If you’re a regular reader, you know I’m not a huge fan of the tone of the writing over at XOJane. It’s a bit too flippant, unnecessarily pseudo-sexual and quasi-controversial for my taste, as I made plain in my criticism of Jane Pratt’s May essay on miscarriage, in which she used her boobs as the lede. That being said, I want to back one of Jane’s writers up on her recent post about not using condoms, because, well, I’m not using them right now, either.
I found out about Cat Marnell’s condomless confession via Koa Beck of Mommyish, who takes Marnell to task over her “portrait of sexual irresponsibility.” Beck’s main argument is that XOJane has a young, impressionable readership that may be influenced to ditch condoms, thus exposing themselves to STDs and unwanted pregnancy. “What could confuse a young girl more than reading a health director’s claim that condoms aren’t necessary?” Beck asks. XOJane responded to Beck’s accusation, stating that teens are not in their demo (and for the record, they’re not in ours, either) … and then got a flood of comments from all of the teens reading their site. After all that back and forth, Beck concluded, “Parents and the childless alike should be outraged that a website that chose to publish such an account of unsafe sex practices has not only been speaking to teen girls, but from the looks of these comments, will continue to do so.”
Here’s the thing: I understand where Beck is coming from. I certainly do. I have a six-year-old daughter and as it is, I hate to even *think* of her being old enough to want to have SEX (!!!), but when she eventually does (at age 30), I hope she’ll choose to do so responsibly. I hope she remains monogamous, doesn’t have a slew of one-night-stands, and uses condoms. I plan to talk to her all about the emotional and physical responsibilities that go along with having a sex life and I hope she feels not only prepared to make sound decisions in regards to her sex life but that she also feels comfortable enough to come to me with questions and concerns, no matter her age.
So why, if I want my daughter to avoid the risk of pregnancy and disease, am I not using condoms in my own sex life? Well, because I’m 34 years old. I’ll be 35 in a month. I’m monogamous, as is my partner, and we both recently came out of decade-long, monogamous relationships. (I mean, I was monogamous, anyway. While we were married, I thought my husband was, but in hindsight I’m not so sure.) My partner thinks his former girlfriend was monogamous, too, and so we both just kind of figured the risk was minimal — but we never talked about it until yesterday, when I asked him if he’d mind me addressing the issue in this post.
“You know, we never had the ‘Are you clean?’ talk,” I said.
“Yeah, I know,” he replied.
I continued, “I just figured you were in a long-term relationship and you told me you never cheated, so I guess I just kinda assumed … ”
“Yeah, me too,” he said. “You told me you only slept with one guy in between … ”
“Two,” I corrected.
I asked him if he’d ever been tested, and he said yes, as of his last test, he was disease-free. That was a few years ago, though, and I don’t know exactly how many people he slept with in the year since his long-term relationship ended. It’s likely not more than my two, maybe three? I should ask, I guess. I told him I’d never really had one of those exams that checks for every possible STD, that I didn’t even know where to go to get one. I joked that I know I don’t have AIDS because I’ve never gotten a call after donating blood.
Was it irresponsible for us to start having unprotected sex without having actually had that conversation first? Probably. But I think it says something about our generation (we’re the same age) and religious background (we both come from Catholic families) that we didn’t. Why, as adults, are we still squeamish about talking frankly about sex? Because it will ruin the mood? As my man-friend would say, that’s weak. We should probably go get tested together. (How romantic! You know things are getting serious when you get screened for herpes together. Aww … )
But of course STDs aren’t the only thing we have to worry about when having sex. Yes, I’m turning 35 soon, but that doesn’t mean I can’t still get pregnant. I follow Marnell’s number one birth control alternative: “Letting the man come somewhere besides where it will get me pregnant,” otherwise known as the pull-out method. While it’s not foolproof, it’s worked so far. I’m not trying to get pregnant and I don’t know what I would do if I did. I’ve never had an abortion and I don’t ever want to, but I’m not sure how I’d feel about having a second child. I know my man-friend has thought about having children, and I’m open to the idea of having another, but after two months of dating? Probably not the best idea. On the other hand, are we both secretly thinking, if it happens, it happens for a reason? He doesn’t have any children, so maybe. But I don’t know because — again — we haven’t talked about it. Would he ask me to get an abortion? What if I didn’t want to? What if I wanted to end the pregnancy, but he didn’t? What if we had the baby but didn’t stay together? What if we had the baby and stayed together but didn’t get married? What if we got married? Ay yi yi!
All of these questions could be answered within one quick conversation and likely avoided altogether with the use of a more effective birth control method.
And so that’s why I support Marnell’s post: because it got me thinking. And it got my partner and I talking. And no, I don’t like the glib tone of her essay (“A diaphragm. Ooh! The wild card! I had one of these in college, and by college I mean the year I was 18 and living in Soho and going to “acting school” and blowing my trust fund on cocaine and champagne at all of the best clubs. Anyway, I lugged around a diaphragm with me in a little case and would OCCASIONALLY use it. I was very slutty back then and never got preg, so I guess it worked.”), but I agree with her point that oral contraceptives generally suck. Yes, they do make a lot of women feel like shit, not to mention the massive pill recall last month and the 7,000 lawsuits against the makers of Yaz and Yasmin. So that’s why I don’t take them. My excuse for not using condoms?
It just doesn’t feel as good.
Is that an excuse I would want my teenage daughter to be making? No. Do I want my child to take Plan B like it’s candy in order to avoid pregnancy the way Marnell does? Of course not. Do I need to find a suitable contraceptive alternative to the pill and stop using the pull-out method like a horny, teenage idiot? Probably. Should my partner and I go get tested for STDs? Yes. Would I have bothered to consider the very real consequences of my behavior unless I’d read Marnell’s blog post and Beck’s reaction to it? I doubt it. So thanks to both of you for opening my eyes and causing me to have some important discussions. I’m about to go ask my man-friend how he feels about babies.