What you need to know about going for it without condoms
STIs are on the rise, but so is sex without condoms. Here’s what you need to know.
Recent reports show gonorrhea and chlamydia indications have risen by up to 95% in 2023 compared to 2022. Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are more common this year compared to pre-pandemic levels, with inconsistent condom use implicated in the rise. The HSPC found young people were among the most affected cohorts by this rise, as well as men who have sex with men.
Research from University College Dublin (UCD) in 2017 found nearly half of university students report inconsistent condom use. Most recently, in 2022, UCD researchers found over half of participating young people had never been tested for STIs and 44% reported inconsistent condom use. Evidently, there is a trend of young people choosing not to use condoms.
But with the risk of STIs and unplanned pregnancy evident, why are people choosing condomless sex?
Let’s explore this along with ways to reduce STI risk, how to discuss condom use, and what to do if you’re worried about your sexual health.
Why people choose condomless sex
People choose to have sex without condoms for all sorts of reasons, and it’s not simply because they are lazy or ignorant. Consenting adults engaging in condomless sex are not choosing ‘risky’ sex.
People may choose condomless sex because they have controlled their STI risk in other ways, or have controlled for pregnancy with other contraception. They may be in a monogamous relationship and/or planning for pregnancy. They may simply want to experience the sensation of condomless sex, orgasm and/or ejaculation, or maybe they are participating in chemsex and have forgotten to use condoms consistently. They may even have underestimated their risk of STIs, or may be strugging to find their condom size.
However, you must respect your partner(s) choice to use condoms if they would prefer and not pressure anyone into condomless sex if they do not want it.
Reducing your STI risk
Without doubt, condoms are the single-most effective method of controlling for STIs. They are up to 98% effective at preventing STIs if used correctly.
If access is an issue, you can order free external condoms and lube online in Ireland. You can also avail of a size guide for condoms if you are having trouble with your size.
Just as there are many different forms of contraception available for preventing pregnancy, there are a variety of ways to control for STI risk outside of condom use. These include:
Using alternative barrier contraception (eg dental dams)
Regularly testing for STIs, especially between partners and with awareness of how long it takes for an STI to show on a test
Reducing our sexual partners
Participating in mutual masturbation
Reducing risk of HIV by taking PrEP
Having a long-term monogamous partner
None of the above are foolproof at preventing all STIs. Taking PrEP is effective for preventing HIV, but not for protecting against gonorrhea or chlamydia if we have condomless sex.
Similarly, having a long-term monogamous partner may not be fully effective. If our partner has never been tested for an STI, or they engage in activity outside of the relationship, we may be at risk.
Reducing STI risk is about considering what level of risk we are happy with. If your goal is all-out protection, condoms and regular testing is the way to go.
Talking to a partner about condoms
Whether you want to have condomless sex or condom sex, you will need to speak to those you are having sex with. This can be nerve-racking, especially if you want to use condoms but are afraid that bringing it up will ‘kill the mood’. Remember, however, that condoms can be part of sexual pleasure and can be built into the overall experience.
You can also approach the conversation about condoms in settings you feel most confident. This could be via text prior to meeting up, or long before any sexual activity has started.
Lay out why you do or do not want to use condoms and do not feel pressure to go condomless just to please your partner.
What to do if you’re concerned about your sexual health
If you’ve had condomless sex or you’re otherwise concerned about your sexual health, the best thing to do is seek STI testing.
Everyone in Ireland can order an at-home STI test for free. You can also avail of free in-person STI tests if you’d like to speak to someone in person, especially if you are experiencing symptoms and have questions. As mentioned before, keep in mind the time it takes for an STI to show up on a test.
If you’re not sure if you have symptoms, check out this guide on what common symptoms are for STIs.
If you are comfortable to do so, speak to your GP. Alternatively, you can also access outreach support services online, such as the Sexual Health Centre, Sexual Health West, and MPOWER (for men who have sex with men).