'Sex Without Condoms' Prompts Heated Debate

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For decades, Hollywood has been helping create fantasies about love, relationships and sex. Ironically, as a young woman notes in this L.A. Weekly article, Los Angeles can be one of the hardest places in the world to find any of these. Following a failed relationship and herbal abortion gone awry, Dani Katz writes that her quest for connection proves confusing. The dream of truly casual sex is a myth, she concludes.

Thursday, as part of Day to Day's series "What's the New What," Pendarvis Harshaw, a teen who grew up in Oakland offers his own provocative take on the California relationship dream. "Sex without condoms is the new engagement ring," he suggested in an on-air essay. Among his friends and acquaintances, ditching the condoms for other forms of birth control like the pill, signifies taking monogamy to a new level; partners are required to trust each other completely at the risk of getting an STD. Given that few of his friends in their late teens are thinking much about marriage, this transforms a prophylactic into a relationship sign-post along the lines of an engagement ring.

The piece provoked quite a bit of response.

Some of the comments:

"Jesus, what a pile of useless crap your "what" report is. I listen to NPR for intelligent information not mindless hip-hop MTV sound bites, all puked out with an uneducated speech impediment. The notion that some kid humping without a condom is a grand sign of commitment, love, and responsibility, is laughable. But I'm actually encouraged by the ignorance of the youth described in the "story." It means a bright future for my kids, nephews, and nieces who will have no problem dominating such half-witted masses."

—Kristopher H

"I am absolutely disgusted by your program. As a 23-year-old, recently married college graduate and current master's student I was excited when I heard about a program that was going to talk about some of the trends in my generation .... How sick that your producers would highlight topics such as sex without a condom as being equated to engagement. Not only is that the most ridiculous claim I've ever heard, it's also a complete overgeneralization of the fact ... I will not be donating to NPR at any time in the future and you have lost my listenership and respect for your programming."

—Anne Tatlock

"Pendarvis Harshaw's essay should be on the WTF program."

—Barbara Plichta

Just one listener in Virginia wrote in to tell us he liked the essay:

Thank you for your comments today. It was rich, cool, funky and hip! Keep reporting the WHAT!

—Paul Economy

In defense of the piece, 'Youth Radio' clarified that Harshaw's point was not that couples solidify their bond by ditching all forms of birth control — just condoms.

Is it possible that people beyond Harshaw's circle look at condoms as an indicator of intimacy? Is it possible that if Harshaw had a different accent, people would have reacted differently to his observations?

Or are you also infuriated by this essay? Is Harshaw simply glorifying a dangerous lifestyle? Tell us below.




Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

I found this piece insightful. Sex without a condom is a big deal and does carry significant meaning. For different people, different meaning. For the author of the essay to reveal his interpretation of the significance of this act, as well as those persons in his circle, is educational. Whether or not you agree with his point of view is another matter.

Sent by Andrew Meekins | 1:29 PM | 7-25-2008

The presentation of the segment, not the subject, I think is what might be turning people off. When NPR starts scratching hip-hop, it's like a 60 year old white guy trying to act cool by sagging his pants around his knees and throwing up gang signs-- rather than connect with youth, it only makes them roll their eyes, while at the same time alienating more mature listeners.
In addition, the tone of this particular segment is alarmingly accepting of the dangerous practice. It could have been improved by some interviews with people who have had this perspective on relationships until they themselves contracted a disease or unplanned pregnancy. Would they be remorseful, or would they have a unique perspective on their predicament? That perspective alone would have made listeners think more deeply on the subject.
This could have been better presented on all of those levels.

Sent by Erick Veil | 1:30 PM | 7-25-2008

How revolting can PBR get! Talk about getting down and dirty in the gutter! Is it any wonder you have earned the title of being the most liberal media outlet on the air! God help us all when you resort to such degrading programming! Isn't there more uplifting material PBR could select?

