Tag Archives: Safe sex

Romance Novels Influence Whether Women Use Condoms


The bodice-ripper genre has never been known for its realism, and people have often criticized it for setting impossible standards for relationships. But now, one study also seems to indicate that romance novels set a bad example when it comes to safe sex. Here’s how pulp romances could be a health risk.

Part of the point of fiction is that it cuts out part of reality. In fiction, people spend a lot of time fighting monsters, running from the law, or just musing about the meaning of life. They spend almost no time brushing their teeth. This lack of tooth brushing isn’t meant to influence the public’s attitude towards oral hygiene, and probably has no affect on tooth retention among readers.

But sometimes omission of mundane details can be equated with disapproval. A analysis done in 2000 noted that few romance novels included scenes in which the characters use condoms, despite many novels including scene in which two relative strangers get swept off their feet and have sex in a barn, or the cabin of a ship during a storm, or a self-made billionaire’s private sex dungeon.

A group of researchers at Northwestern University decided to see whether this disregard for sex ed among romance novel characters influenced women’s attitudes towards condoms. After interviewing women as to their reading habits, the researchers asked them about their views on condoms, and whether they intended to use them in the future. Results were disheartening, but not surprising. Women who read a lot of romance novels didn’t like the idea of condoms. Compared to women who did not read a lot of romance, romance-readers were relatively disinclined to use condoms in the future.

A second study presented romance readers with a library that was packed with the small percentage of romance novels that included the use of condoms by the characters. The women later revealed, in interviews, that after reading the safe sex romances their outlook on condoms was more favorable, and that they were slightly more likely to use condoms in future.

Although the year 2000 is hardly the dark ages, it has been 15 years, and a lot of pulp has to have been through the printing press since then. The most well-known romance series of the last decade, Twilight, quite famously has a couple that doesn’t use condoms – and they nearly incur a vampire war. But perhaps other, lesser-known romances include a little more safe sex scenes. What do you say, romance readers? Are more romantic novels including condoms in their love scenes these days?

Want the original research? Visit: The Relationship Between Reading Romance Novels and Safe Sex Behavior

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Condoms: Why are we still embarrassed about using them?

A new restaurant promoting safe sex and condom use has opened in the UK, but many people are still too embarrassed to even buy them – why?

As sex education goes, it’s pretty unconventional. Cabbages and Condoms is a Thai restaurant chain that serves food along with contraception. The name says it all.

Condoms are handed out to customers instead of after-dinner mints and each restaurant is covered in them – literally. Lights and walls are adorned with condoms, artworks are even made out of them.

All profits go into sex education and Aids prevention programmes in Thailand. Now it has opened its first branch outside Thailand, in the Oxfordshire town of Bicester.   Of all the towns in all the world, it’s not an obvious choice but in the UK many people are still too embarrassed to buy condoms in public and can’t even talk about sex “in a normal way”, say sex education charities.

So why are so many of us still so uncomfortable when it comes to condoms?

This awkwardness is enshrined in British popular culture. Songs like House of Fun by Madness sum up the awkwardness many feel when trying to buy condoms, with such lines as: “A toothbrush and hairspray, plastic grin. Mrs Clay on the corner has just walked in.”

Britain is a sexualised society where adult shops like Ann Summers can be found on many High Streets and condoms and lubricants of any number of flavours, textures and smells can be bought at your local chemist.

A survey by Fusion Condoms found 56% of people surveyed, were embarrassed to buy them. When it came to men, 54% got red faced while 57% of woman did.

Sexual health charities agree embarrassment is still a big issue for many people.

“We’re still so British about sex and condoms, many people find it easier to have sex rather than to talk about it,” says Genevieve Edwards, executive director of health improvement at the Terrence Higgins Trust.

“It’s a population-wide issue, something that doesn’t really change whatever sex or age. Buying condoms is a public declaration that you want sex and many people still aren’t comfortable with that.”

James, 48, from Surrey, is a successful businessman but still feels very awkward when buying condoms.

Figures at Cabbages and Condoms are covered with condoms. Image credit: Getty Images

“Let’s just say self-service tills have made life a lot less stressful,” he says.

“I will always use them rather than dealing with a person. I think my unease is something that lingers from my youth. Back then condoms and talking about sex were not done.”

The embarrassment factor has helped online retailers. The sellers range from commercial operations like Johnnys in a Jiffy to the NHS retailer Freedoms Shop.

In the four years since it was set up, myCondom.co.uk has seen sales increase month-on-month.

But customers still demand discretion. This can be for several reasons and embarrassment is one of them, says managing director Alex Green.

“A large part of the business is niche condoms,” he says. “We sell a lot of small-sized condoms and it’s obvious why someone might not want to buy them in a shop.

