How willing are you to compromise when you are dating someone? Going to a restaurant you don’t like or seeing a movie is one thing, but sexual infections seem like one of those things that just shouldn't be negotiable.
Yet so many of us know the feeling of waking up with a sinking feeling after having unprotected sex the night before.
You might think it was chance, a mistake, drunkenness that lead you to have sex without a condom despite your best intentions, but what if it was something more than that?
A study just released out of the United States has found the power dynamics within a couple have a bigger impact on whether they will use condoms or not than what they say their intentions are.
It turns out that if one person is less committed to a relationship than another, or generally a more dominant personality type, their feelings about condom use predict whether or not ‘if it’s not on, it’s not on,’ actually holds true.
The researchers took 113 heterosexual couples, and asked them questions to test their personality, their commitment to the person they were sleeping with, and their attitudes to condoms.
Then four months later they interviewed them again, to see how their intentions about condom use matched up with what they actually did.
What they found was that even if as a couple they said they intended to use condoms, if one partner was particularly dominant over another, their feelings about condom use were much more influential when it came down to, ahem, business.
The researchers also asked the couples a lot of questions about how committed they were to the other person. Asking them to rate answers to questions like “I am committed to maintaining my relationship with my partner” and “My alternatives are attractive to me (dating another, spending time with friends or on my own, etc.).”
They found that, basically, whatever the person who was least committed to the relationship wants, goes. That is, when the couple decided together whether or not condoms were a priority, their decision was overwhelmingly influenced by what the partner with the least to lose wanted.
It seems a little messed up to me. So often it’s the person who is least committed, least generous, in a relationship who holds all the cards, and now it seems that’s the case even when it comes to something that can effect your whole life, like sexual health.
In fact, it is the “principle of least interest” that best predicts which partner will get their way when a couple have to reconcile their different opinions, the researchers wrote.
They also found a few other worrying trends, including that whether or not the male partner was committed to condom use had more of an effect that whether the women, or the couple together, rated it as important.
The take-home message is this: despite the rise in both sexually transmitted infections and drug-resistant bugs globally, when it comes to condom use we seem more influenced by relationship dynamics than public health messages.
So next time you feel like there’s some pressure on you to not use a condom, have a think about exactly what power dynamics are at play in your relationship, and whether you are compromising just because the other person is playing hard to get.