Dear Dr Ren:
This might seem like a strange question but I have a fear of latex condoms. I was in a long-term relationship during the ’80s and ’90s and my partner and I were totally monogamous and never used condoms. Now that I am single I know I have to, especially as a top in anal sex. I don’t like them and I can’t seem to stay hard even when putting them on. What can I do?
Frustrated with latex
Yours is a common dilemma. Our discomfort with condoms accounts, at least in part, for the rise in syphilis and HIV in the gay community and the prevalence of herpes among lesbians. It involves a complex pattern of learned behaviours that resists change. First, let’s talk about the problem.
How we first learn to have sex is imprinted, much like the accent of our mother tongue stubbornly remains decades after we adopt another language. The root of our core erotic themes likewise influences our fetishes and fantasies. As we add new experiences, we layer them onto these basic building blocks. We expand our menus, but our basic ingredients remain the same. Making changes to these basics requires intentioned effort and lots of practice, much like learning a new language.
Let’s also talk about how anal sex for gay men relates to masculinity. Surely you were brought up to be a heterosexual male, so being gay is already a subversive act. Does your manliness feel more validated when you fuck a guy good and hard, or when another man penetrates you deeply and powerfully? In what way does anal sex, skin-to-skin, feel particularly masculine? How does that change with a barrier?
What role does the forbidden play in the erotic impulses of an outlaw population? Taboo is powerfully seductive. Already marginalized, gay men don’t do well at following rules, especially when those rules decrease their sexual pleasure to the point of losing their woodies. These are all powerful factors in quashing arousal.
So we agree that the problem is complex and formidable, but it is not insurmountable. Savvy gay men learn to eroticize condoms. Some of what needs to happen is cerebral. Each man must come to terms with the unpleasant reality that sex and vibrant semen are potentially deadly. What was once eagerly anticipated is now suspect. A grieving period is necessary. Then you have to get over that grief, lest you remain a victim incapable of experiencing sexual pleasure. You must also make a conscious decision to choose safety. You are much more likely to use a condom every time if it is simply your ethic.
The next step is behaviour modification, intentionally changing the way you do something–in this case, responding positively to condoms. The first thing you want to establish is good rapport with the situation. Set up for success. Pick some porn you know will make you hot and add some lube to the inside of a ridged condom. Masturbate with the condom on. Add fantasy, and perhaps more lube. Start associating these pleasurable feelings with the condom into your fantasy material. Add as much of your familiar eroticism as possible into your play with latex. Be intentional and practice.
When you have no difficulty reaching orgasm this way, you are ready to add a partner. As this will likely boost your anxiety, lower your expectations. Take the lead perhaps. Seduce a condom onto your partner’s penis and note the erotic cues of sight, smell, touch and taste. Dive into the sensuality and try not to concentrate on performance. Associate the rip of the condom wrapper and the snap of latex with how good you are both about to feel.
When it is your turn, you may lose your erection. Anxiety and hard-ons are not friends. If so, there are several remedies. One is to replicate the position you use when you masturbate. Our bodies are habitual and once you are successful jerking off with a condom, you will likely respond equally well to someone else’s hand on your dick. Let him glove you as part of the erotic play.
Don’t forget about the wondrous pharmaceuticals available. Viagra and its cousins produce good erections and you need success. Experiment to learn your lowest effective dose. Use this only until you develop the confidence and positive feedback to anticipate great safe sex.
Until you are condom confident, you can get protection but not restriction using Reality(r) condoms that you slide into your bottom’s bottom. Their expense and appearance will further motivate you to accept latex condoms.
Each success further establishes the pattern you want. I do not imply that these changes are quick or easy, but they are necessary and within your capabilities. Before too long, you won’t fret about condoms, they will simply be part of your new sexual language.
Having to use condoms is not the way any of us prefers to have sex. Nevertheless, choose now to make sex great with latex. With determination and practice you can make this yours.