When Was the Last Time You Used a Condom?

It's a personal question, I know, but one I'm trying to be sure to ask my midlife and older patients who are newly single and sexually active.

Among women our age, sexually transmitted infections (STIs, sometimes called STDs for sexually transmitted diseases) are up and condom use is down. There's a direct correlation.

Those of us who have spent the last 30 to 40 years in long-term monogamous relationships may not have even seen a condom in that time, let alone bought and used one. When contraception was the goal and a steady partner was the norm, we tended to choose less intrusive methods of protection--like the pill or IUDs.

Now, though, if you're single and entertaining the possibility of a new sexual relationship, it's time to get acquainted or reacquainted with the most effective means of preventing transmission of STIs like gonorrhea, HPV, herpes, chlamydia, and HIV: the venerable condom. Because it's an actual physical barrier, and because it's the easiest barrier to use, it's the most effective option we've seen.

Of course you can buy condoms at your local drugstore or grocery store, but if you don't want your kid's best friend waiting on you, you may want to consider an online source. And if you've never bought or used latex protection before, don't worry. We've sought out the right combination of function, fun, and discreet packaging so you can purchase from the comfort (and privacy) of your laptop, and our website offers basic instructions for using condoms.

(A parenthetical note: We know there are female condoms, which work just fine as a barrier for protection. But when we actually tested them as part of our product selection, we found them too clunky for us to be comfortable. We wouldn't recommend them to our friends. But we'll keep an eye on the options and let you know when something better comes along--or let us know if you've found a brand or a method that makes them your preference.)

A few more tips to help build your condom confidence:

-- Keep a ready supply on hand--in a zippered pocket of your purse, in a drawer of your nightstand, or in nifty bedside storage like this tissue box we found with a private drawer. Scrambling around for that little packet in the heat of passion can cool things down in a hurry.

-- Talk with your partner about condom use as soon as it seems clear that sexual intimacy is a definite possibility for the two of you. Agreeing that protection is essential--and deciding who's in charge of making sure it's there when the time is right--will ease anxiety and embarrassment for both of you.

-- Incorporate condoms into your sex play and lovemaking. Application can be quite exciting in itself!

Finally, remember that not even your friendly condom offers 100-percent protection. In addition to insisting on a latex condom, NAMS (North American Menopause Society) guidelines for safer sex include choosing partners wisely and discussing sexual histories, getting an annual exam that includes testing for STIs, and making sure that your Hepatitis B vaccine is up to date.


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