Etiquette books, detailing social codes based on traditional society, haven’t yet got around to laying down the rules of polite screwing. Which is a pity. Transgressing the accepted ways of polite engagement, such as not knowing how to peel a pear correctly at the dinner table, might cause social death. Not knowing the rules of getting it on before having it off could lead to an altogether more permanent loss of face.
Part of the problem is that most of us approach the tricky questions of contraception and protection in new relationship as if it were a situation in which there was an already agreed set of rules. Couples often find themselves using hints and oblique references to remind or suggest to a partner the way they should behave.
Vanessa says “I bust up with yet another new boyfriend three months ago, hardly before the relationship got going, because all my efforts to hint that he ought to wear something when we had sex just made him mad. He accused me of thinking he had AIDS or some other disease and it just ended in an almighty row. I’ve recently started seeing a new guy and I’m really keen on him and I don’t want to spoil this. We’ve had sex a few times, and I’ve been using the female condom, but it’s not an ideal method and he’s commented a few times at the fact it’s noisy and uncomfortable. But he’s sort of made it clear that he won’t wear a condom; he say’s he’s never liked them and never used them.”
Sexual etiquette is a new field of human discussion. You can’t get away with hoping that both of you know exactly where the other stands and what you mean. Without an established blueprint, you have to thrash one out yourselves. The rules of a sexual encounter should surely be the same as for any decent, loving relationship, whether short term or lifelong. Both of you should enjoy it equally, neither should be getting their thrills from using or abusing the other and you should care about your partner’s well-being.
This means that you should each care about the others anxieties and tastes, and want to come at least half-way in satisfying them. But if you want to be an equal partner in a sexual relationship, rather than your partner’s sexual convenience, hints and suggestions are out; assertiveness is in.
Don’t suggest, hint or excuse a partner into using a condom. Simply present it as a fait accompli – “Your condom or mine?” You don’t have to get drawn into arguments or explanations as to why you should use a condom until your relationship has become long-term and monogamous and both of you have had at least 6 months without sexual contact with other people and have had a test for HIV antibodies. You don’t need to go into exhaustive explanations about the increased risk of cervical cancer or the number of symptom-free men who unwittingly pass thrush and chlamydia to their partners.
All you have to do is say it as a ‘given’ – “I don’t have sex unless one of us wears a condom. That’s no reflection on you or me, just on the times. No condom, no fuck. Now, shall we use female condoms, where we can slather loads of body oil all over each other? Or would you prefer a coloured one, a flavoured one or one with ridges?” If your partner heads for the hills, you really are better of without them.
Is there any other situation where you’d accept the statement “I’ve never used it and I don’t like them” without howling with laughter or protest?