Q: Let's be honest -- condoms are important, especially for casual sex, but sex in a relationship is more fun when the woman is on birth control. When a trusted new lover tells you she is, you're like, "Jackpot!" Obviously it feels better for both parties, but more than that, it allows for a lot more versatility -- not having to take condoms on and off to change from one spontaneous pornographic act to another.
My next girlfriend might turn out to not be on the Pill, of course. What are the issues for women in deciding whether to go on it, and is it an OK thing to ask for? I would hate being the guy who expects the woman to do it. I've heard it can have hormonal effects. Failing that, are there ways to make sex just as good with condoms?
A: Hormonal birth control like the Pill, NuvaRing, Mirena and Depo-Provera do all come with a long list of health caveats. Most women don't experience the more serious side effects, such as blood clots, strokes and heart attacks. However, those taking hormonal birth control often experience mood swings, vaginal irritation or infection (particularly with the NuvaRing), lack of sexual desire and difficulty producing natural lubrication or reaching orgasm. According to a number of studies, the risk of breast cancer increases in women who use hormonal contraceptives, returning to a normal level after 10 years of non-use. These are serious factors, all of which outweigh the desire for convenience. You can be the guy who gives his informed opinion if his girl is shopping for birth control, but you shouldn't be the guy showing up on the third date with a six-month supply of Seasonale.
As far as making condom use more exciting, I'm sorry to report that there hasn't been much development in that field. I can offer some good news, though: Condom use includes zero of the above side effects. Some improvements in the past few years have made condom use more comfortable, namely the use of polyisoprene -- an organic compound found in natural rubber, but produced synthetically for condoms. The result is a thinner sheath with the same durability as latex, but without the risk of an allergic reaction. Durex's Avanti Bare condoms are a top polyisoprene seller, and you can find them at Target, Walgreens, Wal-Mart and probably anywhere one shops to fulfill one's prophylactic needs. Right next to the condoms you'll also find disposable cock rings and small vibrators, so why not grab one of those, too? Hooray for sex toys at the supermarket!
When it comes down to gettin' down, penetration doesn't have to be the main event. Oral sex, masturbation, BDSM and using toys are all Alexis-approved ways of getting off or at least getting close. When it's time to put on the condom, try to incorporate it into whatever you're doing, instead of pausing everything to unwrap and unroll. Having your partner put the condom on you with her mouth sounds cliché, but it works for two reasons: You're still getting a hummer, and she has control over putting it on correctly. For advanced players, a cuffed and blindfolded partner with a condom in her mouth can be a fun outlet for dominance play.
Condoms have been used for centuries for good reason -- they're inexpensive, dependable, generally idiot-proof and they keep getting better all the time. Durex is lab-testing a condom with a gel inside that dilates the blood vessels of the penis to keep a stiffer erection. No word on when that might be available in stores, but for now the options aren't too bad.
Alexis McKinnis is taking your questions about sex, dating and relationships. Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org or submit anonymously at www.vita.mn/alexis. Don't leave out the juicy details!