Sent by Velta G Morris | 1:31 PM | 7-25-2008

This is an interesting perspective that probably makes sense entirely using the logic of an adolescent. It likely has the same integrity as the spontaneous Vegas wedding. It overlooks one inherent fact, something that is even absent in the act of purchasing an engagement ring - commitment. Commitment cannot be purchased nor can it be symbolically removed or left in a drawer like a condom or a ring. And, although it is possible for engagement rings to be purchased hastily in a moment of extreme passion - several variables (proximity to a jewelry store, time of day, available funds for purchase, etc) - the decision to not use a condom can be more convenient and therefore, more directed by passion rather than commitment. Furthermore, there's nothing romantic or attractive about burning discharge or infectious vesicles and it certainly isn't (IMO) synonomous with love. Moreover, the lovely array of congenital birth anomalies associated with sexually transmitted infections never brings to mind (at least to a pediatrician) 'Love, Twuu Love...' Sadly, the no condom equals the new engagement ring argument sounds to me like the drunken ravings of a frat boy trying hard to get into the pants of the naive sorority pledge by saying, 'come on, we don't need a condom - i love you baby...'

Sent by Jay Rook, DO MPH | 1:35 PM | 7-25-2008

Oh, so ,true. My generation knows all too well the long walk down to the health clinic as a somewhat romantic feat, filled with a lot of the meaningfulness of a long walk down the aisle. In fact, my partner and I just made that journey last week. We considered it a great date.

Sent by kirsten | 1:35 PM | 7-25-2008

Honestly, I'm slightly surprised by the negative responses of NPR listeners; I've always imagined that we were an equally enlightened, liberal-guilt-ridden bunch. Not only do I recognize the exchange of condom-free sex with engagement in my own and friends' relationships as an unspoken aspect of a lasting commitment, I also recognize the cultural aspect of Harshaw's essay. There is an ethnic and economic aspect to his comment that others seem to be unwilling to recognize. Others' knee-jerk reactions of offense and disgust with the radio station are similar to my own reaction, that they were racist or culturally ignorant, an equally emotional and probably unfair response. But do they really think Harshaw isn't describing the truth about our generation?

Sent by Madelyn Sutton | 1:38 PM | 7-25-2008

I don't see what the big deal is! He makes it clear that he's talking about people who undergo STD screenings and use other forms of contraception in place of condoms. I'm in my early twenties and have plenty of friends who, after years of being in a relationship, have substituted a NuvaRing for an engagement ring. Sex without a condom is something married people do all the time, and marriage doesn't magically protect you from unwanted pregnancy, or a cheating partner who contracts an STD.

I like how Mr. Harshaw stresses the STD screenings. I think going to a clinic together for an STD screening is totally sweet and romantic! These people should be commended for being mindful of their health, as well as their partners'.

Sent by Kay | 1:39 PM | 7-25-2008

Mr. Harvey since HIV is the LEADING cause of death for African Americans ages 15-44 and black women represent 75-80% of all newly reported HIV cases -having sex WITHOUT a condom is nothing less than sexual roulette. Further - since black women are less likely than women other races to sleep with men of other races - the vast majority of these new infections are coming from black men. In light of these facts - to endorse and promote unprotected sex is irresponsible and genocidal. If you truly love yourself (even if you don't love the person you're having sex with) you will use protection. I've counseled married couples in which a partner has "cheated" and had unprotected sex and contracted the HIV virus. In some instances - they have also infected their spouse (both husbands and wives have brought the unwanted "package" home). The whole idea of unprotected sex = 'the new engagement' is a ridiculously genocidal "game" being run on foolish-enough-to-believe-it-and-soon-to-be-infected people. Don't be a part of that population.

Sent by Whole9 | 1:43 PM | 7-25-2008

I found Mr. Harshaw's commentary fresh and insightful and I'm actually quite disappointed in the ignorant/borderline racist comments some have left in response. Quite frankly Harshaw is speaking the truth about the sexuality of his generation and his community, this is what he has observed and lived; he is not condoning or promoting a particular lifestyle. Marriage is not for everyone as divorce rate statistics show, and young people are cognizant of the costs of marriage and its termination. For this upcoming generation that has been bombarded from elementary school onward with safe-sex rhetoric, the participation in STI testing followed by the selection of an alternative form of contraception suggests not only maturity and responsibility, but an affirmation that safe-sex education is paying off. The fact that these young people ARE using condoms, ARE getting tested and ARE making informed decisions should be applauded. Kudos to Harshaw!

