How I Learned to Love Condoms

Photo: Paul Edmondson/Corbis

I’ve had “get an IUD” on my to-do list for a year now, the way I think many women have. I think of it similarly to rolling over a 401(k) from my last job: Both tasks seem like the responsible thing to do, but not urgent enough for me to summon the wherewithal required. Is it enough money to bother making the phone call? Do I have sex enough, or money enough, to even make that kind of uterine investment? In the meantime, I have forgotten what bank has my old money, and my birth-control method of choice is the condom. The money I should figure out, but the condoms — the condoms, I’ve come to embrace.

At your first postpartum visit to the doctor, there are a few orders of business: How are your boobs? How is your baby? How is your vagina? The professionals have extracted another human from inside of you and then left you to your own devices for approximately six weeks, which, after all the monitoring of pregnancy and childbirth, seems wild and neglectful. But now you are back, crinkling on paper, softer in the middle, graduated to some new level of gynecology. There was something funny in the air at that first appointment: It feels a little like a postmortem on life itself, like instead of checking my C-section scar, we should be doing therapy, reckoning with expectations, existentialism, no sleep. You need so much but really all this person can give you is a prescription for birth control.

“Not pregnant again, are we?” said the doctor, which was an absurdity. I made an obligatory joke about the Immaculate Conception, a joke I’d make again and again in the coming months, one that got less funny with time. “So speaking of —” she said, oddly coy for someone who, six weeks prior, had her hands in my abdominal cavity, “What do you want to do?” She means what should we do to ensure another baby doesn’t take up residence inside me anytime soon. In this, we were allied and I was glad for such consensus. I told her I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. “I should probably get an IUD, right?” I knew I was supposed to decide beforehand, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t commit to one more thing. I wished I had thought about it before I’d had the baby, while I still had my wits about me, wished I’d made an advanced directive for my reproductive system. If under mental and emotional duress, install copper IUD.

Before I had a baby I was on the pill for a while and then walked around with the NuvaRing inside me for a while. Both, I suspected, made me weepy and moody — but then wasn’t that also my resting state? I hated not knowing what was the hormones and what was me. I know this is dumb; I know I make my own hormones and that they betray me, too; I know I can’t draw a boundary. Thinking about it too much — this permeability of the brain, the self — makes me anxious.

I should have gotten an IUD after giving birth, and I knew it at the time, and a year later I still know it, and still haven’t done it. Now that it’s been a year, it doesn’t feel so urgent. Now it might not be worth the money? If we decide to have another kid in two or three years … then some hilarious math sets in. At our rate, how much are we paying per fuck? Is it worth the peace of mind? The initial cramping, the discomfort, the paranoid fantasy of the little robot hand bursting out of my uterus in search of its freedom?

I think everyone should have IUDs — or, everyone but me. Teen girls should have them issued by the government on the occasion of their first period. An IUD and an HPV vaccine for everyone! Except somehow not in a fascist way! I guess it’s complicated, and more complicated still when I think of it for myself. When it’s my turn for the old uterine robot hand, I’m all excuses.

Intellectually, I know it’s right, but on a bodily level, I resist. The thought of another encroachment, anything cervix-related, makes me cross my legs without thinking. And then the very rare risks loom large despite statistics. My brain replays some imagined animation like they’d make you watch in biology class, a Mirena-size satellite orbiting my internal organs, bouncing gently off each kidney to classical music, a serene invader, popping my used-up uterus like a balloon.

My doctor told me that the Pill would fuck with breast-feeding, that I could instead take a thing called the mini-Pill, made of progesterone only (or some synthetic version thereof), no estrogen. Estrogen levels stay really low while you’re breast-feeding, which is a big reason why there’s the whole cliché of postpartum sex drought, and why investing my body and my wallet in birth control — when sex was, 99 percent of the time, the last thing I wanted to do — felt ridiculous. Breast-feeding hormones being what they are, “nature’s birth control” except not totally reliable, you can take just the mini-Pill and be covered. SUPPOSEDLY. She wrote me a prescription just in case, and I told her I’d call and make an appointment for an IUD insertion after I had some time to think it over.

I still have that prescription for the mini-Pill. I carried it with me across state lines, put it in my carry-on bag when we moved across the country, as if it were as valuable as my birth certificate. In my heart, though, I was never going to risk a year of birth-control crazies for, like, twice-monthly rushed bouts of unprotected sex while the baby napped. If I had to choose, I would choose abstinence. I’d choose it like I chose it during my brief stint as an evangelical teen, except this time I had no sex drive and direct knowledge of the consequences of unprotected sex.

Although as much as I would have loved, this past year, to not simply refrain from sex on a personal level but declare sex no longer a thing that happens in the world anymore, I didn’t. I couldn’t. Sex is usually great once you do it, duh, or at least like, 80 percent of the time. So, while I continued to put off all birth-control decisions, sex found me, and sex brought condoms (and, dear God, lube).

A box of 24 condoms — at this rate, a year’s supply! — from my local Walgreens is $15.29. There are no hormones, no robots inside of you, no doctor’s appointments necessary. It’s low commitment. It’s in the meantime. They are my partner’s problem, both to buy and to scurry over and retrieve at the last second while I roll my eyes. I hate the interruption in the moment but in terms of pros and cons it works for me right now.

When I told a mom friend of mine that was what we were doing for birth control, she said, “Oh God, that reminds me of college and not in a good way.” I LOLed but also didn’t give a damn. I love the idea of men, especially new dads, resisting them, hating them even more than women do, but eventually being so desperate for sex they have to, and oh they will, give in. If I were a copywriter on a big condom account, my proposed tagline would be something like, “Condoms: They’re never as bad as you think they’ll be.” Condoms: You’re still doing sex, and you should be grateful. Condoms: You can still feel everything, pretty much, it’s fine.

I mean, put a bad sweater on a really beautiful person and sure, they aren’t as beautiful but they still feel pretty good slamming into you?

Or, Condoms: Like putting on sunglasses before you look into the sun — it’s still the sun. It’s still powerful. There’s still light.

It’s no spiritual healing, but it is something. I’ll take it.

How I Learned to Love Condoms