Why Men Don’t Wear Condoms

Men are idiots.

Those three words sum up most of society’s view on men, especially when it comes to sexual practices. This bothers me for a number of reasons, not least of which is that I am a man.

But it also demonstrates a level of willful, malicious ignorance that could only be born from a truly gynocentric culture. That Popular Science article is on the topic of condoms and is trying to get men to use them. Condoms came onto the scene in Europe in the 16th century. Even then, the main goal was not preventing pregnancy (the good old days before Over Population), but to prevent Sexually Transmitted Diseases such as syphilis.

The concept is simple: put a wall between two sources of bodily fluids, preventing transmission of any infectious agents that might be present in either.

Easy, right?


Even after four centuries of development and contributions from brands likes of Trojan and KY, condoms are still not as widely used as some would hope, especially in the developing world. For the developed world, 28% of married couples use condoms as their primary contraception; in Japan it is 80%, but in the developing world it goes down to less than 10%.1

In the face of ever present AIDS epidemics, many organizations have been working to increase condom use, especially in Africa. In South Africa, safe-sex information is rampant and condoms are freely available, but their usage so far only covers one condom per week for each adult male.2 Either they’re not getting lucky, or they’re just not listening. In other regions, results of condom-drives are even spottier, to the point that the World Health Organization has begun campaigns of mass adult male circumcision in hopes of reducing HIV infections, but with mixed results.3

That brings us back to the original question: Why don’t men use condoms? In the face of AIDS spread, numerous other unsightly or life-threatening STDs, and the well documented risks of unplanned fatherhood, why don’t men all just slip on a rubber every morning, you know, for when the time comes?

The question has been asked, but, in my opinion, only skin deep. The most common reason (and I refuse to use the word “excuse”) given by men is that condoms reduce pleasure. Hence the Gates Foundation offer of $100,000 for the design of a condom that actually increases pleasure.4

Most commentators are happy to deride men for this pleasure-seeking stance, probably because it fits so nicely into the public image of Man As Lustful Beast. But, with all the perils facing the unprotected man, is pleasure-for-pleasure’s-sake the real reason for low condom adoption? They’ve asked, Is it because condoms reduce pleasure?, and have gotten a resounding Yes–but have been typically unwilling to dig a little deeper, to treat their male subjects as human beings, and ask, Why are men so worried about reduced pleasure?

Unprotected sex is risk-taking, so why take the risk? An analogous example is a drug abuser. Addicts take drugs to get high, have a buzz, rave like mad, step out of themselves, etc. With hard drugs like heroin and cocaine, or hell, even alcohol, their numerous detrimental side-effects are well documented. It’s reasonable to think no sane person would willingly use these substances. Yet they do, and in flocking herds. Why?

Most people are not thrill seekers. Most people do not need to live on the edge of danger. Most people are normal human beings, so if they are abusing life-damaging drugs, it has to be for a reason. Self-medication for depression, escapism from a hopeless life, gaining the competitive edge in sports or work… Drug usage isn’t a sickness, it is a symptom, just like men’s unwillingness to use condoms is not an example of male irresponsibility, but a symptom of a twisted view on male sexuality.

And I say twisted because we likely once had a perfectly healthy interpretation of human sexual behavior, but it has been twisted by corrupt social forces. Men, for more millennia than we’ve had a calendar to count them, have been taught to identify heavily with their own sexuality, to find a large portion of their sense of self-worth from it. For most of history, a man’s value stemmed from two requirements: that he could go out and kill whatever needed to be killed (be it men in war or animals in the hunt), and that he could then come home and fuck his woman like a man!. Mere fertility is not enough; a man must be virile, filled with stamina and vigor. Anything else, even if he is a genius, champion athlete or master artist, renders him less of a man.

And to the inevitable rehashes of the well-worn attacks on the mythically delicate “male ego”, I say simply, Bullshit. As a young American man, I have endured, since childhood, a perpetual bludgeoning with messages promoting female self-esteem. And then you, dear misandrist commenter, are going to tell me that a man’s “ego” isn’t worthy of consideration? I ask you to step away now, because hate-speech is not welcome here. Men’s lives matter. Men’s feelings (and yes, we do have them) matter. We matter.

