Unwrapping male condom use and consent

According to a new study, as many as 80 percent of men have tried to get out of using condoms

After studying alcohol-related sexual assaults for over 25 years, an ASU associate professor is shedding light on factors that impact consent and condom use.

This comes from a study published in August that found factors such as alcohol consumption, a history of sexual aggression, and varying communication tactics contribute to issues of consent and what the study authors call "condom-use-resistance."

According to the study, around 47 percent of men aged between 18 and 24 and around 53 percent of men aged between 25 and 29 reported using condoms during their most recent vaginal intercourse with a casual sex partner. Moreover, 80 percent of men have used at least one tactic to avoid using a condom since adolescence, the study says.

"I really wanted to look at the intersection between sexual health and violence," said Kelly Davis, an associate professor in the College of Nursing and Health Innovation who was the principal author on the study. "Situations that started as consensual might turn non-consensual during sex."

The importance and definition of consent has become part a national conversation about about the pervasiveness of sexual misconduct in America politics, business, culture and society, including on college campuses. 

Consent doesn't only apply to the physical act, it also applies to sexual safety measures, including condom usage. Essentially, it needs to be given at every step along the way, experts say.

According to ASU's student code of conduct, the University's definition of consent in the context of sexual activity is: "informed and freely given words or actions that indicate a willingness to participate in mutually agreed upon sexual activity."

In addition, "consent may not be inferred from: silence, passivity or lack of resistance, a current or previous dating or sexual relationship ... or previous consent to sexual activity," the code of conduct states.

Davis said that a "perfect storm" of factors can lead to situations where people avoid condom use without consent, including intoxication and past behaviors of sexual aggression.

And some resistance against the use of condoms stems from the fact that some people believe that sex is more pleasurable without them. 

Davis and other sexual health experts have advocated for heightened communication — not to mention sobriety — between partners in order to enforce condom usage. 

"(Students should) talk about these things when they're sober and not in the heat of the moment," Davis said. "Having these conversations before it reaches this point might reduce the risk of these behaviors."

More than 30 percent of men have used "coercion or aggression to avoid using a condom since the age of 14," the study states. 

The study also discusses that "stealthing," the nonconsensual removal of protection, is dangerous, because then women don't know to get tested for sexually transmitted infections following sex.

The use of condoms can prevent pregnancy and the spread of STIs, which are on the rise in the U.S. 

But this doesn't mean everyone uses protection. At the University, ASU Health Services offers testing, treatments and counseling for students with STIs.

"Testing can be scheduled with a healthcare provider to answer questions to determine which tests to perform," Tammy Ostroski, ASU health clinics manager, said. "Testing and screening can be performed on a walk-in basis."

STI testing is confidential to the person being tested, and ASU Health Services now offer $20 screenings for students who want testing without insurance billing and for students who don't have insurance, Ostroski said.

There are also multiple on and off-campus groups that offer support for students who feel violated or are victims of sexual assault or violence.

"We're not an organization that does ASU programming," said Jasmine Lester, ASU alumna and founder of Sun Devils Against Sexual Assault. "We're more of an organization that advocates for student rights."

Because the clarity of consent and communication varies case by case, the group aims to offer support for victims no matter the severity of the violation.

"If you're removing a condom secretly during sex, that's a violation under ASU policy," Lester said. "Something like this is a violation of the person that they're engaging with, and it's a violation of policy." 

And Lester said that steps like improving communication may not be enough to solve this problem on their own — she feels broader education is needed. 

"We need to educate students about the policy and the consequences of violating the policy," she said. "It comes down to respect, you want to encourage people to respect the people they're having sex with."


Reach the reporter at adunn11@asu.edu or follow @adrienne_dunn on Twitter.

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