Why I Rarely Practiced Safe Sex — Even Though I Preached It

I bought my very first box of condoms a few weeks before my 30th birthday.

man kissing woman in bed DavideAngelini / Shutterstock

I used a condom the very first time I had sex. I wasn't on the Pill yet, and considering my age, I wanted to play it as safe as possible, so the condom was the obvious choice. D

espite having used it, because I was still new, very new, in my sex life, I proceeded to worry about whether or not I was pregnant for the next month.

When my period showed up, I breathed a sigh of relief and immediately got on the Pill. I didn't use a condom again for a very, very long time, even after my monogamous relationship with my first boyfriend ended. 


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In college, I volunteered at an AIDS crisis center twice a week. It was there that I acted as both secretary and general informer of the importance of condom use, as I'd drop a handful of the multi-colored darlings into a bag for those who had just been tested and were on their way out.

"Remember to always use a condom, especially with casual sex with strangers. The average orgasm lasts between 10 and 15 seconds, but HIV/AIDS lasts forever."

But then I'd go about my personal life where my own condom use was zero to none.

It was easier in college to justify my irresponsibility because whomever I was sleeping with was either a friend of a friend or the least someone I kinda, sort of knew, because I'd seen them around campus. In my mind, these were not one-night stands with strangers per se, but rather one-night stands with that cute guy I'd see every couple weeks outside the library if our timing was just right on a Tuesday afternoon.


It didn't matter what I preached at the crisis center; in my life, sex and condoms just didn't mix.

This behavior continued after college ended, through my early 20s, then, when I moved to New York City at 25, my irresponsible behavior just kept on a-truckin'.

During hook-ups, there would always be the discussion of condom use at some point before actual penetration, but after 30 seconds of convincing each other that neither one of us had anything, we'd go about our business. I was on the Pill, and he just told me he's disease-free, so why not? 

But the thing is, for all my non-condom use, I was very vocal, both at the center where I volunteered and amongst my friends, about just how important condoms are.


I could rattle off statistics, percentages of condom failure, and success rates, and even on more than one occasion had instructed both my male and female friends on how to appropriately put on a condom.

These were all things I had to know for my volunteering position, and I was more than willing to make sure everyone I loved and cared about practiced the safest sex they possibly could. However, I just wasn't following my own advice. I was a hypocrite, but my hypocrisy wasn't exactly rare.

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Similar to me, my friends were very adamant about condom use for the people around them but were far less strict in their own condom use. I remember once having a conversation with my friend Lyndsay about it, and she remarked, "I can't remember the last time I actually used a condom, but I also can't remember the last time I didn't lecture a friend for not using condoms."


There was a definite disconnect in how we lived our lives and how we expected others to live theirs, and Lyndsay and I were just two of many people we knew (and those out there we didn't know, too), who were the same way.

That seems to be the thing: Say one thing, but do something else.

In my late 20s, I got pregnant by a guy I was dating. I was on the Pill, obviously not using condoms, and successfully joined that small minority of women who get preggers on the Pill. Not long after that, two close friends of mine were diagnosed with herpes, one with HIV, and a handful of others contracted gonorrhea and chlamydia, and of course, HPV was rampant among the majority of women I knew (and probably the women you know, too.)

All of this happened within about one year's time, and it was exactly the wake-up call I needed. I had dodged many bullets in a decade of unprotected sex, with only a pregnancy and an abortion to my name, and when I looked at my friends, both the men and women, it was clear that I got off easy.


As a staunchly pro-choice woman, I could terminate my pregnancy with zero regrets, and move on with my life and forget about it. My friends who contracted HIV and herpes could do no such thing, and the two of my female friends who got cervical cancer from HPV could not move on as easily either. In fact, one of them will never be able to have children because of it.

The problem with youth, aside from the fact that you really do things a**-backwards, is that you firmly think you're invincible and all the bad in the world just won't happen to you.

At 19, 21, 24, or whatever age in that bracket you choose, it's hard to conceive that you could possibly fall victim to something that you were warned about at the age of 13 in health class textbooks; it's nearly impossible to think that one night of lust could result in a lifetime of misery (not being able to have kids), a condition that you’ll always have to discuss (the first date is great for that herpes chat), or that your life could even be cut short.

There have definitely been amazing, absolutely phenomenal strides made in finding a cure for AIDS, but we’re not there just yet.


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I bought my very first box of condoms a few weeks before my 30th birthday. 

I do not regret my irresponsible behavior when it came to my sex life in my 20s. I don't regret anything, it's just not how my brain works, but if I were to do it all over again, I'd be far less careless.


I am beyond lucky that I didn't contract a single STD in all those years, and while I was able to rejoice in that fact as my 20s came to a close, I finally got it through my thick skull that perhaps my luck had run out and it was time to start making condom use a priority during sex. From then on, I was rarely without a condom or two in my bag.

These days, I'm in a monogamous relationship (married!) where our birth control of choice is the Pill, so once again my condom use is non-extinct. But the difference now is that there's commitment, trust, and honesty involved. This is what I call a grown-up, condom-free sex life, and it's a good place to be.

But, as for the rest of you out there, making the rounds, embracing your sexuality, and having sex with whomever you want, I beg of you to do it safely. I can say that now without an ounce of hypocrisy, because although I was stupid for so long, I came to my senses, and know, for a fact, that if I find myself single again, condoms will be a mandatory part of every single romp I'll have.

You may think you're protected by some invisible force because you've yet to contract anything, but you're no Luke Skywalker, and eventually, the dark side is going to catch you and you'll end up with an STI that could have been avoided. Love your body, you guys; you only get one and it's supposed to last a long time.


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Amanda Chatel is a writer who divides her time between NYC and Paris. She's a regular contributor to Bustle and Glamour, with bylines at Harper's Bazaar, The Atlantic, Forbes, Livingly, Mic, The Bolde, Huffington Post, and others.