables, no matter how many tracking apps you use.
These results are the latest in an alarming trend over recent years toward less safe sex. Last August, the CDC reported that roughly 18 percent of young men are employing the pull-out method of contraception, nearly double the percentage in 2002. STI rates are also up, including antibiotic-resistance strains of chlamydia and gonorrhea. HIV rates, meanwhile, have increased among young people of color, who are already at higher risk of transmission.
Condoms are the only contraception that also reduces the risk of contracting an STI. They’re also, researchers point out, a good wake-up call. Pulling out is a messy form of birth control with far too much room for human error. Whereas if a condom breaks or falls of it’s a “clear sign” that something went wrong and you know to get an STI screening and take the morning after pill if you don’t have have a backup method of birth control.