How to Do It

I Really, Really Hate Condoms—So I’ve Had a Lot of Unprotected Sex

I want to change, but I don’t know what to do.

GIF: Woman holds a condom with a neon-lighted "X" over it.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images Plus.

How to Do It is Slate’s sex advice column. Send your questions for Stoya and Rich to howtodoit@slate.com. Don’t worry, we won’t use names.

Dear How to Do It,

I’m a single woman in my 40s coming up on a year of Tinder. I had a lot of great experiences—it was a lot of sex and a lot of good sex. But it was basically all unprotected sex. I take oral contraceptives. I found almost all of my partners didn’t want to use condoms and I didn’t either, so we didn’t. It was a lot of partners. At the end of the year, I met someone who freaked out when I suggested not using them, and it got me thinking. I went to my gynecologist and got myself tested, and everything is OK. I shut down the account because I’m just done. I figured I’d be single and lonely—but safe.

Now I’ve met someone offline and I really like him. We had sex. We used condoms. Here’s the thing: I just hate them. Maybe once or twice in a night I can tolerate them and have a modest orgasm. But this is a guy who can go all night, and I love that. But I can’t with protection because it hurts me after a while, maybe 30 minutes. I used a sensitivity gel and ultra-thin ultra-sensitive condoms, but it’s all no good. It’s just terrible. In the morning, I could not have sex because it hurt too much. What to do? I want to be responsible but I really, really hate condoms.

—Unwrapped

Dear Unwrapped,

You don’t actually explain why you hate condoms, so I’m making some assumptions about what you dislike about them. Plenty of receptive partners (the person whose sensitive parts are being penetrated) have reactions to the latex in standard condoms. Have you tried non-latex options? Multiple companies make versions of their condoms without latex and with polyurethane or polyisoprene. You can probably find at least one type just hanging on the rack in your local drugstore. Make sure they’re FDA-approved, and try more than one type. (Skip the lambskin—it doesn’t  protect against sexually transmittable infections.)

The sensitivity gel is a bit confusing. Why not try lubricant instead? Make sure the material of the condom and the ingredients of the lubricant are OK to use together. (Never use oil-based lubricant with latex.)

Mostly though, you’re a 40-something woman who wants what she wants, and I think it’s best to deal with the reality of that. Each STI has something called a window period, which refers to the amount of time between contracting a disease or infection and that disease or infection showing up on a test. Fortunately, the window periods are a mere handful of weeks. There’s a way to have safer sex without condoms—note that the r in safer sex is incredibly important; there is no such thing as totally safe, only safer—but it involves trust and waiting out that window period. Call your gyno, or his primary care doctor, and schedule a time after the window period is passed to get tested together. Until then, try the different condoms or stick to clothes-on frottage or digital stimulation. And make sure you trust this guy to be honest about other risks he’s taking with his dick.

Dear How to Do It,

I’m a 50-year-old straight guy in the process of ending a 10-year marriage. I spent most of my adult life afraid of sex, retreating into porn and fantasy while telling myself that no one would want me because I was ugly, fat, and watched too much porn. I ended up in a marriage with a wife who told me she “didn’t do gymnastics” in bed (i.e., only wanted vanilla sex, while I was also interested in BDSM, gender play, and a few other things). The most difficult thing was that when I told her about my porn issues, she became incensed, and our relationship never really recovered from that.

Our sex life was bad. Really bad. She felt that my mind wandered during the act (which was true a lot of the time; I’m certainly not blameless here). She picked apart everything I was doing, triggering all of my “I’m not good enough” issues. It was a vicious cycle. But now that I find myself at 50, things are different. I’m at a weight I’m happy with, and I’m starting to gain some muscle tone for the first time in my life. I want to try to experience the casual dating and sex that most people had in their 20s and 30s. But how do I do that? I can be charming when I want to be, but the moment I am really attracted to a woman that seems to go out the window. I know there are apps for hooking up, but I don’t really understand the protocol there. I have some kinks that have been in my mind for a long time that I’d like to try out, but how does one find like-minded partners? I feel like I’m getting a second chance as I move into this new chapter of my life, but I have no idea what to do next.

—Getting Out There

Dear Getting Out There,

Start with a munch, and aim to make friends. Munches are meetups between people who are interested in kink or BDSM that usually happen during the daytime and are focused on education and connection-building over hookups and public play. You’ll get to meet people and be in a space where you’re expected to need time to acclimate.

