Safe sex, it seems, has gotten a bad rap, with one recent survey showing that a quarter of young men and women consider sex with a condom a "hassle." But there's hope yet, as other new research finds safe sex can be fun.
The new study of male condom users finds that certain factors, including a partner's comfort, are linked with sexual pleasure during condom use. The results could help sex educators encourage safe sex, said study researcher Devon Hensel, a professor of adolescent medicine at the Indiana University School of Medicine.
"The number one take-home message is that safe sex can be pleasurable sex," Hensel said. "The idea that using a condom somehow decreases the fun you have when you have sex is completely a misconception."
Beliefs about safe sex
A survey released last week by the reproductive health research institute Guttmacher revealed that negative attitudes toward condoms are relatively widespread. Researchers conducted phone surveys with a nationally representative sample of 1,800 unmarried men and women ages 18 to 29.
Almost 70 percent of the women and 45 percent of the men surveyed were highly committed to avoiding pregnancy, but misconceptions about birth control were prevalent. For example, 40 percent of respondents said that using birth control didn't matter that much in preventing pregnancy. [7 Surprising Facts About the Pill]
Among both men and women, 25 percent said that using a condom every time during sex was a hassle, the researchers reported in the journal Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health.
Improving condom use
In her study, Hensel collected data from 1,599 men who, as part of the study, kept daily diaries of their sexual activities. In about 85 percent of the sexual encounters recorded, the men reported using a condom.
Older men were more likely than younger men to report pleasurable experiences while using condoms, the researchers reported in the May issue of the Journal of Sexual Medicine. Oral and manual genital stimulation were also associated with more satisfaction, as was greater condom comfort.
Men also experienced less pleasure during condom use when their partners were uncomfortable, the researchers found.
"His pleasure is reduced if she's uncomfortable," because of the condom, Hensel said.
The results are an argument for making questions about condom use a part of routine doctor's care, she said. If lubrication or comfort are a problem for men, physicians should help their patients come up with solutions, Hensel said.
"There's this long-standing stereotype about condoms as kind of being a downer, the thing we have to do because we're responsible rather than the thing we want to do because it's ultimately the more pleasurable thing because we're being safe," she said. "It can be safe and it can be pleasurable."
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Stephanie Pappas is a contributing writer for Live Science, covering topics ranging from geoscience to archaeology to the human brain and behavior. She was previously a senior writer for Live Science but is now a freelancer based in Denver, Colorado, and regularly contributes to Scientific American and The Monitor, the monthly magazine of the American Psychological Association. Stephanie received a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of South Carolina and a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz.