So it's no wonder that at 16, 17, 18, when
they have begin having sex, young men might resist using them, increasing their
risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease, or passing one to a partner,
not to mention conceiving a baby. And they likely carry those anti-condom
attitudes with them as they age.
But new research by Herbenick and others
suggests that, in real life, fears of an erotic pleasure deficit are misplaced.
Using data gathered in 2009 for the
National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior -- a large, representative
sampling of the United States conducted by a team of researchers that included
Herbenick -- she and her colleagues teased out information from 1,645 men and
women ages 18 to 59 whose most recent sexual event included intercourse.
Of those, nearly 28 percent of men and
about 22 percent of women said they'd used condoms. That's higher than 2008
statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which showed
about 10 percent of women used condoms as opposed to other birth-control methods
or no contraception at all.
But the fascinating finding was that the
reports of sexual arousal, ease of erection, overall pleasure and orgasm weren't
much different in those folks than in people who went bareback.
In other words, people liked sex just fine
with or without condoms.
The study, published in the latest issue
of the Journal of Sexual Medicine, was, like the larger national survey itself,
funded by Church & Dwight Co. Inc., the company that makes Trojan brand
But Herbenick insisted that "the data is
the data" and that the company did not influence the research in any way. "We
are free to publish anything we want," she said.
The study did find some slight differences
in style, if not substance.
For example, men who didn't use condoms or
lubricant had significantly higher arousal ratings than men who used condoms
without lubricant, Herbenick said.
But the group that used no condom and no
lubricant had about the same arousal level as men who used a condom with a
lubricant and men who used a lubricant without a condom. Got that?
The confusion illustrates a need for
better communication about sexual preferences, in part to make safe sex more
"People aren't really having any
conversations about types of products related to sexual experiences and that's a
shame," she said.
For instance, she said -- and the data
showed -- that most people who use a lubricant apply it to the outside of the
condom. But adding a small amount at the inside tip can enhance the experience
for the man. More enjoyment, she suggested, could mean that men will be happier
to use them, increasing safety.
Herbenick conceded that the population
most likely to use condoms -- the young and the single, for instance -- may also
be most likely to think any sex is good sex, condom or not. However, she said
she didn't think it confounded her findings that sex is just as good with a
condom as without.
"Yes, for many young people, they're just
excited to have it, but it feels good for most people most of the time," she
said. "We see that in measurement studies of good sex feeling that are
controlled for age. Sex feels pretty good, or we wouldn't keep on having
Brian Alexander (www.BrianRAlexander.com) is co-author, with Larry Young Ph.D., of "The Chemistry
Between Us: Love, Sex and the Science of Attraction," (www.TheChemistryBetweenUs.com), now on sale.
By Brian Alexander, NBC News Contributor