Why Aren’t We Using Condoms?

Photographed by Kate Anglestein.
Condoms. Why don't we use them? It's like sunbathing without sunscreen: really, really, sensationally bad for you, with a high risk of burning and long term damage. But good god does it feel nice and warm. The bad news is: you're not the only one parring the rubbers. According to The Independent, 15% of under 25s said they had had unprotected sex with partners in 2015. And that's just what people said; how many of us tell the 100% truth to professionals when being questioned? Do you floss every night? How many units of alcohol do you drink per week? How many cigarettes? Have you had unprotected sex in the last year? STDs are very much on the rise. Public Health England stats showed that from 2012 to 2015, syphilis diagnoses spiked by 76%, from an alarming 3,001 to 5,288 cases, while gonorrhoea was doing its best to keep pace, with infections rising by 53%, from 26,880 to 41,193. The UK Gov Health Protection Report from July 2016, found that Chlamydia remains the most commonly contracted STD, with 200,288 diagnoses made in 2015, and that was due to condom-less sex.

It's easy to assume we're being "safe" by taking the contraceptive pill, or having a coil/ implant, but – duh – these don't protect you from STDs and infections. We spoke to Dr Claudia Estcourt, a British Association for Sexual Health and HIV member and a Sexual Health & HIV Medicine Specialist, about the causes and effects of this often brushed-under-the-carpet sexual health problem. Why do we so often not bother with condoms?
As humans, it's very difficult to change our behaviour, especially when it's something as crucial to our lives as sex, or food. I think it's the same question as why do people eat lots of chocolate when they want to lose weight, even if they know it's not good for them? Most people know condoms will protect them from the majority of STDs and HIV, but maybe embarrassment stops them or maybe they've never been shown how to use them – or they might not realise you can get them for free in local community or sexual health clinics.

Why do you think people don't tend to carry condoms in their bags/ wallets?
If someone is after a new relationship, maybe they don't want to tempt fate by bringing a condom along. Maybe they are worried about meeting new people and then about what the person they're about to have sex with might think about them. Unfortunately, there are some very antiquated ideas around carrying condoms – that those with condoms in their wallet/ bag/ pocket are at best presumptuous, and at worst "risky", when really, it just means the person is being sensible about their own health and the person's health who they are about to have sex with.

What STDs do you most commonly treat in your clinic, and why?
Chlamydia is the most common STD and it affects around 200,000 people a year. Chlamydia in women can lead to infertility and to ectopic pregnancies and prolonged pain. The majority of STDs are symptomless and we know people aren't getting sexual health checks enough.

How often should we be getting checked?
The recommendations are to get a check every time you have sex with a new partner. Or if you're a man who's having sex with other men then every three months or so, depending on whether you're using condoms or not.

Do condoms really split that commonly?
Condoms are made from incredibly strong latex. Considering the forces they're tested under in factory situations, you'd have a real job splitting them. Often, people feel like they should be telling us, as health care professionals, that they wear condoms. Some might say the condom split when actually, they just find it difficult to tell us that they didn't use one. We would never think anyone was stupid and we would never judge.

Any condom tips?
- Never use an out-of-date condom.
- Never use an oil-based lube – always use a water-based lube because oil can corrode the latex. - Rings can tear condoms.
- Wear the right size condom. They come in so many variations and sizes.
- Seek advice from your sexual health clinic, where we chat about sex all day long, and you can ask any question no matter how silly you feel. You stand to change your sex life for the better and benefit from our expertise.

Do condoms impact how long a man lasts in bed?
From research trials, there is no evidence to suggest that condoms impact whether a man climaxes sooner or later.

Why do you think there's been an increase in reported STDs?
The next frontier in sexual health is geo-social apps like Tinder. We feel there's been a big change in sexual behaviour because of these apps. The flip side of course, is that people may become more open to talking about sex and subjects like using condoms. Hopefully, it can open discussion too. If you have questions, or are concerned about your sexual health, please consult your doctor, a sexual health clinic or visit

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