Sent by Leyla Aykin | 1:43 PM | 7-25-2008

Listeners who are complaining should just listen past the music and stop judging based on the way the young people were speaking during the segment. These young people are being responsible by getting tested before they stop using condoms, they are preventing pregnancy-- maybe some listeners are angry because of the reference to an engagement ring? I know people in their 30s who consider sex withoug a condom a huge step in a relationship (and yes pre engagment and/or living together forever)

Sent by Dee Gee | 1:44 PM | 7-25-2008

RE: Sex without condoms

What a disgusting story.

How about a radical idea - being a virgin until you get married, and staying with that one person until you die.

Sent by M | 1:45 PM | 7-25-2008

This is the worst bastardization of love, commitment and mutual respect I've ever heard. Hopefully, he and his woeful peer group will see their mistake before it's too late. Unprotected sex isn't the new anything; it is the same old self hating, risky behavior.

Sent by Kara D. Parkman | 1:45 PM | 7-25-2008

I am 24 years old and I can relate to this essay. Myself and my friends all view sex without a condom as "the step" these days. I find it odd that so many people are offended by this essay. It shows how much more intelligent young people are being about sex now, and that we consider our health and our feelings for our partners (trust, love, commitment) before having sex without a condom. Can my parents say that they were as safe at the same age? No. It was the 70's. People need to get over their hang-ups on young people talking about sex, and on the idea that a lot of us have an unfavorable view of marriage.

I would also like to add that I find Kristopher H's comment appauling. I thought it was obvious that Harshaw is an educated and well-spoken individual. Reading that comment made me both sad and ashamed. I hate being reminded that there are such ignorant, narrow-minded people in this country. Obama is the only flicker of hope....

Sent by Lindsey P | 1:46 PM | 7-25-2008

So what, you should never have condomless sex because a partner might be cheating?

Not every partner cheats, you know. And if both parties have had STD tests in the past and the woman is on birth control, I don't see what the issue is.

Sent by Rob Walker | 1:46 PM | 7-25-2008


Sent by Francoise Mayer | 1:47 PM | 7-25-2008

Is this what the kind of thinking we have to look forward to in our next generation? Sex without a condom the new engagement ring? Unfortunately as I drive to work I see the results of many "broken engagements".

Sent by Russell Rotenberry | 1:48 PM | 7-25-2008

I see good and bad in this. Good: There's actually dialouge about the sexual and relationship intentions. That shows maturity and responsibility. Bad: It cannot compare to the premarital phase of a relationship. Engagement periods are not intended to prepare a couple for a more sexual relationship. It involves the preparation for a partnership with someone who a person will share the emotional, religious, financial, educational, professional, and family bonds with. It's more than sex

Sent by Monica | 1:48 PM | 7-25-2008

It is amazing how a horrid disease of the 70's has changed the free love habits of the 60's. We still have to be vigilant of other disease. But hysterical pronouncements of the dangers and consequences of unprotected sex will fall on deaf ear just as it did 40 years ago. This time we need to present reason in the discussion. Great piece, Pen.

Sent by Denise Ransom | 1:51 PM | 7-25-2008

Make one mistake, one strays from being faithful and now TWO of you have AIDS.

Keep latex in the relationship and your health as a priority.

Sent by Joan | 1:53 PM | 7-25-2008

I don't see anything wrong with NPR putting out liberal content. If it was the same old stuff that Fox News and the other "right" media then I as well as millions of others would not listen to the news. Especially on the radio when there is the internet. If I wanted to listen to some right wing conservative talk about how my generation is wrong on so many ways then I would rather not listen to the radio or the news. And if you don't like what they are reporting, then change the station. Most people of my generation respect older generations and praise them for the things they have accomplished.

If my generation chooses to do things differently, then who are they (the conservatives) to judge when things weren't that great when the older generations were around. Bottom line is we all need to accept each other and leave NPR out of it. They're just reporting the stuff.

Sent by Junior Zuniga | 1:56 PM | 7-25-2008

Have you all lost your collective minds?? I am a registered nurse and every day I deal w/ STD patients who had unprotected sex w/ a partner they believe is monogamous.

