When a Woman Doesn't Want to Use an External or Internal Condom

External (male) condoms and internal (female) condoms are two of the best ways to make sex safer. Unfortunately, not everyone likes to use these forms of contraception.

Many people assume that, in a heterosexual encounter, it is always the male partner who is reluctant to use condoms. But, that's not necessarily the case. The avoidance of condoms among women in the United States is almost as high as among men.

Assorted external condoms

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This article takes a closer look at why women avoid condoms, mistakes that couples make when using condoms, and ways to overcome these concerns.

Reasons for Not Using Condoms

There are many reasons why some women avoid condoms. Surveys show that the causes can vary based on age, race, and a woman's relationship status. Other factors include the stigmatization of condom use and misperceptions about a condom's effectiveness.

Certain attitudes and beliefs affect a woman's decision to use condoms. In surveys, women who don't use condoms consistently often report that:

  • Condoms are unnecessary. Some women underestimate their risk of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and assume that certain STDs, like HIV, are associated with other groups (such as gay and bisexual men). They may also believe that "pulling out" before ejaculation is enough to prevent STDs or pregnancy.
  • Condoms are uncomfortable. Some women don't like condoms because they make sex uncomfortable or even painful. Condom misuse is one of the more common reasons for this.
  • Condoms ruin sex. To some women, the act of putting on a condom ruins the spontaneity of sex. This is especially true if one or both partners don't know how to use condoms.
  • Condoms reduce sensitivity. Compared to skin-on-skin contact, some women complain that condoms (especially female condoms) reduce sensitivity. Male condoms can also taste bad if used for oral sex.
  • Condoms say bad things about you. Some women believe that asking a partner to use a condom is akin to "judging" them for previous sexual behaviors. On the flip side, some women fear that using condoms brands them as being unfaithful, "diseased," or "promiscuous."

Recap

Some women say that they avoid condoms because they don't believe they are at risk of STDs. Others claim that condoms are uncomfortable, ruin sexual spontaneity, reduce sensitivity, or suggest a person is promiscuous.

If Condoms Cause Pain

Three common reasons why women have bad experiences with condoms are inadequate lubrication, latex allergies, and sensitivity to the spermicide nonoxynol-9. All of these things can lead to vaginal irritation and, in turn, an increased risk of urinary tract infections, yeast infections, and bacterial vaginosis.

Worse yet, vaginal infections increase a woman's risk of HIV by disrupting the vaginal lining and providing the virus easier access to the immune cells it targets and infects.

If condoms cause pain or discomfort, there are several things you can do:

  • Use lots of lubricant. Using plenty of lubricant with an external or internal condom (even if it is pre-lubricated) can reduce friction and pain. Just be sure to avoid oil-based lubricants when using a latex condom as they can degrade latex and cause a condom to break.
  • Switch to non-latex condoms. If you have a latex allergy, there are condoms made of polyurethane or polyisoprene that are just as effective. They are also safe to use with oil-based lubricants. Of the two, polyisoprene condoms have more of the "feel" of a traditional latex condom.
  • Avoid nonoxynol-9. Nonoxynol-9 is a spermicide used in certain lubricants and pre-lubricated condoms. The spermicide can cause vaginal irritation and inflammation in some women. Check the product label and opt for brands that don't contain nonoxynol-9.

It also helps to practice putting on condoms. This not only helps you avoid mistakes that cause condoms to fail but also reduces the clumsiness that can interfere with sexual spontaneity.

Recap

To avoid the vaginal irritation some women experience with condoms, use plenty of lubrication even if a condom is lubricated. If you have a latex allergy, try polyurethane or polyisoprene condoms instead. Also, avoid products containing nonoxynol-9, which can be irritating.

Summary

Women in the United States avoid condoms almost as much as men and for many of the same reasons. Some report that condoms are uncomfortable, ruin the spontaneity of sex, reduce sensitivity, or imply that you or your partner are unfaithful. Some women also perceive themselves to be at lower risk of STDs than they actually are and regard condoms as unnecessary.

Condoms can cause vaginal discomfort and irritation if used incorrectly or if you are sensitive to latex or certain lubricants. To reduce the risk, avoid products containing nonoxynol-9, which can be irritating. Use plenty of lubrication to reduce friction. And, if you have a latex allergy, choose polyurethane or polyisoprene condoms instead.

A Word From Verywell

Sex with condoms should not be any less enjoyable than sex without. Start by changing any negative attitudes you may have about condoms, and speak with your partner about ways to overcome any discomfort you may be experiencing.

By being open and honest, you are more likely to explore new ways to make condoms a positive part of your sexual life.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can you have safer sex without condoms?

    Technically, safer sex involves barrier protection and a reduction in the number of sex partners. In the end, condoms can greatly reduce—but not eliminate—the transmission of STDs from oral, vaginal, or anal sex.

  • How safe is sex with condoms?

    Studies suggest that condoms can reduce the risk of the following STDs if used consistently:

  • Why do women avoid condoms?

    According to a study from Columbia University, women avoid condoms more out of concern about how their partners might react than issues of discomfort or forgetfulness. Among the cited concerns:

    • Condoms suggest that you don't trust your partner.
    • Condoms suggest that you're unfaithful.
    • Condoms might "turn your partner off" or end the relationship.
  • Can you avoid getting HIV without condoms?

    If you are HIV-negative and take once-daily pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), you can reduce your risk of getting HIV by up to 99% if taken every day as prescribed. This doesn't mean you should abandon condoms as PrEP does not prevent other STDs.

  • Can I stop using condoms if my HIV is undetectable?

    If you have HIV and have an undetectable viral load while on antiretroviral therapy, your risk of transmitting the virus to others is zero. Even so, this doesn't mean that condoms are no longer needed as you can still get other STDs, especially if you have multiple partners.

14 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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