Contraception power play


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.).”

The result?

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.  


  • People are "more influenced by relationship dynamics than public health messages." I've never been driven by a public health message, though I am always driven by an interest in the wellbeing of both myself and the person I'm with.

    Kind of sad that the “principle of least interest” rules and people aren't more interested in the wellbeing of others. Imagine a world where the principle for greatest interest rules... now there's a society I'd like to help create and be part of.

    Date and time
    November 01, 2012, 8:56AM
    • This rings true to me, but AFAIK there is almost no such thing as a guy who admits to having an STI before doing the deed. Many won't even when test results are being waved in their face.

      Never talk about it. Don't admit anything. Pretend it doesn't exist. Do what suits you best. This is completely standard policy in Australia.

      Date and time
      November 01, 2012, 9:26AM
      • Your cynicism saddens me - there are plenty of honest guys out there, perhaps you haven't been lucky enough to find one.

        Date and time
        November 01, 2012, 9:58AM
      • I caught an STI the first time I had sex, and I clearly asked the guy if he had any diseases in advance and he lied to me.
        Yes, there were powerful relationship dynamics involved here.
        I wouldn't do it again.

        unhappy female
        Date and time
        November 01, 2012, 10:35AM
      • +1 B3!! Observation suggests that most blokes wouldn't talk about STDs even if their 'old fella' dropped off midway through a meeting. Luckily, they also tend to be very unobservant, and I've found that it's possible to complete the act before they even realise that there is a small piece of latex protecting their sorry asses from a lifetime paying child support.

        Date and time
        November 01, 2012, 12:40PM
      • This was true of a guy I was dating, he let slip one day that he had herpes. I went right off my nut and asked him why he hadn't told me. His response: "Because you never get a root if you tell" Charming. I dumped him on the spot. Fortunately he never infected me and I never saw anything dodgy on his willy. Lesson learned though and if a guy won't use one now I'm out of there! I am gobsmacked at the amount of guys out there who don't care about their health or that of their partners. So depressing.

        Date and time
        November 01, 2012, 3:40PM
      • Women are also culprits too. A good mate of mine caught the clap from his fiance, just before she dumped him for another guy, who probably lied to her.

        Date and time
        November 01, 2012, 6:36PM
    • No surprises here, if you're eager enough for something, you'll be far more likely to bend further to get it.

      This study seems to be about couples, but the good news is, that in casual sexual partners you'll probably find that the female partner is more likely to have control over it, because the male partners is more eager and more willing to bend to their conditions.

      Date and time
      November 01, 2012, 9:27AM
      • Unfortunately casual sex encounters are also more likely to involve alcohol or drugs (no, not always), in which case both partners are more likely to act on impulse. The safest sex will always be getting to know your sexual partner and negotiating such things IMO.

        It's human nature that the person with most invested in the relationship will always be the one to 'give more' under pressure or just in general issues. It's depressing that people will so often be swayed purely because it's the path of least resistance, but hopefully drawing attention to it and discussing it openly will begin to make a difference.

        Date and time
        November 01, 2012, 10:23AM
      • At the end of the day, we have to deal with the fact that someone people won't always agree with our point of view in all walks of life, (including sex partners) but must remember that whether they are heavily invested in the relationship or not, we always have the right to say no if we can't find a mutual ground on things like protection.

        Date and time
        November 01, 2012, 2:13PM

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