Sent by Braden Wolf | 2:00 PM | 7-25-2008

Re:Pendarvis Harshaw presentation.
That had to be one of the most horrifying things I have ever heard. So it is "in" now to risk unplanned pregnancy, incurable STD's and the emotional toll you get with unmarried sex. To quote Kat Williams character in the movie First Sunday,"I dunno if I would have shared that".

Sent by Mae Foster | 2:02 PM | 7-25-2008

I would have liked to hear a more well-rounded presentation of the issue. The argument was largely unsubstantiated as the speaker never expressed what "his peers" are doing to AVOID the traps of pregnancy and STDs. Additionally, there is nothing exploring the fact that statistics for young, African Americans is reflecting the detriment of this "new engagement." Sex without a condom is irresponsible, for the uncommitted & fickle minds of youth. There needs to be more advocacy for commitment to education, a future, morals, evoking social change, etc. before most young people even consider committing to another. Know thyself!

Sent by blumoon1305 | 2:07 PM | 7-25-2008

There is a bigger picture being disregarded in this 3 minute sound byte that should be addressed. First of all, Harshaw did not suggest unsafe sexual practices; in fact, he outlined the protective steps taken through health clinics and alternative forms of birth control. Additionally, the absent condom as a symbol of commitment does not undermine the commitment shown by those that wear a ring. What is so unsettling, and a point that seems to have been overlooked, is the dangerous state of teenage physical relationships. Are STDs so rampant among teens that sex without a condom is seen through the eyes of youth as equitable to an act of lifetime commitment? Are teenagers in so much danger, physically and emotionally, that trust is represented through a potentially risky sexual act? The problem lies within the causality of this behavior, not the behavior itself.

Sent by Calahan | 2:11 PM | 7-25-2008

I applaud NPR for continuing to deliver real life stories not just highbrow, yuppy liberal insights. Pendarvis Harshaw is a gem. I'll double my annual contribution!

Sent by beth roberts | 2:14 PM | 7-25-2008

The broadcasting of Pendarvis Harshaw's piece is a testimony to free speech. Please do not be bullied into censorship.I thank you for honoring democracy in spite of its critics, who are, also, exercising their freedom

I will have to listen again, but some points in his piece have a sarcastic tone. Therefore, I did not conclude that he is necessarily condoning this behavior.For example, the engagement happens by default: "Oops! We forgot to use a condom; we will now have to be monogamous."

I totally enjoyed Harshaw's soundbite. It was a driveway moment for me. Thank you NPR and Pendarvis Harshaw.


Sent by Elaine Higden | 2:15 PM | 7-25-2008

What he did and said is not a Bad thing, but its not great either; it's like setting the bar at your knees and hoppin over it and claimin a gold medal.

I think people need to try to strive to better things with each other, with their behavior before and during relationships. Sex is not a toy. It can be used for love, or hate, or anger, or pain, or leverage, or manipulation or revenge or other things. Sex is a candle that burns at both ends an if people would strive for better for themselves, then this entire issue would be a footnote and more people would have less STDs and unwanted pregnancies from people they can't remember.

Sent by Steve in Mich | 2:27 PM | 7-25-2008

Although I absolutely admire those who make the decision to remain celibate until marriage, as well as anyone who may have a more conservative view on sexual activity, I would encourage anybody who reads this to restrain themselves from making assumptions about other peoples' morality without first understanding the cultural origins of their viewpoints. This only breeds misunderstanding and prejudice.
The author made an explicit point of the 'engaged' couple being examined by health professionals, so I think it's fair to assume that STDs are not an issue with this kind of commitment.
I find a wonderful display of trust in such a relationship, something much more deep and personal than a band of gold; yet I agree with Erick Veil's observation that the presentation of the segment might have been handled a little bit more carefully when dealing with such a debatable topic.
Everyone has been exposed to different circumstances regarding relationships, and everyone will therefore have different notions about intimacy, as well as symbols of their intimacy. A relationship like that described by the author may, to some, symbolize something far more sacred than a ring to others (take any cheating spouse, for example). It depends on every person's experience with rings and condoms (or any other symbol), and the associations they have made with those things in regard to commitment.

