Why won’t men wear condoms: pressure, pleasure and privilege

Today is World Contraception Day so I thought I’d ask, genuinely: why won’t men wear condoms? Why are we still having this conversation? What are the arguments for and against wearing condoms? Are there even legitimate arguments against protected sex between single people? Surely not.

However, in recent weeks, the stealthing scene in Michaela Coel’s powerful BBC show I May Destroy You became a huge internet talking point. It prompted conversations about consent, responsibility and privilege with arguments for and against the act of stealthing from all sides.

FYI stealthing is a form of sexual assault in which a person with a penis removes a condom without the consent or knowledge of their partner during penetrative sex. It’s generally considered to be a dangerous, disrespectful and aggressive move, but it’s happened to me. It’s happened to most women. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s happened to the majority of women I know at some point.

Stealthing is horrendous. But so is being in a situation where a man point blanc refuses to use protection in the first place. And this happens a lot too, putting a vast number of people at risk. So why won’t men wear condoms? Surely it’s in their interest to practice safe sex. You’d think so wouldn’t you? But unfortunately, this issue comes down to gendered healthcare, health research, sex education and privilege in action.

What does it mean when a man won’t wear condoms?

But let’s not get it twisted. A man refusing to wear a condom doesn’t mean this is a stealthing situation, an assault or an aggressive act. Raise your hand if you’ve been in a situation where you really haven’t wanted to have unprotected sex but you’ve allowed yourself to be talked into it. Because you’re fired up, you like this person, you’ve consented to reach this stage with them, but you’re not on the same page from this point.

‘I’ll pull out’ ‘I had a test last week’ or ‘I’m clean’ are all things you might have heard if your partner refuses to wrap up. Or maybe ‘But you’re on the pill’ or ‘I haven’t slept with anyone since my ex’. That’s all fine but if you’ve been asked to wear a condom, respect that request, respect the other person’s body and wear one.

Too often, women worry about self sabotaging and allow themselves to be talked into a sexual situation that isn’t quite the situation they’d have liked to have been in. This isn’t assault but it’s pressure that comes from a place of privilege and it’s uncomfortable, anxiety-inducing and unnecessary.

Why won’t men wear condoms?

Why don’t men like wearing condoms? Well, mostly it’s not because they don’t wish to be protected, it’s because sex without a condom, in general, feels better for men. Loss of sensation is the primary reason but this is really the umbrella that covers three key arguments as to why men refuse to wear protection, and they’re each complex and rooted in issues of privilege.

Lack of empathy

The first is quite simply, the inability to empathise with a female partner and her experience. If a man doesn’t wear a condom, he doesn’t stand to suffer in the same way as a woman might – the argument being, ‘it doesn’t make my life difficult if I don’t wear one so I don’t think it makes anyone’s life difficult either.’ This lack of empathy is a product of privilege writ large.

The risks of sexual infections also don’t affect men in the same ways they stand to affect women. Pain, pelvic inflammatory disease, cervical cancer, ectopic pregnancies, miscarriages and permanent infertility – doesn’t really seem worth not using a condom, right? But for men, because these disruptive and degenerative health issues don’t affect the male body, a privilege for men, there’s less urgency to prevent them. Sad but true.

But that begs the question? While men are happy residing in a warm bubble of privilege, only thinking of the sensation in the moment of a hookup and not considering the effects of unprotected sex, is this because they don’t know how serious this issue is?

It’s not like men in their twenties in 2020 lived through the AIDS crisis or have enjoyed a courtside seat at a colposcopy or the first fraught 36 hours of a missed period. Is it possible they just don’t know what the people they hook up with stand go through?

The short answer is yes, and this is a privilege that we can thank our educational institutions for. ‘Pop a condom on a banana, don’t knock anyone up and off you go’. But for women, the effects of absent or fear-based sex education leave us far from happy-go-lucky about the idea of unprotected sex.

The onus for lack of empathy is more on sex ed than it is on men themselves. You can’t know what you don’t know unless you pursue the knowledge you need. If young boys aren’t taught to respect women’s bodies or empathise with their experiences of course men are still refusing to wear condoms.

Lack of education

Lack of education on the female experience, consent, bodily respect, real sex vs. porn, sexual infections and the associated risks, pregnancy and abortion leaves men and women vulnerable and less likely to respect and empathise with one another.

Schools not teaching unbiased sex ed has been an issue that’s affected consent and enjoyment for decades. However, now men do have access to education in the UK. There’s a wealth of information on the effects of unsafe sex on men and women available online and via educational institutions and organisations*.

For the most part, women have been taught to take responsibility for their own safety by avoiding sex altogether, which also creates moral judgement issues and issues with self esteem. Conversely, men have historically been encouraged to enjoy sex and take little responsibility for women’s bodies.

Historical medical bias

Heathcare, especially sexual and reproductive healthcare favours male bodies. A great deal of research is done on them and for them and women’s healthcare has always been worryingly underfunded. We often hear an argument which goes a little bit like this: if all the money is in men’s healthcare, why isn’t there a male pill?

There is a male pill, however, it hasn’t yet reached the mass market because the side effects were considered to be too disruptive to men’s health and lifestyles. These are the same side effects women have been living with since the ’80s.

Headaches, nausea, loss of libido, weight gain, mood swings, anxiety, depressive thoughts, suicidal ideation, hormonal acne – sound familiar? Women are expected to take the pill or other forms of hormonal contraception, despite the health risks. That’s male privilege in action.

There is also a sub issue in that the cost of contraception affects men and women disproportionately. The pill is free for women in the UK and condoms cost money, unless you request free ones from a sexual health clinic, which you can easily do. This decision has meant that women opt for the pill and men believe the responsibility to be safe no longer lies with them and is even unnecessary or a waste of money.

Consent is non negotiable

This post covers a common female experience and one that makes us feel uncomfortable on a daily basis. It covers facts, both medical and social and in part it covers my own experiences and those of women I know so please, don’t come at me with hashtag not all men.

Of course it’s not all men, but it’s still far too many refusing to wear condoms despite their partners requesting they wear one. If you’re a single woman on the London dating scene, the responsibility of contraception is a daily thought process, especially if hormonal methods don’t agree with you.

Respect for your partner is essential so if they ask you to wear a condom, wear one. If this is not agreeable to you, consider the risks to your partner and your own health, consider your privilege and if the answer is still no, I guess you’re not having sex with that person because consent is non negotiable.

And FYI these are my favourite condoms. Be safe out there.

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