Safe sex: Where have all the condoms gone?

Fewer sexually active people are opting to use condoms as protection. But why, and what are the repercussions?

Claire’s story is an increasingly common one.

As a young sexually active woman, the Melbourne woman used condoms, but when she started a long-term relationship in her early 20s she went on the pill.

“Condoms were just awkward and really ruined the moment and there were so many other contraceptives,” Claire says.

When the relationship ended the 29-year-old intended to have safe sex, but she says it simply never happened.

The condom conundrum

Using protection was critical in previous decades but today sexually active people are using less condoms, according to QUT Professor John Scott.

“It’s fairly well known that it’s happening, and it is a fact that’s seen across different populations and ages,” he says.

A major factor is the perceived “inconvenience”.

“There is also this weird sense that people aren’t vulnerable now that there are cures for everything,” John says.

Admittedly, there has been plenty of innovative medications to treat sexually transmitted infections, including pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to lower the risk of contracting HIV.

However, STIs can still have lifelong health impacts including infertility, and can create social stigma.

STIs: The uncomfortable truth

Unfortunately, in an increasingly condom-less world the rates of STIs are rising in Australia.

Latest national sexual health data reveals more than 100,000 (and rising) cases of chlamydia are reported annually.

Gonorrhoea rates increased by 80 per cent from 2013 to  2017, with hotspots including Brisbane, Sydney, Perth, Melbourne as well as in regional communities.

Meanwhile, rates of syphilis have tripled in Victoria since 2014, with the growth reported mostly among women in their 20s, 30s and 40s.

Why experts say social media is partly to blame for lower condom use

The safe sex message has been “lost” in the age of Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and other apps, says John.

“Years ago, it was easy to get the message across, but with so many different forms of media you have to compete to get the message out there,” he says.

The rise of hook-up apps including Tinder and Grindr – while positively helping people connect – coupled with an ambivalent approach to safe sex is adding to the dangers, John warns.

“Casual sex is more accessible, but it’s not about promiscuity, it’s about not being safe,” he says.

Bringing condoms into the modern age

In the bid to get more people into safe sex, some innovative companies are giving condoms an organic, planet-friendly makeover in line with consumer trends.

This includes eco-friendly condoms made from fair trade rubber that can be composted in your backyard, while others are made from natural alternatives such as lambs’ intestines.

Vegan-friendly condoms have also hit the market for the animal warriors wanting to get down in the bedroom without impacting their health or the environment.

February 14 is National Condom Day, so remember: No glove, no love.

Written by Alex White.