“Even online, people are still very concerned about avoiding embarrassment. We get a lot of enquiries about our packaging, some customers even ask for photos of what their order will be sent in.

“We use plain packaging because people make it very clear they don’t want something advertising what’s inside.

“We also get queries about what company name will appear on bank and credit card bills.

The British have a “strange range” of attitudes when it comes to condoms. It ranges from the absolute brazen to the acutely embarrassed and a lot more in between, says psychotherapist Phillip Hodson, a fellow of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy.

“Buying condoms means you are having to be absolutely explicit about something many people want to be implicit about. You are having to admit you are planning to have sex or want to have it.”

Talking about using condoms is also something people struggle with, again regardless of age, according to the FPA (Family Planning Association).

It’s figures shows 61% of people find talking about condoms with a new sexual partner a difficult conversation to have. Of those, 70% find it embarrassing and 36% say it makes them less likely to use a condom.

Health professions say the obvious way to overcome this is better sex education in schools.

While some schools are doing a good job, others aren’t, and this means young people are often getting their information in the playground or on the internet.

“We all know the quality of that information,” says Edwards.

Hodson says condoms are just part of what young people need to be taught.

This condom, dating from the early 19th Century, is made of animal gut and is seen here with waxed paper envelope packaging

Even after the introduction of rubber condoms, some – like this late 19th century example – were still being manufactured from caecal membrane and silk

This rubber sheath, still in its original 1940s packaging, is made of “one piece of soft pliable rubber” and is designed to be reusable

This packet of one latex condom was issued to British troops on active service during WWII, and “withstands all climates”

“They need to be at ease dealing with them, but with that they also need to be taught that sex is powerful and can be an overwhelming thing and they need to think about what they are doing. All of that needs to be taken into account.

“We also need to get to parents and teach them how to talk to their children about sex.

“We need to get across that just because their children are educated about it and how to use a condom it doesn’t mean they are going to go out and have loads of sex.”

He says other countries, like Holland, are able to talk to young people about sex in a natural way, “without sniggering like the British often do”.

Katherine, 17, from Essex, says teenagers do talk about condoms, but nearly always in a joking way.  “I’m more likely to be hit in the head with a condom filled with water or get one taped to a birthday card than have a serious conversation about them,” she says.

“Young people tend to hide behind humour and make things funny so they’re not embarrassed.

“If you do need one you ask a close friend, you don’t often buy them. We’re given a lot of free condoms at safe sex talks. It saves embarrassment and money.”

In the Fusion survey it was 16 to 19 years olds who found buying condoms the most embarrassing – 65% of those asked said they found it difficult. But so did 57% of people between the ages of 20 and 30, and 50% of those aged over 31.

It shows people of all ages need just as much support as teenagers when it comes to sexual health, says Dr Audrey Simpson of the FPA.

“The problem is that we are preoccupied with the sexual behaviour of the young and consequently thirtysomethings are a forgotten generation in sexual health,” she says.

“They received little sex and relationships education at school but grew up in an increasingly sexualised society. They’ve had to find the confidence themselves to talk about condoms and learn the hard way.

“It’s not surprising that people can feel it’s easier not to use a condom than put themselves through the torture of talking about a subject they feel deeply uncomfortable about.”

At least in Bicester, embarrassment apparently hasn’t stopped people eating at the town’s new condom-themed restaurant.

Original Article via BBC Magazine

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Unsafe Sex in the City

Tonight, BBC3 will go behind the scenes of a sexual health clinic for a new four-part documentary, Unsafe Sex In The City.

The documentary explores the dangers faced by young people who have unprotected sex and follows the stories of patients whose passionate encounters have led to physical and emotional anguish.

The programme goes behind the scenes of a sexual health clinic in Manchester, with staff recounting traumatic stories as well as sharing humorous anecdotes about their efforts to protect youths from sexually transmitted infections.

The show isn’t typical family viewing, but parents of teenagers and sexually active people may want to consider it.  Tonight’s patients include 22-year-old Kervin, who forgot to “strap up” before a one-night stand; a pink-haired 17-year-old who doesn’t believe in monogamy or protection; and a smooth-talking womaniser who’s far less full of himself after being interrogated and prodded by a no-nonsense nurse.

A BBC spokesman added: “BBC3 are excited to have access to one of the country’s busiest sexual health clinics.”
The show airs tonight at 9pm on BBC3, repeated at 12:15am on Thursday morning (25th) – Then again on Saturday 27th at 3:05am – or view it on BBC iPlayer.
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Sex education: we should teach young people about more than the mechanics

Sex education: too much emphasis on the mechanics, says Doortje Braeken, who argues for more teaching about sexuality. Photograph: David Levene (The Guardian)

Sex education polarises opinion, sets legislators against parents and parents against schools and regularly inflames media opinion. Somewhere in the middle sit young people: ill-served, receiving confused messages and gaining their information from famously unreliable sources, such as peers or the internet.

