Eric Leven

Condom Use Amongst Young Gay Men

Filed By Eric Leven | October 29, 2007 5:23 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Living, Marriage Equality
Tags: condoms, HIV/AIDS, sex ed, teens

An article featured in Southern Voice Online, an Atlanta based online publication for local and national news, discusses the dwindling condom usage amongst young gay men. The article states possible factors such as: a change in attitude from HIV/AIDS going from terminal to manageable, the public school taught abstinence-only program which excludes gays and lesbians since we don't have the right to marry, self destructive attitudes deep rooted in gay men/women because by the time we figure ourselves out society/religion has already told gay people they are sinful, unworthy people and lastly a shared cultural feeling that HIV is inevitable for gay men :

"There was once a time, in the not too distant past, when there wasn’t a gay social function — whether held at a club, community center or festival — that didn’t stock condoms seemingly by the truckload.

There was once a time, in the not too distant past, when many gay men — older men, teens, even gay porn stars — wouldn’t think about having unprotected sex, particularly with casual sex.

Times have changed. Jay Dempsey runs the P.O.O.L. program for gay men at AID Atlanta, and begins each new group by asking attendees whether condom use is still the sexual norm among local gay men.

“The answer’s always no,” Dempsey said.

The change in gay men’s views toward condoms is often associated with the onset of highly effective anti-AIDS drugs in the mid-’90s, when the perception of the disease transformed from an automatic death sentence to an almost invisible, manageable illness. Experts agree that no longer seeing friends suffer or die from AIDS has affected how gay men approach safer sex, but other factors have changed as well.

The condom-friendly sex education of the ’90s has been replaced wholesale by the Bush administration’s devotion to abstinence-until-marriage, while, simultaneously, marriage has become a legal impossibility for most gay and lesbian Americans. And as gay people fight for rights and acceptance from society at-large, many continue to struggle with self acceptance, tensions with their families and creating healthy intimate relationships.

“If you have this feeling of yourself as not being worthy, perhaps you don’t really care about yourself, you don’t care about your health, and so you might not use a condom,” said Celia Lescano, a researcher at Brown University who studies condom use among young people.

And then there are gay men who believe wearing a condom is futile. “There’s a deep linkage in the minds of some gay people that if you’re gay, you’ll inevitably get HIV,” said Donna Futterman, professor of clinical pediatrics and director of the Adolescent AIDS program at the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore in New York."

The article goes on stating, that unless we show passion, intensity, and a modern view specific to the young generations in the wear-condoms-to-avoid-AIDS message the concept will not fit them. "Companies like Coca-Cola launch new advertising campaigns every few years to capture new generations of youth, while the wear-a-condom-to-avoid-AIDS message hasn’t been modified in decades, Children’s Hospital’s Futterman said.

“Unless we give each generation the message with the same kind of passion, intensity and updatedness, [youth] are not going to get it, they’re not going to believe it’s for them,” said Futterman, author of “Lesbian & Gay Youth Care & Counseling.” HIV-prevention strategies must address “the interaction of so many forces” that prevent gay youth from using a condom, including various mental health stressors, Futterman said.

“We can’t isolate one factor [that causes unsafe sex] and so our approaches have to be multi-factoral,” said Futterman, who added that a societal taboo about condoms prevents them from appearing in commercials, movies, music and all other mass media. “If condoms are just in the public health sphere, and not in the real world sphere, why should young people think condoms are for them?” Futterman said."

I've always felt intensity is a key factor in "reinventing" the concept of safe-sex messages. I believe you have to establish a character which fits the roll of any person. It's not about who the character is but more about what the character is going through. The viewer needs to share the same commonality and emotions as the character they are viewing. It has to be something strong enough that causes people to say, "I never want to be in that position," or, "I've been there and I don't want to go there again. I am going to protect myself," "I respect myself. I am going to make choices which reflect that." In my opinion, you're never going to get anyone to listen by being soft on an issue. To me, being soft is like whispering in a protest. Use the most informative and honest data and hit people below the belt.

