What gay men can teach straights about safe sex

Women are skipping the condoms when it comes to, well, the backdoor

Published April 22, 2010 9:59PM (EDT)

It seems women have a safe sex blind spot when it comes to anal sex, according to a new report by the New York City Health Department. Far fewer women consistently use condoms during anal sex than men who sleep with men; 23 percent and 61 percent, respectively.

This isn't too surprising. For good reason, PSA's about using protection during anal sex have largely been targeted toward gay men; and sex education classes often focus on the threat of pregnancy and, secondarily, disease through vaginal intercourse. Anal sex is still a taboo, giggle-inducing topic, even as the consequences of unprotected sex have never been so thoroughly on public display -- in pop culture, and our personal lives. Add to that the fact that research has shown adults have a tough time nailing down what exactly constitutes s-e-x. Meanwhile, anal sex is reportedly becoming more and more popular among heterosexuals, especially youngsters.

It's easy to understand how some women might rationalize condomless anal sex, much like virginity pledges who, conveniently enough, don't count oral or anal sex as sex. If it doesn't "count" as sex sex, and there is no risk of pregnancy, why use protection? But, boy, does it ever count: As the report's press release explains, "past studies suggest that anal exposure to HIV poses 30 times more risk than vaginal exposure." Sadly, the new study finds that women who have anal sex without condoms are less likely to get regular STD tests than women who consistently use protection. 

It's unfortunate that the study doesn't address the men who have unprotected anal sex with women. Let's not forget that the 23 percent of New York City women who have unprotected anal sex aren't doing it alone; they have a partner. It's already hard enough for sex educators to effectively reach out to heterosexual men on this issue, since the risks of anal sex have been commonly stigmatized as a "gay thing." We can't afford to exclude them from this conversation.

By Tracy Clark-Flory

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