Patricia Yarberry Allen, M.D. is a Gynecologist, Director of the New York Menopause Center, Clinical Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Weill Cornell Medical College, and Assistant Attending Obstetrician and Gynecologist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. She is a board certified fellow of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Dr. Allen is also a member of the Faculty Advisory Board and the Women’s Health Director of The Weill Cornell Community Clinic (WCCC). Dr. Allen was the recipient of the 2014 American Medical Women’s Association Presidential Award.

If you happened to browse the WVFC “In the News” roundup last week, you might have seen a link to the New York Times story on the sex habits of the over-50 set, “Grown-Up, but Still Irresponsible.” The findings from a recent National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior—that boomers of both sexes are careless about condom use and rarely get tested for sexually transmitted diseases—were not news to gynecologists like me, who know that it’s next to impossible to convince women past the childbearing years just how important it is to use—and keep using—condoms in new relationships, or relationships that are not monogamous.

The excuses that I have been given for no-condom use are almost unimaginable.

One patient: “We met on and had such great email and phone communication. No wonder on our first date I felt like I had known him forever. We went back to my apartment and had great sex all night.” After finding out that no condoms were involved,  I asked, “How can this be? Why not?!” “Oh”, she replied, “he went to Yale, so I wasn’t worried.”

This from a woman of 55, the director of a division of a big ad agency.

You can’t make up stories like that.

Then there are the women who do ask a new partner about past sexually transmitted diseases and insist that both of them get tested. But somewhere along the way they get convinced that testing is not necessary, since the guy “gives blood to the Red Cross, like every two months.” Honey, if all the men in New York City who claim to regularly give blood actually donated, the streets would be flooded with plasma.

And how many intelligent women fall for the line, “My doctor has tested me for everything. I have no diseases”?

Excuse me, did you ask to see the test results?

No test evidence, no sex.  It should be that simple.

I wasn’t born yesterday.  I know women do not carry condoms and don’t insist on condom use in a new or non-monogamous sexual relationship because they’re afraid the guy will be unhappy. They buy into his desire for the pleasure of sexual experiences “without a raincoat,” his aversion to  “taking a bath wearing socks.” The woman who doesn’t insist on condoms is there to please the guy in hopes of a new partner. She then receives the gifts of HPV, HIV, hepatitis, syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia and herpes, often without knowing she’s been infected until she’s tested by someone like me. Who will read her the riot act, believe me.

A recent New York Daily News report cited a UK study showing that the number of 40- and 50-somethings diagnosed with a sexually transmitted disease last year was double the number in 2000.

Studies, even ones as dramatic as that, don’t knock common sense into people. But friends can.

We women must talk to each other about condom use. Buy condoms and carry them. Give condoms to our best friends who are dating, and help them with the scripts they need to perfect before they agree to an intimate encounter. “I never have sex without a condom until I know that I am not going to be infected with a disease.”  ‘Never’ means “It’s not you, it’s always this way.”  This tells the guy that you are likely to be a safer partner than women who just acquiesce to any determined condom-evader.

Let’s learn to say, or teach friends we care about to say: “If we decide to have a monogamous relationship, we can go to a doctor together to be tested. When we have the results in hand, then we can decide about condoms.”

Magical thinking about unprotected sex is risky business. Keeping you safe is my mission.  Sexually transmitted diseases are not romantic. Don’t let anyone convince you or someone you love that sex without condoms is.

Repeat after me: “No glove, no love.” Now say it like you mean it.

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  • Shelby Westgaard March 4, 2016 at 6:24 pm

    agree we still need the condoms to avoid STDs

  • Catherine November 28, 2010 at 10:58 pm

    I recently became intimately involved with an old boy friend from 20 years ago. As soon as I was certain that we were destined for an intimate relationship, I brought up getting tested for STDs and the birth control discussion. It was actually easier than I expected. Clearly communicating your expectations and boundaries ensures a worry free sexual experience. Thanks for bringing this topic out in the open!

  • Glenda de Vries October 18, 2010 at 5:56 pm

    I’m glad you’ve pointed this out, because I believe many women don’t understand this. Many women ask me on my blog if they can get pregnant after menopause, and I forgot to mention (until now) that while they can’t get pregnant, they could get a sexually-transmitted disease. It seems obvious, but it is worth mentioning for sure. Thanks.