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All contributors to this post -- Eric and those quoted/referenced -- make good points about the decline in condom use. One thing lacking, in my eyes, is this:

At base, the same reason it was difficult to get gay men (or anyone, for that matter) to use condoms despite the fact that HIV/AIDS threatened to ravage the community is that condoms are ultimately no fun to use.

A lot of people want sex to be intimate, possibly spontaneous, and not involving a smelly little rubber thing you have to tear out of a package and dispose of afterwards. There's nothing romantic or savory about a condom.

Intensive public education, resourcing and action campaigns around condom use in the 90s made the "I just don't like using condoms" argument seem outrageous -- a social faux pas, a thing you dare not say. That was a successful efforts -- one that abstinence only education and a less conscious popular culture have damaged, to say the leat. Still, I don't think any level of sexy marketing is ever truly going to make condom use desireable, and I think we do have to push on all fronts to get people using condoms as much and more than they used to.

In the meantime, with all the reasons listed in Eric's entry, we at least have to admit that using condoms, though life-saving, is not something we would otherwise voluntarily elect to do as part of our regular sex lives. And sex is powerful. It makes us do what we might otherwise consider "stupid" things. But to leave this piece of the picture out is to insuate, if only a little, that the younger generation is plain reckless and stupid.

Less exposed to the many tactics used to successfully encourage condom use in the 90s? Sure. Ultimately all that different from the guys who didn't want to use condoms when the first push happened? Not all that much.

You're right Dustin.

Reading those comments in the article, it was like there was a pink elephant sitting in the room no one wanted to talk about: people don't use condoms because they don't like them. Intimacy, pleasure, convenience, whatever, they don't like them. Then the other issues pile on - self-esteem, knowledge, consciousness, inevitability.

That's not to say that barebacking with strangers is something people should be doing. It just means that we're going to have to start with the understanding that people who choose to do so are making a decision to, a decision that they think is beneficial to them. We should be talking about risk here, the risk involved in barebacking with strangers and other activities, how to discuss that risk with a potential partner, how to assess that risk, and combine it with education on the effects of STD's, proper condom usage, how to talk to someone about condom usage, etc. (i.e. get rid of abstinence-only education).

There's a chapter in Robert Goss's Queering Christ about this (we almost got him to be a contributor here!), where he talks about condom education programs avoiding the truth (to many gay men) that barebacking's better than sex w/ condoms. I think that in order to make education campaigns seem less out-of-touch, they've got to acknowledge that, mourn the loss of a time when we could have barebacked more freely, and teach people to protect themselves.

And also realize that some people just aren't going to get it because we don't own them.

I also wonder whether some of this regional. I mean, yeah, I had to have the discussion with guys in Indy about risk, but very rarely did a guy insist on barebacking. Since moving to Louisville the guys I've chatted with are pushy about it-- and as I mentioned in another post on this topic, I've had so many guys here claim they have to bareback because they're allergic to Latex (they still make non- latex condoms don't they?). And I have a cousin who lives in Somerset, KY who used to try to convince me that the statistical numbers of people (gay men in particular)is highly exaggerated which he equated with meaning that risk was actually lower than we are led to believe.


In discussions and education sessions I've done with both college students and adults, one message we tried to get out to people was that there are many things that can be done in place of intercourse.

"Safe doesn't mean no sex. It means use your imagination."

The answer, quite simply, is a more sex positive approach.

Thanks for telling us about all the trollin' for booty you're doing down in the old K-Y, R.

Just kidding!

Am I the only gay man on earth who remembers that there is now such a thing as the "female condom"?

At least with its addition to the available arsenal of regular condoms, the "top" and the "bottom" can take turns being the one with stationary latex against their strategic erogenous zone.

And R, the "allergic to latex" line is nauseating. The response it begs for obviously is, "... and my asshole is allergic to penis skin."

... or maybe a better retort might be, "Oh, and let me guess ... You were the captain of your debate team at Harvard, weren't you?"

Condom and circumcision are 2 of the hottest topic disscussed among men

at my favorite HIV personal and support site pozgroup dot com. Some of

them contracted HIV due to hating condom. Some of them hate

circumcision. As I know in that community,gay men are likely to having sex without sex.