You don’t say what exactly happens when you become attracted to a woman, so I can’t help you troubleshoot there. If you start getting entitled or putting off a creepy vibe, that’s something you’ll want to work on reducing. If you get tongue-tied, practicing talking with women who you find attractive should help. Most people are nervous at first. As for the apps, there are places specifically for kinksters, and brands like Tinder and OkCupid cast a wider net. You make a profile, express interest in others, and wait for others to express interest in you. From there, you talk and feel out the possibility of meeting up.

No matter what, you won’t actually get to experience the casual dating many of us had in our 20s. Resign yourself to that now. Whatever debauched nonstop no-strings-attached fest you’re imagining probably isn’t even the reality for younger adults—see any of the numerous articles online about how millennials are barely banging. What you do get to experience is the casual dating Gen Xers are doing in their 40s and 50s as many of you get divorced and go back into the dating pool. You’re in good company. You stand a solid chance of meeting peers who are interested in exploring the aspects of sexuality that you’re curious about. When you find the right lady, look her in the eye and speak to her like a human. Brace yourself for rejection, get out there, and keep looking until you find a workable match.

Dear How to Do It,

I really need your help. When I masturbate, I have orgasms of varying intensity. Some are way more intense, but I can always feel it. When I have sex, I feel myself approaching an orgasm, but then I don’t feel anything. I feel the come-down from a great orgasm but literally nothing during the actual orgasm, unlike when I masturbate. I’m a bisexual cis woman, and this happens no matter the partner. Obviously, I don’t have this feeling during bad sex, but even when I have amazing sex this happens, and it’s a little weird to me. Is this normal?

—Missing Something

Dear Missing Something,

That’s not normal. I’ve never heard of this phenomenon before. I’ve heard of ejaculation without orgasm in people with penises, which might be similar, but I have to recommend you see a doctor, and consider a sex therapist if you can find one who seems qualified on the physical end of things.

In the interim, you can gather more data. Does this happen if you masturbate in the same room with a partner? Does it happen if there’s physical contact? What about if you’re masturbating while on the phone with a sex partner? Experimenting further will put you in a better position to figure this out when you’re in the room with a doctor. Mostly, I’m sorry this is happening to you and hope you find a way to solve the issue. Please do get back in touch if you find out what’s going on, and my heart is with you.

Dear How to Do It,

I am a 23-year-old woman with social anxiety. I have never been to a therapist, but I recently bought a social anxiety workbook to help me. I have become a little more adept in regular social situations, but I have no idea what to do about sex and intimacy. I have never kissed anyone. I have been asked out by a few people, but I never wanted to date them. Just the thought of being physical filled me with dread. I went on only one date with a guy in college. He invited me to watch a movie after at his apartment. I agreed, not realizing what that implied. Once we got there, he started touching me and I froze and found an excuse to run out of the apartment. I have no idea what to do about this. I have never been abused, so I have no reason to panic about sex. I think knowing someone is sexually interested in me terrifies me. I have no idea what to do.

—Scared Straight

Dear Scared Straight,

Self-diagnosis isn’t particularly useful, but that’s out of the scope of this column. What I can tell you is the guy in college mildly assaulted you. You did not agree to sexual contact by accepting his invitation to watch a movie, and he should have verbally checked in with you before he escalated to touching. Not only is it totally fine that you found an excuse and ran, it’s an understandable response.

You don’t need a reason to be panicked about sex. You also don’t have to ever engage in it. And that’s the thing you don’t say—whether you want to have sex at all or not. Sure, sexuality is a significant part of adult life, but so is complex food, and not all of us are gourmands. Unlike food, sex isn’t required to stay alive—you don’t have to have it. Or if you only want part, like kissing, you don’t have to do the rest. If you do want to accept a date, set your boundaries upfront. You might start with, “Sometimes people make assumptions about sexual availability, and I need clear communication every step of the way.” The next time someone asks you to watch a movie, you can directly ask, “Is this about the movie or is this a gentle way to slide into sexual contact?” and follow up with what the edges of your comfort zone are.

Sexual interest can be terrifying. I like sex, am quite practiced at it, and still experience fear at times in response to intense sexual desire from a stranger—or from a friend who has never hinted at sexual interest previously. Questions like “What are they going to do if I reject them?” dangle, and possible outcomes like frightening reactions loom. There’s no good answer here, only solidarity and the belief that fear of sexually rejected men is like fear of getting run over while crossing the street—part of our self-preservation system functioning and something we have to confront daily.

—Stoya