“Does Bryan cum inside of you?” my high school best friend asked me last year, popping a Hot Cheeto into her mouth. “I swear it’s the best feeling ever.” She described how close and connected it made her and her partner feel and how good the physical sensations felt as well, significantly better than just having condom-less sex and pulling out.
My answer was bound to disappoint her. “I never let anyone cum inside of me,” I responded, my long-time boyfriend Bryan included.
On top of my friend’s endorsement, the idea that not using condoms is a perk of non-casual sex — and a true mark of trust and intimacy — is pretty persistent. In fact, couples who have been together forever who still use them are either greeted by puzzlement (such as my friend’s reaction to me) or outright mocking.
Howard Stern is a perfect example of the latter. Stern and his wife Beth got engaged exactly 12 years ago this week, but despite being married for more than a decade, they’re still using rubbers in the bedroom. In fact, there are entire Reddit threads dedicated to their condom usage, with commenters goofing on Stern for having “safe sex with his wife,” citing it as evidence that, at worst, she’s cheating on him or has a sketchy past, and at best, that he must not trust her. (In reality, Stern is a well-known germaphobe, which might be the reason for his allegiance to condoms, as well as the fact that he’s firmly on record saying he doesn’t want more children — he has three from an earlier marriage.)
Why, though, don’t we equate condom usage between long-term partners as a practical consideration — Stern’s aforementioned germ phobia, the desire not to have a child but also not undergo a medical procedure (i.e., a vasectomy) — instead of a sign that the relationship has been built on a faulty foundation full of infidelity and lies?
For answers, I turned to a few different people who have been with their partners for a considerable amount of time who also never “fuck raw.” Here’s what they told me…
Hormonal Birth Control Isn’t Always An Option
The most common reason for long-time couples sticking with condoms is a disdain for hormonal birth control, or a physical incompatibility with its ingredients. “I’ve had bad experiences with birth control, mostly mood and weight related, so my husband and I have used condoms from the beginning,” my friend Julie tells me. “It’s been five years. He’s very much looking forward to not having to do so, but we don’t want to get pregnant yet.”
Adds Urka, “I’ve been in a monogamous relationship with a man for over four years, but I got a blood clot when I was a teenager, so regular birth control is a risky proposition.”
For Leigha, hormonal birth control seriously affected her mental health. “It amplified my depression and anxiety to the point where I was on heavy doses of both an anti-depressant and an antipsychotic,” she explains. “While I still struggle with anxiety and depression, I’m able to function without the meds since I got off of the birth control. I just go to therapy instead. I’d love to never have to deal with a condom again, but I’m too chickenshit for a copper IUD.”
Speaking of IUDs, 29-year-old Damontre says, “About a year and a half into my relationship with my girlfriend, she got an IUD thinking it would make our sex life that much easier. The problem was she found the IUD super painful. I also felt the IUD prick my dick a little bit when I was inside of her. So even though we had amazing sex without condoms a couple of times after she got it, it became so painful for her that we had less sex than ever before. I’d never seen her in so much pain before as I did during those weeks. Soon after, she removed the IUD, and we went back to using condoms. Having sex without condoms wasn’t worth her pain. That was almost six months ago, and things have been back to normal for a long time.”
You Can Never Be Too Careful
A married man in his 30s tells me that he and his wife use condoms in addition to other methods of birth control. “Ever since we got together in college, we’ve been doubling up on contraception — either pulling out plus the Pill, or condom plus the Pill. Recently we’ve started using condoms more,” he says. “Even though I don’t really like condoms, I feel like they give me more control. And besides, sex is more fun with less risk! Both parties can just let loose without worrying about anything at all.”
A Rubber Penis Covering Is Obviously the Most Visible Proof of Birth Control
The idea that male partners can’t “really” know if they’re having safe sex without visible proof came up a lot. “For the first two years, my boyfriend and I always used condoms. He feels like he got trapped by his daughter’s mom, so he was always really vigilant about making sure we were safe,” Lizzy says.
Make of this what you will vis-à-vis trust issues.
The same goes for the so-called “female condom.” But in this case, it’s a woman’s protection against “stealthing,” a form of sexual assault where a guy cums inside of her without her knowledge or consent. One example is a dude removing his condom during doggy style without informing his partner, who is still under the impression they’re using protection.
“Stealthing is one of the shadiest, most unconscionable consent violations,” says Ashley Manta, a sex educator, sex coach and “high priestess of pleasure.” “It’s a troubling trend that some people with penises are practicing. But it’s obviously a lot harder to do if the condom is inside the person with a vagina. So condoms really are a great way to verify that there’s birth control in place.”
Condoms Make Open Relationships Safer
“My boyfriend and I used condoms consistently for the first two and a half years of our relationship. That’s because we’re non-monogamous,” explains Manta. “A lot of folks in non-monogamous relationships, especially if they’re in a primary relationship and then have a series of relationships outside of their main relationship, have relationship agreements. Typically, someone is fluid bonded to only one partner (or a few select partners) in a non-monogamous situation; and so, they use barriers with everyone else.
“In my situation, my partner is fluid bonded with his primary partner, and was also fluid bonded with a secondary partner during the first couple years of our relationship. Sometime after that secondary relationship ended, he asked me to fluid bond. So we both got tested and stopped using condoms. I have an IUD and he has a vasectomy so we’re covered on birth control. He still uses barriers with his other partners — besides his primary partner — and I use condoms with all of my other partners.”
“STI awareness is something that’s definitely a contributing factor if you have an open relationship,” Manta continues. “From a risk perspective, fluid bonding with more than one or two partners just has a lot more variables to figure out.”
Sex Is A Little Less Messy
Sex researcher Kristen Mark, who has studied condom usage among young couples, says, “Qualitatively, there are reports in our research of women being happy that they don’t have to deal with the mess associated with non-condom use.”
Nadia, a married woman, provides even more qualitative evidence to me. “It’s a benefit for sure,” she agrees. “It would be best if we didn’t use condoms, but I hate the mess afterwards.” The same goes for Caley, who stopped taking birth control after 15 years and doesn’t miss her partner’s cum shots one bit. “Avoiding the post-coital gush is a bonus,” she explains.
All of which is to say almost none of these reasons have much to do with trust or fidelity. Or as Manta points out, “Condoms aren’t a barrier to intimacy, they’re a barrier to pregnancy and STIs.”