Sent by Janos | 2:28 PM | 7-25-2008

My problem was not with the subject matter or how it was presented but with the target audience. Yes this is an issue within the teenage community but it IS NOT something appropriate for a youth radio show. This is the kind of topic best left to parents and their children. It clearly deals with an adult subject matter and should not have been aired over public radio in the middle of the day during a show that many impressionable teenagers will listen to. The subject matter is more appropriate for a late night young adult show.

Sent by JP | 2:29 PM | 7-25-2008

NO! NO! NO! I'm a high school guidance counselor and God forbid my students listen to NPR!!! Yea, I get the idea, [that if you're truly monogamous and disease-free you don't need condoms, but I'm 53. What about those 15 year olds who THINK they're gonna be monogamous and would never ever believe their sweetie would cheat on them? GET REAL! And for you who aired this - GET RESPONSIBLE!

Sent by Claudia Gulley | 2:36 PM | 7-25-2008

What I see in this story is a young man and his male friends leaving the responsibility of birth control entirely to young women. Given that the United States has the highest rate of teen pregnancy in the Western world, and given the continued health risks presented by STDs, the assumption that sex without condoms is proof of anything other than a young man's desire for "full sensation" -- and a young woman's jettisoning of common sense in the face of peer pressure or perceived mores of pop and celebrity culture -- is an incredibly naive and potentially dangerous one.

Sent by dc | 2:48 PM | 7-25-2008

There will always be those who label the *reporting on* of something they disagree with as the *glorifying of* that thing. Such lack of perspective is common to people who are all too ready to be offended by something.

While I don't feel that teens are making a wise decision in following this trend, it's both ridiculous and borderline racist to hold up Harshaw as a poster boy and whipping boy for public abuse.

Sent by Kasreyn | 3:12 PM | 7-25-2008

A gram of prevention is worth three kilograms of cure. We are approaching 7 billion people and need more restraint, not less. This has long term consequences. At the moment, this only reflects short-term thinking.

Sent by Scott Kruse | 3:13 PM | 7-25-2008

Just because you don't agree with the report or the practice it discusses, doesn't mean it's not happening and not important. If these were your children, wouldn't you want to know about this situation so you could discuss it with them?

Sent by Rachel Meade | 3:15 PM | 7-25-2008

I'm discouraged that people are reacting so negatively to this story; I thought it was rather insightful. The use/non-use of a condom is unavoidably a strong indicator of the trust and committment in a relationship; when people, regardless of age, are responsible about their birth control choices (condom vs. pill, etc), there is no harm to recognizing the emotional weight to a lifestyle change directly influence by your partner. As a twenty-something white undergraduate, I don't feel that NPR's morality is threatened by publishing this type of piece; in fact, I'm proud that we can have this discussion. I'm only sorry that it has sparked such a negative reaction by listeners.

Sent by Rachel Kohler | 3:25 PM | 7-25-2008

I am glad you aired this story! It reports a reality for this generation, from their perspective. Keep it coming NPR!

Sent by Rachel | 3:31 PM | 7-25-2008

I like the piece that he's the truth... Now a days people can't trust anyone, even though we may all have sex and use condoms, seriously can you honestly say you trust that person to just not use a condom every time, can you honestly say that the person is completely healthy and is not cheating on you....
As youths we are faced with trust issues everyday and for a person to not use a condom with the partner that means there is a big commitment involve, sort like taking the step to propose to your significant other.

Sent by Jodi-Ann | 3:46 PM | 7-25-2008

Sad..... that's life in 2008.... stupidity in overdrive. I can see them thinking like that, there are people in our age category who still think the same way. Why are people outraged or shocked? Yes, its invaluable as a parent to stay on top of the newest stupidity trends and tactics.

Sent by T Johnson | 3:47 PM | 7-25-2008

I think Pendarvis was drawing a respectable contrast between engagement and sex without a condom. When going into an "engagement" with another person, all that protects the commitment , is a piece of titanium shaped like a circle. If condoms aren't used, the partner has more obligation, and therefore trust to keep him or herself free from STD's... Those who oppose to this point of view from are simply narrow/close minded and pompous individuals who have no sense of creativity.