And sex matters to men, maybe beyond what is natural. For most of human history, men have been taught to self-identify with their own hyper-sexualization. Men are penis-wielders first, human beings second. Our sense of self-worth is derived, in large part, from our ability to “perform” sexually. It’s the same mindset that makes men work themselves literally into early graves. They could live longer if they worked less, but they are providers first, human beings second. That message has been driven home generation after generation, father to son, wife to man, television to vegetable. But now, after thousands of years, the message has been changed. Now men are being told their penis is a potential disease vector and that it has to be tightly bagged before usage.

What’s sexier than Zip-Loc, right?

200 year old condom, with user's manual
200 year old condom, with user’s manual

Mixed messages to the extreme. Condoms do reduce pleasure, fact. With all these thousands of years of social conditioning, men associate self-worth with sexual performance, and the primary measure of sexual performance is the amount of pleasure achieved/provided. In asking men to use pleasure-reducing condoms, we are asking them to overcome generations of indoctrination and to actively take part in reducing their own self-esteem. It’s asking the junkie to stop shooting up when it’s the only thing that keeps him going.

Some may still ask of men, Why so serious? Why do men identify so much with their sexuality. Can’t they be happy just being alive? The idea that men are socially conditioned to their own detriment is still not commonly accepted. Patriarchy, right? So, let’s look at a another analogy, this time a fictional one about women.

Men tend to find self-worth through sexual performance. Women tend to find self-worth through sexual appeal; being beautiful, being attractive, being desired by men, that is what women have long been taught to seek. Whatever changes feminism has wrought, the core mating paradigm remains the same: women present, men pursue. Condoms hamper that pursuit. What if we asked women, for health reasons, to reduce their sex appeal?

Let’s pretend there is a gel that women can buy. When applied, it unobtrusively coats the vagina with a protective layer that blocks STDs with a failure rate comparable to condoms. Great, right? Ah, but there are side-effects. And I’m not talking about female condoms here, which have their own pleasure-spoiling qualities. No, for these STD-proof women, it isn’t their pleasure which takes a hit (about half of women fake orgasms anyway, so that’s not their goal). What suffers is their self-image, their sense of beauty.

When a woman using this hypothetical little wonder gel becomes sexually aroused, it makes her puff up. Not like-a-balloon puff up, but it makes her look and feel, let’s say, 15-30 pounds heavier, just temporarily. No negative effect to health, but during sex, the woman feels fat, and she knows she looks fat to her partner. Don’t think thick girls are ugly? Change weight gain to breast reduction, skin discoloration, etc. Anything unattractive. Whatever the details, she has to become ugly to have safe sex.

How many women do you think would jump at that opportunity?

Now think about the same feeling for men, being told they need to slash their primary metric of sexual success for the sake of health safety.

Am I saying men are all sex-crazy? Maybe, but I don’t blame men for that. If condoms are emasculating, it is only because they present a sharp reversal of social expectations; asking a man to be less of a man. I don’t think WHO is attacking male sexuality on purpose, but their PR, well, blows. I don’t think men are necessarily even overly sexual; it’s society’s, women’s and men’s evaluation of men based on their sexuality that’s the problem.

At this point, men haven’t been left with much anything to find self-esteem from, penis-wielding being about the only semi-respectable occupation not taken by women. In such a climate, asking for rampant condom use may be the dildo that breaks the camel’s toe.

Is condom use a good thing? Definitely.

Is widespread adoption going to be easily achieved? Not until we stop treating men like walking vibrators and actually look at the human psychology of why condom use is not appealing. It’s not just about the fuck for us. If it were, we wouldn’t care how hot she was, or if she brought a girlfriend, or how loud she screamed our name. But we do care, because we judge ourselves on how we perform.

We don’t think with our dicks, but we sure as hell measure ourselves against them.


[1] Condom Prevalence – Wikipedia
[2] In South Africa, free condoms are big (but not big enough for some, it seems)
[3] Circumcision in Africa not preventing HIV
[4] Develop the Next Generation of Condom

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