Safety First: Why Condoms are Essential

Do you carry a condom with you wherever you go? If not, how accessible would one be if you were to need it?

This question, of course, applies strongly if you are sexually active. And as many accounts have been shared, there are many people who have narrated to an unexpected sexual encounter that have led to unprotected sex because they were not prepared.

It is these sudden, unanticipated sexual encounters that have led to HIV infection. All it takes, really, is one chance moment; a passionate tryst with a stranger or a romantic partner that can lead to HIV, or any kind of sexually transmitted infection.

Last year, I was part of a team that produced a documentary called “HIV Rising,” and in that documentary we spoke to Dr. Ditangco of the Research Institute of Tropical Medicine and I distinctly remember that she had theorized that the reason why condom use is so low in the Philippines is because condom use is a learned behaviour.

“Based on our studies,” she shares, “if a man’s first sexual experience is without a condom, it is unlikely that he would use a condom in his subsequent sexual encounters.” Condom use, as per the studies of RITM and Dr. Ditangco, has to begin early — as early as the first sexual experience — for it to become a habit or a learned behaviour. Out of the many reasons that people have given as to why they don’t use condoms, the most frustrating is “because it doesn’t feel good.”

As adults, one would think that the switch to protected sex would be automatic after all the news about the growing number of monthly HIV infections but it hasn’t changed our sexual practices at all.

In the article “The Real Reason Why People Don’t Use Condoms” from Very Well Health by James Myhre and Dennis Sifris M.D., they consider “ignorance and apathy” as “knee-jerk reactions” and these don’t really dig deep into the problem that is at hand. They identified, in their article, three causes for the low usage of condoms by men and women.

The first is what they call Perceived Risk, which deals with our own perception of how vulnerable we are to infection. This varies from person to person but it includes all our misconceptions about individuals and groups who may or may not be HIV positive. We make quick assessments from how people look and their reputation and we make pre-judgements as to whether they could be positive or not. This involves biases we may have involving class and status. How often have we heard, “He looks so healthy, he can’t possibly be HIV positive.”

It’s these misconceptions that can lead us to disregarding the need for a condom.

The article also mentions Condom Bias, which has a lot to do with Dr. Ditangco’s research findings. Condoms themselves have their own reputation and the article states that oftentimes, people are afraid to use condoms because it might make their partners think that they are promiscuous or that they might be unfaithful. The writers have also accounted for instances when people lose their erections the moment they put on a condom and that there have been findings that people say that it feels or tastes bad.

Condom Fatigue is what the article calls “general weariness felt by those tired of condom use.” Protected or safe sex can take its toll on committed users and the growing knowledge that an undetectable viral load or usage of PrEP can render condoms unnecessary.

But even if PrEP or a partner who has an undetectable viral load can prevent transmission, condoms are still effective to prevent other sexually transmitted infections. It’s not just HIV that we have to be cautious about. Condoms are effective, no matter what anybody says. And while abstinence is still the best way to stay away from any form of STIs, it is not a practical solution for many people.

There is nothing wrong with an active sex life but it has to be protected. Safety first.

Blood Makes Noise
Wanggo Gallaga
Wanggo Gallaga has been writing professionally since he was 14. He’s a scriptwriter, poet, and teaches Scriptwriting at De La Salle — College of St Benilde. He was diagnosed with HIV in August of 2008.