So where did we leave the safer-sex discussion? I know I was letting my own probably-too-mixed feelings about defaulting immediately to latex in a new sexual situation flap freely in the breeze, but what about you? Are you a "partner picker," like me, or a "no glove, no love" lover like most of the women I spoke with for this segment? And why?
Partly, of course, it will depend on whom you're dating. Only go out with friends of friends, all of whom know a lot about sexually transmitted diseases and how they spread, and all of whom are connected by a loose web of social contacts, and you may be in a position to think outside the condom box entirely or make individual, specific choices about what would be safe to do with whom, and when.
Step outside of that cozy scene and into the big wide windblown world and you'd be better off being a little less flexible and a lot more more cautious.
Lee Ann, 38, is a champion dater and has never negotiated, nor has she ever had a problem: "I've always tried to have the condom conversation as soon as possible after deciding I was interested in sleeping with someone," she says.
"Figuring it was better for me (and for them) to know if my insisting on condoms was going to be a deal breaker or not. I tried to make the conversation as light as possible, make jokes or what have you about the awkwardness of the topic. Something like, 'You know when your six year old blurts out a question about babies in the middle of Christmas dinner? I feel like the six-year-old.' Or, 'This couldn't be anymore awkward (gulp of wine) do you have a strong opinion on condoms (gulp of wine)?'
Most men have been relieved that I've brought it up since they are sometimes more nervous about it than we are. Also, by broaching the subject, you've given the guy the clearest signal possible that you are interested in having sex with him. There couldn't be anymore welcome news than that," Lee Ann concludes.
Can't argue with her there. Lee Ann is a perfect example of approach A, of a possible A, B or C:
A - All condoms all the time, at least for intercourse. No discussion really necessary.
B - Inquire, negotiate, and pick and choose what feels safe to do with whom.
C - Don't get into unsafe situations, have sex (safe but barrier-free) only with people you know and have reason to believe both disease-free and trustworthy.
Charlotte is a B. Divorced and exploring online dating at 43, she impressed me by declaring that she just goes ahead and asks via email, first thing: "Well, not every time. If someone's ad already says "d/d free" then it is easy to say 'I'm d/d free as well, and glad that you are.' I find that at first people are pretty upfront. It's almost like putting all the baggage and/or possible issues on the table right away so that if you want to, you can back out before getting too involved."
Okay, so is the email exchange ever so reassuring that she's willing to leave the condoms in the drawer? Very very occasionally, yes:
"With some people the condoms have just been a forgone conclusion without the discussion, and once or twice, the discussion has been had and so then we go ahead and have sex, without the condoms. All of which makes it sound like I'm having much more sex than I am in fact having!"
Cs are rare, and while I was one (I stuck, while single, to dating within a circle of friends where negotiation could be minimal) it's pretty much a matter of "do as I teach, not as I do," although it saddens me to admit it.
This is where we left off recently, as we ruminated upon trust and what, if anything, it costs us to treat all potential partners as potential vectors. An argument can be made that it costs very little — the price of the condom and loss of some spontaneity and a subjective amount of sensation, particularly for him. What you gain is freedom from a certain subset of worry, from the obligation to query, judge, negotiate and fret that he might still be lying or misinformed.
While I may believe that taking the occasional leap of faith (when warranted) can build a special kind of intimacy I personally hated trying to live without, I also think an excellent argument can be made for sticking with A ("no balloon, no party") if you find yourself dating widely or randomly, or are using "dating" as a euphemism for swinging of any sort, at a sex club or from the chandelier. Careful querying and making the occasional judgment call, approach B, is pretty good too.
What do you do, though, if you're, say, my glamorous pal Minna? She likes older men and discovered after her divorce that, to no-one's surprise, they're rather fond of her, too. They are not, however, fond of condoms, having retired those, with relief, back when then they were first married circa 1977 and never looked back.
Not only will the gentlemen not use them, most of them cannot use them, at least if an erection will be called for, so Minna let it go. She went with partner choice and the path of least resistance and became a C. She has no regrets, but she does have herpes. As someone (although I must confess i don't recall who) used to say, "You pays your money and you takes your chances."
Click on the following to go to the directory on Sex and Dating Post-Divorce.