Sent by Grace S | 3:50 PM | 7-25-2008

I, too, am disappointed with those who think that this article is glorifying an unsafe lifestyle - Pen clearly speaks about the importance of choosing an alternative form of birth control and STD screenings. Whether or not you may agree with the practice, it is something that people ARE practicing in this day and age and really, isn't that what this segment is all about?

Sent by JDraine | 3:57 PM | 7-25-2008

Although I do not agree with this alarming trend, I am really baffled at all the outrage and anger at this piece. All this young man did was report on the trends that HE has seen in HIS circle of friends. He was relaying his reality as a teen in this day and age. Being realistic, we no longer live in a society that holds sex and commitment in very high regard. More and more people are casual with sex, and marriage is not seen as an essential commitment. The focus has shifted from saving sex for marriage, to safer sex, and avoiding disease and unwanted pregnancies. The essay is only reflecting the changes that are occurring in our society. As always, it is up to us to make our own decisions about how we will handle the changes in society, and whether or not we will choose to resist or go along with the trends. Don't shoot the messenger!

Sent by Nakia Beverly-Brown | 4:01 PM | 7-25-2008

Why are so many, so angry? "Whats the What" is a segment done by teens to give us a look into what they are doing and thinking. This was an informative segment, not an endorsement for unsafe sex. Thank you for this piece. I have a pre-teen and I want to arm myself with all and any information possible to help me educate my daughter best. News Flash folks! Adults have been doing the "no condom equals commitment for years." Only now, we have passed on our stupidity to our children. Instead of being outraged, be informed. Teach your children what true commitment is.

Sent by C. Isles | 4:12 PM | 7-25-2008

I am a white, female, 37 year old graduate student. Already have a stereo type in mind? I read the comments section before I listened to the segment, and based on the reactions, I expected to hear the worst debacle in NPR's history. Instead, I heard Harshaw telling us the story behind what has been happening for a long time already: equating commitment with trust, just with a modern twist. After listening to the piece twice, I'm baffled by the references to an "uneducated speech impediment" (he sounds like the average Joe to me. Where do you live?), ethnic and/or economic differences (even when no mention of Harshaw's class was mentioned), and the piousness of those in "real" relationships. Am I to understand that all responsible (read: educated, married and white) people are using a condom every time they have sex unless to procreate? I highly doubt it. Why would other birth control methods exist? I would suggest to some of NPR's listeners to get out into the world a bit more and realize that young, Black men have agendas other than getting into someone's pants for "full sensation".

Vows of trust and commitment get confirmed as well as broken in all stages of life, as do the marriage vows held in such high regard in our culture. I'm in a committed relationship (I'll leave you to presume whether I'm married or not) and don't use condoms. We do, however, use one of the many birth control methods suggested by Harshaw. Am I at risk? Yes. Am I self hating and irresponsible? No. It was a bridge to cross to decide to use other forms of birth control. Of course condom use is needed in our world, but to jump down Harshaw's throat suggesting he's advocating unsafe sex is absurd. He's one man telling one story reflective of many people's experiences. It is a reality people would rather not acknowledge because it has to do with sex and because some of "us" love to feel superior to "half witted masses" as Kristopher H. disrespectfully referred to another human being.

As unbelievable as it may seem to some, there are many young people who are able to grapple with issues as crucial as condom usage and make the right decision.

Sent by N.C.W.G | 4:36 PM | 7-25-2008

I'm a Youth Radio reporter and a sophomore at UC Berkeley, a school often referred to as 'the Harvard of public universities'. So it's a safe bet to say there are a lot of smart kids there. And I know a pretty significant percentage of them would understand the trend Pendarvis is talking about. It takes a huge amount of maturity to sit down with your partner and discuss getting tested for STDs, especially in an age and a country where frank discussions of sex can still provoke outrage or even giggles. But, and let me stress this: one of the strengths of this story is that it exposes listeners to things about the lives of young people that they wouldn't know or understand otherwise. The story was meant to be thought-provoking and I think it did its job. I think we should applaud Pendarvis for shedding light on this real and pervasive issue.

