Monday, September 21, 2009

Thinking over

This week hormone replacement therapy was back in the news with research suggesting a link to higher mortality rates in lung cancer. The comment made by the expert in the Guardian report seemed to me equally appropriate for a discussion on the birth control pill:

Kishor Ganti, from the University of Nebraska Medical Centre, states: "These results, along with the findings showing no protection against coronary heart disease, seriously question whether HRT has any role in medicine today. It is difficult to presume that the benefits of routine use of such therapy for menopausal symptoms outweigh the risks of mortality, especially in the absence of improvement in the quality of life."

Does the birth control pill have a role in modern medicine? Does its routine use as a contraception, above all other forms of contraception, still make sense? The menopause was medicalised by HRT, just as menstruation was medicalised by the pill. In both cases, it's time to take a more progressive approach. And that progressive approach might involve a return to and reevalution of a very basic form of pregnancy prevention. Condoms.

There seems to be this universal belief that condoms are messy, intrusive, unromantic and an all-round hindrance to having decent sex. This opinion is expressed in women's magazines, in books written by doctors, in most conversations between women, between men and women, and probably between men. It's a thought so widespread that I was initially reluctant to write anything that would oppose the idea. I second-guessed myself, figuring that maybe I was missing the point, maybe I just didn't understand. But then I remembered this line said by Woody Allen in 'Manhattan.' At a party a woman tells the group that all her life she hasn't been able to have an orgasm, then when she finally did have one, her doctor told her it was the wrong kind. To this, Woody replies:

"You had the wrong kind? I've never had the wrong kind. Ever. My worst one was right on the money."

From what I can work out, condoms are universally disliked because it is thought they give you the wrong kind of orgasm, that is, not such a good one as you could be having if there wasn't a condom involved. I would like to take a look at this idea, and well, dispute it, in the most delicate way possible. From what I understand, sex of any kind, involving whatever contraceptive apparatus, tends to end up at the same point. After which what we are discussing is a matter of subjectivity in degrees.

Who really has the problem with condoms? It looks to me like there's some miscommunication going on. I don' t believe there are many women who could honestly say that their experience of sex is hindered by a condom. In fact, if a man is using a condom it might increase his longevity (see, told you I'd be delicate) and that can increase the enjoyment for women, right?

So, perhaps women think they are being nice and sympathetic and helpful to men by disliking condoms. I wonder if men actually don't like condoms, or whether we just think they don't. I reckon there's lot of men out there, and I've spoken to some of them, who dislike more so their girlfriend/wife going nuts on the pill.

I think women's enjoyment of sex is a bit more complicated than whether there's a condom involved or not, and I think men's enjoyment likely is too - in that, if you're in a good, friendly relationship, your boyfriend/husband is going to be able to handle using a condom. Also, if you're in a good, friendly relationship having the right kind of orgasm probably won't depend on a condom. If you're not in a good, friendly relationship then I would say using a condom is a great idea anyway, due on the STDs.

I can hear the other argument now: it's not about rubbish orgasms, it's about intimacy. Again, if your intimacy hinges on a small piece of rubber, I think there might be bigger problems at play.

If we are going to glorify condom-less sex, if it truly is that important to us all, then what if we made condom-less sex something to work towards, look forward to even? Like how sex in general is for the Silver Ring Thing abstinency gang. We could save condom-less sex for when we're at a point in our lives when having a baby wouldn't be so bad. Then maybe, if it is that good, all these longterm relationships will get a new lease of life upon giving up condoms.

If there are women who feel using condoms for contraception takes the power out of their hands then there's also the diaphragm and the IUD. More on that soon. But, I would argue for a reevaluation of this idea also. Why shouldn't we be able to ask men to use condoms? The insistance on keeping our 'power' in this way suggests a very dim view of relations between men and women. What's so powerless about this set-up? I don't mean to be a prude, but if you can't ask, perhaps he's not the kind of man you want to have sex with.

As I wondered in the last post, did the pill liberate men more so than women? And now, considering where the pill has got us, maybe we should take some of that liberation back in the traditional way of third wave feminism - by flipping our view of condoms, and reclaiming them for ourselves.


  1. I could'nt agree more!!

  2. I just found your blog and found it fascinating so I've been reading it since the beginning. I'm really enjoying it!

    I felt compelled to comment on this entry, even though it's old so I hope you get my comment.

    I think you are missing the point about condoms. A lot of us are not confident about condoms because of their low success rate. According to (a reputable website in Canada), the pill with typical use has a success rate of 92%, the condom of 85%. That is a huge difference. For people like me who got pregnant with a (copper) IUD, trusting only a condom is really difficult. I, like you, find the pill very problematic and would like to avoid it, unfortunately, there just aren't that many options!

    Now, I imagine you'll suggest using a diaphragm as backup for a condom. I would love to, but there is maybe one, probably no clinic where I live that is willing to fit me for one. (I have looked into it.)

    What about increasing condoms' success rate by using spermicide? Well, spermicide had been discontinued in Canada because it is very irritant to the vagina.

    I think you would be suprised at how many people are on the pill not because they don't like condoms, but because they are trying to e as responsible as they can and there are no other options. I know I've spoken to MANY such women.