‘I feel like I’m ruining the mood by asking for condoms’
If we’re so focused on being ‘sexy’ that we end up having bad sex, something is seriously rotten
‘This fear of communicating what you want and need during sex is now threatening your safety, your pleasure, and the equality in your relationships.’ Photograph: iStock
I’m a straight woman who has been with my boyfriend nearly a year, and this question applies to him, but has also been a recurring issue with other men I’ve been with. I haven’t had great experiences with the side effects of the Pill, so I use condoms, and I also find that I need lubricant during sex. But I find that for both condoms and lubricant, I am always the one who has to bring them up during sex and make sure they get used. Because I have to ask every time, I feel like I’m ruining the “sexy” mood, but I’m also frustrated when long-term partners don’t step up. What can I do?
Let me tell you something about the image of the “sexy mood” we have been sold by Hollywood and pornography: it’s nonsense, and it’s not sexy. Pretending that the epitome of sexiness is sex that is dependent on silence and telepathy has done unspeakable damage to our understanding of consent and communication, and how vital both are to pleasurable sex. This needs to stop. We need to reframe our understanding of sexiness from “mysterious” to “open and honest” – because I think we all know that the silent, mysterious thing really isn’t working for a lot of people.
“Mystery” causes people to conceal their intentions and desire, it allows abusive people a cover for not seeking clear consent, it stops people from openly speaking about what feels good and what doesn’t. Mystery also perpetuates ridiculous ideas about the reality of sex and our bodies, by hiding our humanity and individuality under a veil of the ideal, forcing us to internalise discomfort and insecurity until it turns into unhappiness and shame.
Your dilemma is showing us three different but related side-effects of the “sexy mystery” veil, as this fear of communicating what you want and need during sex is now threatening your safety, your pleasure, and the equality in your relationships.
Depending on one partner to always bring up condom use is completely unacceptable in a long-term relationship, and I’m concerned as to how this plays out during sex. The best-case scenario I can imagine is that your boyfriend is so attentive and generous during foreplay that you always end up impatiently begging for protected penetrative sex – but this doesn’t seem likely every single time. A far more worrying scenario is that your boyfriend knows that you want to use condoms but still tries to have sex with you without them, which is frankly an abusive action that justifies immediate dumping. Your sexual health and right to bodily autonomy is at stake here, and that demands respect.
Whatever the situation, you need to have an open conversation that makes it crystal clear to your boyfriend that condoms are a requirement during sex, and that you always having to bring it up feels unequal, inconsiderate, disrespectful and unsafe, because you’re not confident in his ability to take responsibility for your mutual sexual health. You can both work together to ensure that condoms are readily accessible in both of your houses, so it’s as easy as possible for both of you to reach for them at any time.
The condom issue is about safety; lubrication is about both safety and pleasure. Again, the mystery veil that shrouds sex often prevents conversations about lubrication, which is to everyone’s disadvantage. Many women experience vaginal dryness due to medications, menopause or simply the way their body works, and for these women, lubricant is vital to prevent painful friction. Thus the idea that asking for lubricant, which will improve sex for many people, is “unsexy” is inherently contradictory. If we’re so focused on being “sexy” that we end up having bad sex, something is seriously rotten in the state of Denmark.
So I recommend both that everyone stocks up on lubricant to keep in the nightstand, and that you specifically have a conversation with your boyfriend. Explain that, like condoms, lubricant is an important part of your sexual health and pleasure – and thus an important part of your sexual relationship, together. To acknowledge and respect this fact, he needs to treat this as a shared responsibility, and not only have lubricant available at his house, but be comfortable and considerate enough to use it without prompting.
Both of these issues, that are about safety and pleasure, essentially boil down to your sexual partnership not feeling equal. If your boyfriend or any other sexual partner you may have in the future cannot comprehend that sex is an experience created by and shared between both of you, and therefore your mutual safety and pleasure are considerations and responsibilities that must also be shared and addressed equally, that’s a problem. But it is a problem that can be solved, and that solution isn’t a mystery: start talking.
Roe McDermott is a writer and Fulbright scholar with an MA in sexuality studies from San Francisco State University. She is researching a PhD in gendered and sexual citizenship at the Open University and Oxford.
If you have a problem or query you would like her to answer, you can submit it anonymously at irishtimes.com/dearroe