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Bloomington Herald-Times

January 22, 2013

Guess what? IU study finds condoms don't ruin sex
By Mike Leonard
January 20, 2013, last update: 1/19 @ 11:37 pm

"New study reveals sex to be pleasurable with or without use of a condom or lubricant," the headline on the news release reads.

Now, what's your reaction?

Roll your eyes and complain that this is just another example of time and money wasted proving the obvious?

Hide the children's eyes and quickly spirit the newspaper off to the bottom of the bird cage?

Pick up the phone, call the newspaper editor and complain this isn't the stuff you want to see before breakfast on Sunday morning?

Indiana University public health experts and authors Debby Herbenick and Michael Reece know that those reactions will be out there. And they don't much care, because they're not proving the obvious but, rather, adding ammunition to the public health arguments about condom use that they've been making for years and with only partial success.

"I've long been sort of an outspoken critic of the way even public health has looked at sex, and I'm about as public health as you can get," said Reece. "Every degree I have is in public health. But why this study is important is that we've been fighting these battles involving condom use and pregnancy and HIV and sexually transmitted infections and still, we're experiencing high levels of SDI's even in our local community.

"We've focused so much on the negative aspects of sex and that hasn't given us a solution," the IU public health researcher said. "We have to stop denying that there are positive aspects of sexuality, and pleasure is one of them. If we don't allow for research into the pleasurable aspects, we might be missing the exact variable to solving problems with sexually transmitted disease and HIV."

Herbenick said there hasn't been much data available on condom use and sexual pleasure until the 2009 National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior. And that has allowed the common wisdom to persist that sex with a condom isn't as good as sex without.

A thorough study of the latest national survey shows that men and women of all ages said sex was equally pleasurable with or without using a condom, and that could make a big difference when partners decide to throw caution to the wind and don't use a condom when common sense indicates that they should.

Similarly, Herbenick said, the rap on lubricants has been that they are for older people and, particularly, older women, and younger people think of them as something their mothers or grandmothers needed.

Anyone who sees enough commercial television these days knows that marketers are doing their part to present new lubricant products as enhancing the sexual experience and using younger couples to illustrate their point. Ever catch the commercial where the woman's hair is blown back like she just took a rocket ride?

"In reality, one-third of women report some difficulty with lubrication at their last sexual experience," Herbenick said. "By using a lubricant or lubricated condom, you reduce the risk of tearing, and that reduces the risk of infection transmission. It also adds to comfort and pleasure."

In a country where an estimated 19 million new sexually transmitted infections occur every year, there clearly is work to be done in educating the populace that safer sex is not only possible but achievable without any diminution of the pleasure of sex.

It's also appropriate that this message, based on data, comes from IU, where Alfred Kinsey bravely pioneered research into sexuality as the subject of legitimate and valuable research, and that the Kinsey Institute and School of Public Health continue to be national and international leaders in this research.