Sent by Alix Black | 4:37 PM | 7-25-2008

I have been living as an AIDs survivor for 14 years after getting HIV from one night of sex at my 20-year high school reunion. Even with medical insurance, I spend at least $3,000 per year for my medications, doctors, and blood tests, and would cost at least $15,000 without the insurance. The meds give me constant diarrhea, a huge abdomen, and I have not had sex for 11 years as I am scared to pass this awful virus to someone else. Please, please use condoms for at least 6 months with someone you KNOW is monogomous with you, then test for HIV before tossing the condoms. Being HIV+ will change your lifestyle forever, and not for the better.

Sent by Kathy K | 4:48 PM | 7-25-2008

Well Mr Pendarvis . I somewhat enjoyed the new twist having sex without a condom. There was a time you had sex with condom because it just felt better. but according to the new argument its out of love. Even can tested , and clean. There a danger birth controll is an option but not always work . Depending on how strong the soildriers . If you get the female pregnant on would pronounce you "By the power invested in me , YOU AREEEEEEEE THE FATHER" .

Sent by drawoh nosib | 5:13 PM | 7-25-2008

I want to thank NPR for doing a story that appeals to a broader diversity of listeners, and not just the typical "earnest liberals" with a limited cultural, ethnic and socioeconomic point of view. And for those of you who commented so harshly on this piece, I would like to see a little more self-reflection on the stereotypes and prejudices (dare I say covert racism?!) that you demonstrated in your diatribes against NPR doing a show "like this." Despite popular belief, there are other points of view besides the white, middle class, suburban, heterosexual viewpoint that are enlightened and interesting. I applaud NPR for giving air time to some diverse points of view!!

I found the show to be thought provoking, especially as a student of cultural studies. As a person of this generation who has grown up, as Mr. Harshaw explained, under the constant threat of AIDS and other STI's, I can say that making the choice for sex without a condom is a big deal, and not one taken lightly. It's just a very interesting social commentary on how the meaning of sex, and safe sex, changes with each generation.

The only thing that I would add is that the choice to go "condom-free" certainly has additional risks in a generation where relationships are much more fluid and sometimes more short term than relationships in the past...I noticed that people in my generation seem to talk more about cheating does that factor into all of this?

Great commentary, and great show. Thanks NPR! And for all those earnest liberal haters out there... :) get on board, there's a new world on the horizon....

Sent by Kioni | 6:36 PM | 7-25-2008

I think that the inherent risk of STDs and unwanted pregnancies that comes along with sex without a condom is the whole reason for equating this with an engagement ring. That risk forces a responsibility to not only yourself but your partner, and can only be eliminated by exhibiting a strong commitment to being monogomous and taking steps towards maintaining your sexual health (ie birth control and regular STD tests). Both of these things are also very strong commitments that are symbolized in the exchange of engagement rings. So in this sense, sex without a condom can be seen as similar to engagement. This practice doesn't necessarily reflect the financial, spiritual, religious, or emotional commitments that are made when getting engaged, so in this sense, the comparison doesn't hold.

The main point of the story is that having sex without a condom carries a huge responsibility and enormous risk to all parties involved, and when done responsibly, can be a beautiful symbol of commitment...much like an engagement ring. I mean, I can bet that most couples who get engaged are going to drop condom use, if they haven't already.

Sent by Chris | 6:37 PM | 7-25-2008

It appears that the more things change the more they stay the same. It is always the younger generation's responsibility to shock and disgust the older. As I make the transition from the young to the old...I must remember to keep this thought in mind.

