Understanding the new language for talking about prevention can be complicated, but the truth is it has never been easier to prevent HIV. With a variety of tried and tested methods, there are now more ways that you can protect yourself and your partners from HIV.
Just like every guy is different, so are the methods that work for them. No matter what you choose, it’s important to know what works for you and also respect the method your partner chooses to use. Having a conversation with your sexual partner is key to staying safe.
Since the introduction of PrEP, there have been many discussions in the community about the continued importance of condoms, so in this post, let’s recap on why condoms, and whether or not it’s the best safe sex method for you.
What are condoms?
Condoms are a form of HIV and STI prevention that act as a barrier and stop the transmission of bodily fluids. Condoms come in the form of a fine plastic or rubber covering and are placed over the penis for use in anal or oral sex. There are many different types of condoms, allowing you to choose the best fit for the sex you want to enjoy!
Condoms are still one of the most effective ways to stay safe, not just for HIV but for many STIs. They’re simple to use, easy to find, and perfect when you’re:
- Concerned about STIs
- Not sure of your partner’s HIV status (or your own)
- Having lots of casual sex
- Have infrequent partners meaning PrEP isn’t right for you
- You or your sexual partner has an Undetectable Viral Load (UVL) but you want the added protection for STIs, such as Chlamydia, Herpes and HPV.
- You or your sexual partner has detectable viral load
- Not on PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis)
Why guys don’t wear condoms
We know that some guys prefer not to use condoms as they can experience less pleasure during sex, or just find it a turn off.
Or they may find it embarrassing, fear rejection or don’t want to ruin the moment to ask their partners to use a condom.
Whatever your reasons for not choosing condoms, it’s important to ensure you’re keeping yourself and your partners safe. If condoms aren’t the right fit then maybe it’s time to look into alternate strategies like PrEP or UVL.
It’s about finding the right match for you and what fits in with your lifestyle at that point in time. Just like our rubber friends, the future of reducing risk is not a one-size-fits-all approach. It’s on an individual level.
Why you should think about wearing condoms
Whether it is on the go or all the time, there are plenty of reasons why you should consider condoms even if it’s not your first prevention method of choice, then as a secondary one for those spontaneous moments.
Understanding the efficacy of condom use in male anal sex can be tricky to navigate depending on the article and language used.
It is important to consider a number of issues when looking at research on this topic. Firstly, there is a difference from the protection you get when you use them consistently and correctly compared to inconsistent use.
Secondly a lot of the studies rely on self reported consistent condom use and we know that there is a social desirability bias which leads people to report their condom use to be higher than it actually is. This means that some reported figures are lower than what the reality for condom use actually is.
For example, a very publicised report in 2013 from Dawn Smith of the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) cited that consistent use of condoms had prevented 70% of HIV infections transmitted during anal sex. For many, this seemed like quite a low percentage and begged the question “does that mean I have a 30% chance of getting HIV even if I use condoms?”. This is a valid question, and many would have had the same or similar questions upon reading this figure.
However, this report actually concluded that HIV transmission was 70% less likely to occur in men that said they used condoms regularly (100% of the time), than in men who said that they didn’t. Not that condom usage was only 70% effective in all cases. I know that it seems like semantics, but great care needs to be given when reading and understanding research. This was a particular touch point for Mark Milano, from The AIDS Community Research Initiative of America (ACRIA), who as an HIV educator for decades had claimed that condoms are 98% effective at reducing HIV transmission.
As Milano explains, recall bias in the participants and a lack of understanding of factual evidence cited in reports like this weren’t an accurate representation of condom effectiveness.
In studies that tested the failure rate of condoms, the percentage was incredibly low, ranging from 1.7%-4.1% for breakages or slippage occurring in anal sex between men. Which adds more weight to the actual effectiveness of condoms (read: VERY).
Ultimately, every study concluded that the key point is consistency and correct use of condoms were incredibly effective at stopping the transmission of HIV.
Are you using condoms correctly?
- Keep some at home, and on you if you’re going out just in case
- Get the right size
- Check the used by date
- Place it on the head of the penis then roll it down the shaft, don’t unroll it beforehand
- Once it’s on, use plenty of water or silicone-based lubricant (not oil based!) over the condom and on and inside the arse of your partner
- Remember, lube is your friend – use plenty of lube
Facts, Not Fear
In order to end HIV, we need to be open with each other, embrace the choices of our friends and partners, and know and understand what works for you so you and your partners can stay safe.
Communication and respect is key to staying safe. While the ways you stay safe may differ from that of your partner(s), if we all consistently stay safe using the methods that work for us on an individual level, we can make a difference on a global scale.
Are condoms right for you?
How do you do it? Are condoms the way you can reduce risk? Reducing your risk of HIV is about what’s best for you and your partner(s).