by Dan Savage
on Mon, Aug 3, 2009 at 10:47 AM
Unsafe sex is good for... your mental health, according to—what else?—a study.
Having sex without a condom is good for your mental health, according to controversial research conducted by a leading Scottish psychologist. Professor Stuart Brody concludes that unprotected heterosexual sex can significantly boost men and women's mental wellbeing....
Mr Brody based his conclusions on a study of the sexual behaviour of 99 women and 111 men in Portugal. They filled in questionnaires about the pleasure they derived from their sex lives and contraception use. Using a measure of psychological health developed in Canada, Mr Brody concluded that condom use was associated with members of the sample who exhibited problems dealing with stress.
Those that had unprotected sex appeared to be able to deal with stress in a more mature way by taking effective action. They also had better mental health.
I'm not buying it. Small sample, self-reported data, the Portuguese, etc. And there's this: the straight people likeliest to be having unprotected intercourse—those having sex without condoms—are those in stable, monogamous relationships; couples who are actively trying to get pregnant; couples who no longer have to work to avoid pregnancy (post-fertile straights); or singles who are using other forms of birth control or have reasonably concluded that they at low risk of contracting an STI from their partner/partners.
And I don't see how the presence of married or stably partnered straight couples in this study could fail to skew the results. LTRs require more maturity to enter into and are less stressful generally. Married or partnered people typically have sex with people whose health, HIV-statuses, general trustworthiness, etc., are known to them. LTRs not only involve less stress and anxiety—at least where sex is concerned—but a person typically has to be in reasonable shape, mentally and emotionally, to forge a successful partner bond in the first place. Toss in the long-term mental health benefits that LTRs have been shown to bring and it's clear that this study didn't document the mental-health benefits of unprotected sex, but the mental-health benefits of the sorts of relationships—stable LTRs—that allow for safe "unprotected" sex.
So the conclusion of the study's author—"sex without a condom is good for you"—seems way off. I'd say being with someone with whom you can safely have sex without using condoms is good for you.