Sex education, as all too many experience it, is like teaching people how to drive by telling them in detail what’s under the bonnet, how the bits work, how to maintain them safely to avoid accidents, what the controls do and when to go on the road. It’s all about the mechanics. And that’s it.

There’s a growing consensus that young people don’t need sex education, they need comprehensive sexuality education or CSE..  CSE is sex education plus: the mechanics, plus a lots more about sexuality.

That means not just teaching young people about the biology of sex, but also teaching them about the personal, emotional, societal and cultural forces which shape the way in which they choose to conduct their lives. Armed with this understanding, young people can make far more considered decisions.

This approach has the potential to unite the warring factions that bicker over the fundamental rights and wrongs of sex education: CSE equips young people with basic biological knowledge, but at the same time it equips them to question why they act in certain ways, and whether or not it is right, valuable or desirable to do so. CSE imparts information, and promotes responsibility.

CSE contains components which allow learners to explore and discuss gender, and the diverse spectrum of gender identities that exist within and between and beyond simple heterosexuality. It also contains components that examine the dynamics of power in relationships, and individual rights.

These are not taught as theoretical concepts. They have serious practical effects on the way in which young people interact with each other, both in the sexual and the wider social and educational spheres. Studies have shown that addressing such issues can have a marked impact both in school and the expansion of young people’s social networks.

CSE also engages with what some doubtless regard as difficult territory. Sexuality – however, individually, we choose to regard it – is a critical aspect of personal identity. The pleasure that we derive from sexuality, even if that pleasure is the pleasure of feeling that a reproductive duty is being fulfilled, is a vital part of our lives: it’s what makes us human. CSE views sexuality as a positive force.

CSE exploits a variety of teaching and learning techniques that are respectful of age, experience and cultural backgrounds, and which engage young people by enabling them to personalise the information they receive.

What is most telling is that a large number of studies have reached the clear conclusion that CSE does not lead to earlier sexual initiation or an increase in sexual activity. To paraphrase, traditional sex education seems to say: “If you’re going to do it, this is how everything works and you need to protect yourself in these ways to prevent this.” CSE says all that, but it also asks young people to ponder what exactly “it” is, and to deepen their perception of its implications.

In a political environment which is quantitatively driven, we measure the success of sex education in straightforward health behaviour indicators. These are easy to manage: numbers which build on existing health surveillance and measurement systems, and which are simple to understand from an objective point of view.

However, CSE is a far more nuanced discipline, and it will be necessary to include other measures of programme success: qualitative, subjective indicators which relate to gender equity, empowerment and critical thinking skills.

While governments have recognised young people’s right to CSE via various intergovernmental resolutions and conventions, the journey from recognition to delivery will be a long one. Even in the UK, there are notable differences, with England having a bare-bones biological approach “puberty, menstruation, contraception, abortion, safer sex, HIV/Aids and STIs should be covered”, while Wales and Scotland have curriculums which incline far more towards the CSE agenda.

The International Planned Parenthood Federation, the organisation I work for, and its 153 member associations around the world, has been instrumental in pressing for the adoption of international policy commitments to CSE. For many, it may seem like we are pushing 10 steps ahead of the agenda when the basic principle of young people’s right to even the most basic introduction to the biology of sex is still not universally accepted.

Our view is different: it is that CSE is what will secure widespread acceptance of sex education, because it is about more than the mechanics of sex. It is about helping young people, the world over, to become more healthy, more informed, more respectful and more active participants in the life of their community and their nation.

Doortje Braeken is the IPPF’s senior adviser on adolescents and young people, responsible for co-ordinating programmes in 26 countries implementing a rights-based approach to youth friendly services and comprehensive sexuality education. She will be among the panellists for a live discussion on sex and sexuality education, taking place on the SocietyGuardian site from noon to 2pm on Thursday 31 May

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Use Your iPhone or iPad to Practice Safe Sex

No, we’re not suggesting you use your iOS device to practice safe sex but did you know you can use it to locate places where you can get condoms?

MTV Staying Alive and iCondom are asking everyone to join them in the fight to help prevent the transmission of HIV and other STIs. Together they are creating the world’s largest condom distribution map for iPhone, the first user-generated map of its kind.

iCondom is the only international app for iPhone that locates condom dispensers nearest to you and shows you their locations on a map. You can rate and comment on dispensers so that others will have up-to-date information on the quality of the dispenser.  The app is free and available from the app store now!

Together, we can make it easier for people to avoid putting themselves and others at risk.

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