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Pillow Talk

August 8th, 2007

Dr Petra

It’s sexual health week this week, and the Family Planning Association have launched a new campaign to get us talking about condoms. ‘Pillow Talk’ acknowledges many people find it difficult or embarrassing to discuss condoms and the FPA have created a list of tips for the public and professionals to help make it easier to talk about and use condoms.

Their argument is that talking about condoms should be a conversation that is ‘straightforward, reassuring and normal’. I agree, it is important that talking about sex should be a positive thing. However, discussing sex (or condoms) is something that most people do find very difficult and with respect to the FPA telling people they should be doing it (and giving tips that tell them talking is a good thing) doesn’t really go far enough to give people the life skills needed to be able to communicate effectively.

For many men sex conversations can be difficult as men are supposed to know everything about sex – it’s supposed to come naturally to them – they’re not supposed to need to talk about it. That’s why it’s often so difficult for men to ask for advice or share ideas about sex-related matters. Also the pressure of performance and wanting to fit in with peers can mean for many young men there’s a disincentive for having any conversations about sex since it might result in not getting any.

For many women sex conversations are also difficult because women struggle with sexual words they’re either raised to see as bad or dirty, or the words they have to use to describe their bodies are ones that are often derogatory. Girls are still not taught sex, pleasure and desire are their right to have – and nor are they given any help in learning how to learn what they might like and communicate that effectively.

Even where men and women, gay or straight, know what they want and feel able to ask for it they’re still reliant on a partner to hear them and not feel put off, threatened or embarrassed by their views.

It seems a core component of most sexual health promotion currently seems to be around the idea that talking about using condoms is a good thing. And yet there’s not a massive amount of research evidence telling us that having that ‘condom conversation’ is helpful. One could say that if you use condoms routinely it actually helps you avoid embarrassing conversations since you don’t have to really ask about a person’s sexual history, worry about STIs or have to have discussions about whether you’re using other forms of contraception.

I’m not disputing the importance of safer sex advice or campaigns to help us improve our sexual health, but I don’t know whether encouraging us to talk about condoms is the same thing as getting us to use condoms. We need clearer evaluations to check whether talking about condoms increases condom use or whether telling people condom chat is a necessity turns them off condoms and makes them feel less able to use them.

I hope the FPA’s campaign is a success, and if you find their Pillow Talk helpful it would be good to let them know.

It’s definitely worth being aware of the different contraceptives that are available, and as luck would have it a recent edition of the Midwest Teen Sex Show takes an irreverent look at what you could use. You can discuss your views on contraception on their site too.

So while we’re on the topic of condoms, here are two adverts aimed at young people (particularly young men) that shows what happens when you do use a condom

and when you don’t….

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