Ask Debby Herbenick | Sex on the rag and condom fit
TOC's sexpert tackles your most penetrating questions.
Q I read an article recently that you wrote about condoms not fitting a lot of men [“In & Out,” TOC 152]. I am very little, so I have that problem. I don’t have a girl now but used to. I can get an erection and create sperm, but I am small and can only keep it up when the other person is on top. I also have really small fingers and toes, so it is not limited to this area. But of course that—the penis—is an area that the male uses, and I don’t want it to be abnormal as far as size, but the last few years I have accepted how I am. But the reason I am writing is that I have also read articles that talk about all the options that females have to keep from getting pregnant—condoms being only one of them. To be honest, men want to put what’s in their body inside the other person. All males do. And if the female has so many options for birth control, I don’t know why a male has to have a condom anyhow. Since a woman owns her body I, of course, would wear a condom with a woman if I was told or asked to. My ex had been fixed, so it was a nonissue. What are men supposed to do for condoms if they don’t fit well?
ASome of my research does relate to condom fit and feel, including data that suggests many men have issues with how condoms fit on their penis. If you feel like condoms are too big for your penis, then I’d suggest looking into “snugger fit” condoms such as LifeStyles Snugger Fit or Iron Grip Snugger Fit condoms. After all, condoms are only effective at preventing infection and pregnancy to the extent that they stay on and stay intact, and to the extent that a couple uses them correctly. That said, I get your point that men want to put “what’s in their body” (I assume you mean their ejaculate) “inside the other person” (and here I assume you mean inside your partner’s vagina). Well, men want a lot of things and like women, men do not always get what they want. Ejaculate is a wonderful thing, but it’s not a gift that every woman wants, let alone inside her body. Yes, I understand that women have dozens of birth-control methods, but getting pregnant isn’t the only thing that worries women. Women worry about sexually transmissible infections, too, and other methods of birth control (e.g., pills, patches, rings, diaphragms, cervical caps, shots) do not protect against infections. Condoms are the best protection women and men have when it comes to infections, and they are not even perfect in that respect (herpes and HPV can be passed with or without a condom). Finally, though you didn’t ask about it (but I feel entitled to go here because I already answered your question about finding better-fitting condoms), I’d like to pass on the tip that some women may not appreciate using the terminology “been fixed” to refer to having been surgically sterilized so as not to be able to get pregnant.
Q I started dating and having sex with a guy several months ago. I’ve gotten my period a few times since then, and every time it happened we just ended up not having sex for a few days. Cuddling, kissing and general affection, yes, and blow jobs, yes, but no sex. I wasn’t sure if I was sending signals that I didn’t want to do it, or if he was the one who didn’t want to do it. So, last night, after I packed an overnight bag and drove over to his house for a long-awaited night of romance (I was out of town for a week), I realized I’d gotten my period and decided to bring this issue up. He said he just wasn’t into it. He said past girlfriends had complained about it, but he made it clear that he wasn’t willing to experiment. I just find this so odd. I’ve never been with a guy who refused sex during my period. I know it’s messy and a little inconvenient, but do you have any insight to this aversion?
A I’m not sure why your particular guy doesn’t want to have certain types of sex (it sounds like vaginal intercourse or cunnilingus) with you while you are on your period, but some guys—like some women—have been sucked into the cultural idea that periods are dirty or gross. It’s fairly common for sexually active teenagers and young adults (early twenties) to abstain from sex during a woman’s period. Young women and men, at that time, are still getting used to each other’s bodies and the sights and smells and fluids related to them, and are also still getting used to sex. At that age, periods can be weird, wet spots can seem gross, and vaginal fluids and ejaculate can give some people the heebie-jeebies. At some point, I think most of us tend to roll over and deal with the wet spot, so to speak. Note that I said “most of us.” If he is not willing to experiment with having sex while you are on your period, then you two have some thinking and negotiating to do. If he’s not willing to go down on you or put his penis inside you while you’re on your period, is he willing to pleasure you in other ways, such as use a dildo or vibrator on you? Or would he try intercourse if you had a diaphragm inside your vagina to “catch” the blood from your uterus? Would you be okay with these options? If he’s not willing to do the sexual things that you want to do during that time, then are you still willing to provide blow jobs or is that up for negotiation, too? There’s not a right or wrong way that couples handle this one. Finally, especially since this is a relatively new relationship, it’s worth mentioning that infections are easier to pass through blood (for instance, when you are on your period), so if you haven’t already talked about each other’s STI status, now is a good time to have that conversation.
Q I noticed the question about uncircumcised penises [“In & Out,” TOC 150], and it reminded me of a lecture I had for class this past fall (I’m in medical school). Our professor said circumcision can help reduce the risk of HIV infection. Have you heard about this?
A It is true that research suggests that circumcision may reduce the risk of HIV for some men. But the question that scientists are grappling with is whether to recommend circumcision to all men (or even to which specific groups of men) as a risk-reducing practice. After all, it’s not having foreskin that gives a man HIV but engaging in behaviors such as having unprotected sex or sharing needles with someone who is infected with HIV. We still know little about the behavioral and social factors associated with HIV transmission. So the decision to universally recommend circumcision is highly controversial, especially when there are probably a whole host of behavioral, policy or societal strategies we could use to battle AIDS if we could all just get over our fear of talking about sex. Then we could stop lopping off men’s foreskins (which we know little about in terms of their capacity for pleasure, sensation or protection). Also, some worry that people will mistakenly believe that they “cannot” get HIV if they are circumcised, when really circumcision may just reduce the risk in some situations. Then, too, if the same were true for women, would major health organizations recommend female genital circumcision? Likely not. The issue of circumcision is a risk/benefit equation yet to be worked out in spite of some health organizations moving forward with circumcision recommendations.