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Protection for Women?
Sep 17, 1996

I work for an AIDS/HIV Organization in Europe and I'm worried about the increasing number of HIV infected heterossexual women in my country. Most of them are not IDU, which means that they are just having unprotected sex. Mine is a very "macho" country so most men refuse to use condoms saying that HIV is a minoriy problem (Gays and IDU) and that making love with a condom is like swimming with boots on...I know these are ridicolous arguments, but that's what you hear people saying! Most women that we talk to will use condom but are afraid that if they ask the man to do so, he will leave them. So this is really an attitude problem. The government has pretty extensive condom-usage and needle exchange programs, but people's attitude is really difficult to change...My QUESTION is: Is there any way that women can protect themselves without being depend on condom use by their male partners? Thanks for your time, and keep up the good work! This one is an excellent website!

Response from Mr. Sowadsky

Hi. Thank you for your post. I wish I had an easy answer for you, but issues like this don't have simple answers. When we're talking about protection against HIV and other Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD's), male latex condoms are still the best protection. However, I fully understand your statements about men refusing to use condoms. You see the same thing here in the United States, especially in some of the cultural groups living here in the USA. There's no one answer to getting men to use condoms. Sometimes condom use will directly conflict with cultural or religious practices and beliefs, which is especially hard to change.

Presently, if a man absolutely refuses to use a condom, there are only a few alternatives available for the woman. If it's culturally acceptable, the woman can simply refuse to have sex with the man. But that approach is not always an option in some cultures.

Here in the United States, there is now a "Female Condom". This product, sold under the brand name "Reality", is a condom that is inserted in the vagina prior to intercourse. The woman wears it rather than the man. It is less effective than the male latex condom, but it does offer more protection than nothing at all. For the Female Condom, the yearly failure rate for pregnancy is about 21%, much higher than the male condom. But that's much more protection than if nothing were used at all. The female condom is not for everyone, and it takes some practice to use it. But it is an option if the man refuses to use a male condom. The female condom is only approved to be used for vaginal intercourse. It has not been approved for anal intercourse. I'm not sure what countries the female condom is sold in, or whether it's available in your country. But it's certainly something to check out.

There are also some vaginal creams and gels that are under development that might prevent infection with STD's during unprotected vaginal intercourse. But these are still experimental, and won't become available for several years to come.

As far as giving a man oral sex, the male condom is still the only product available that would offer protection against STD's. However, if the man refuses to use a condom, there's still some ways for the partner to reduce their risks for STD's, including HIV.

If the man doesn't want to use condoms at all for oral sex, at the very least, we can ask people not to let the guy cum in their mouth. The less you allow pre-cum and semen to get into the mouth, the less the chance of infection with diseases like HIV and Hepatitis B.

When giving a man oral sex without protection, I also tell people to "LOOK BEFORE YOU LICK". If they see any type of lesions, growths or discharge on the guys penis, that's natures way of telling a person to hold off (not to give them oral sex). These symptoms can be due to numerous STD's, and physical contact with them can lead to infection. A guy can have a disease and have no symptoms at all, but if a person sees something that doesn't belong there, they shouldn't touch it!

Of course having oral sex without protection will still have some element of risk, but looking before you lick, and not letting the guy cum in your mouth will significantly reduce your risk.

I hope I have given you some ideas as to empowering women to protect themselves. There are no simple answers or solutions. If you have further questions, please e-mail me at "nvhotline@aol.com" or call me at 1-800-842-AIDS.



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