How your condom use changes over time

New research reveals college students grow less and less likely to wrap it up with each passing year

By Thor Benson

Published August 25, 2015 9:30PM (EDT)

  (<a href=''>CatLane</a> via <a href=''>Shutterstock</a>)
(CatLane via Shutterstock)

This article originally appeared on ATTN:.

Attn: Jokes about condoms seem to have been around since condoms became widely used. We've all seen countless movie scenes (e.g. "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" or "Seinfeld") where a man struggles to get the condom out of the package quickly or put it on or stay aroused while doing either. While many people love to joke about their distaste for using condoms, most know that they are often essential for preventing unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), however according to new research, many people are choosing not to use them.


A study released at the end of last year by Jonathan Bearak, a Ph.D. student at New York University, found that college students are less likely to use condoms with each progressing year that they remain in college, as ATTN: previously reported. Essentially, condom use is highest freshman year and lowest by a student's senior year.

The study examined students from 20 different schools across the U.S. and revealed that students were two and a half times more likely to engage in unprotected sex in their senior year versus their freshman year.

One of the most interesting factors at play is that condom use was found to be lower among students from privileged backgrounds, as opposed to students from less wealthy families. Apparently, according to the study, the students from less privileged backgrounds begin to be influenced by privileged students while attending college and use condoms less overall by the time they graduate. The researchers found the most significant drop in use happens between a student's freshman and sophomore year—right after a student becomes familiar with the college environment.

"It's ironic because students are actually learning bad behaviors, and they're learning it from the group of students who policymakers would generally say they want the least advantaged students to emulate," Jonathan Bearak, the student who conducted the study, told NPR in April.


A study from 2012 found that only 60 percent of teenagers who were sexually active were using condoms. That may sound low, and many want it to be higher, but it's actually an increase in condom use for people that age compared to past years. In 1991, only 46 percent of teenagers in high school who were sexually active reported using condoms. Those involved in such studies tend to refer to the idea that condoms reduce pleasure when explaining why they aren't using them.


One would think the people who have been having sex the longest would know to use protection, but that's not always so. Research has found that older people are actually the least responsible when it comes to using contraception. In 2010, a study released by Indiana University, Bloomington, found that people over 40 are the least likely to use condoms. Around 90 percent of men over 50 reported not using condoms in casual sex scenarios and the majority of women over 50 reported not using condoms. Though pregnancy is less likely at those ages, STDs are actually more common. Much of this has been blamed on the fact people of those ages did not receive the same sexual health education that younger people are receiving today.


The main factor here seems to be that people think they will enjoy sex more when they don't use a condom, and they believe they can avoid unwanted pregnancies and STDs without the condom. While nearly all health professionals would have issues with this concept, that hasn't changed the fact having unprotected sex is very common. As the young people of today grow up and become an older group that has received more sex education, the differences between how many young people use condoms and how many older ones do might shrink, but it's clear people of all ages who have experience with sex have some issues with the traditional condom. Education can only shrink the gap in condom use if people can enjoy sex the safer way.

Business and social leaders like Bill Gates are hoping to fix this problem. Gates has promised a $100,000 grant for the person who can developed the condom that reduces pleasure the least—that way people are more likely to wear them. Such an innovation could save lives and prevent unintended pregnancies.

Thor Benson

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