Sent by Joshua Waddle | 6:47 PM | 7-25-2008

Thank you to Pendarvis Henshaw for the bravery I am certain it took to stand up to the radio mike and talk about the intimate lives of his peers. As a peer AIDS educator, it is not hard for me, but it took a good twenty-four hours of training and days of practice. With the knowledge in hand, I helped to educate my peers about the threat of HIV and AIDS as well as other sexually transmitted infections that can be contracted as a result of unsafe sexual practices. I am glad to hear that my peers see going to the health clinic a couples event. Everyone should be tested, sexually active or not, monogamous or not.
On the other hand, I think that, even as a rising senior in college, I have to agree to disagree with the overall thesis of Mr. Henshaw's audio essay. For me, condoms are a necessary and protective part of any sexual activity, partly because of the years I have spent telling my peers about how, when used correctly each and every time from start to finish, latex condoms have an extremely high accuracy rate in the fight against the transmission of sexually transmitted infections, not to mention the prevention of an unwanted pregnancy. I believe in safer sex until a couple is ready to try conceiving a wanted child. So I, for one, will be waiting for that nonconflict or manmade diamond in white gold or platinum, until I even consider sex without a condom.
Nevertheless, I extend my thanks to Pendarvis Henshaw for his tasteful reporting of a developing trend.

Sent by Caroline L | 7:06 PM | 7-25-2008

Thank you for giving your audience some insight on how this age group is coping with emotional and physical intimacy issues. I agree with the writer who comments that people who are 'disgusted' by this article are responding to the music and the accent of Harshaw. I wonder if people would have refrained from threatening the station with withholding donations if Harshaw had sounded like a white 'educated' young man instead of a black teen who they assume is uneducated and from the ghetto.

Sent by J. | 7:22 PM | 7-25-2008

HA! My fiancee and I got engaged almost a year ago, and as soon as we both got back clean STD tests, we started having sex without a condom. We still haven't gone engagement ring shopping!

Sent by Gidget | 7:38 PM | 7-25-2008

great story. its all in the eye of the beholder. honestly though, if a middle class white person did the story with some more classy romantic music behind it, nobody would have a problem with it except for the christian right...who we all know are wrong. i agree with what was stated in this story, people just need to take it for what it is. if you agree, cool. if not, great. its just a truthful generalization. as a 21 year old who has been in a 3 year fully committed relationship, i feel where this is coming from. use your heads people. this story does not glorify it, it just says how it already is in real life. throw your preconcieved notions of "a black young person with a slightly gangster accent with hip-hop in the background...oh lordy this is no good!" out the window. please. then think about it.

Sent by Darin | 8:02 PM | 7-25-2008

I am a hip, 40 yr old female. This I know: most of my frds are UNhappily married, and ALOT are cheating. 1 is a cute, SUPER sweet girl. BUT, she has UNprotected sex ALL the time with DIFF guys!! 1 od them is a drug addict and 2 are married, plus there are others. Do you think these married guys go home & have sex with their wives...of course they do, AND without a condom. AND, the druggie goes home & has sex with his 22 yr old girlfriend. I have BEGGED her & told her how gross it is to screw all these guys w/out protection.... but she does it anyway. gross, huh!

Sent by Lisa C | 8:58 PM | 7-25-2008

Sex without a condom is the new engagement ring?

So I suppose that means that of your friends who are having sex without condoms, they believe that they've found their life partners? And of course since the condomless sex isn't something entered into lightly, none of your friends have prematurely become parents I presume...

As a young person, this commentary doesn't speak for me, one who values and honors the sanctity of marriage and commitment, let alone a myriad of young people who engage frivolously into unprotected sex accounting for the alarming rates of HIV/STD's among teen girls in particular.

To refer back to a lyric by the hip-hop artist, Common, "'s too many Black women who can say they mother's but can't say that they wives" The value of building a foundation upon which two people raise children and plant the seeds for further generations of themselves equated with lustful trust and intimacy shows a breakdown in the true value of love and better yet commitment.

Although I totally disagree with what the commentator suggests, I respect his point of view, perhaps the station should make it clear that these are just speculations and not indeed popular trends among young people everywhere.

Sent by Insightful Sista | 9:14 PM | 7-25-2008

I am approximately twenty years older than Pendarvis, Gen X not Hip-Hop. His essay with an INXS-Pixies soundtrack is my biography. My partner--now my wife--and I had that health clinic date 15 years ago. I suspect many of the people with negative responses to his story simply assume that Pendarvis--or someone with his voice--could not really mean monogamy. But let's face it how many marriages with traditional beginnings end in divorces, philandering, unplanned pregnancies, and worse. The rate of success among our friends and family is pretty dismal. Pendarvis's well crafted story has the ring of sincerity to me. I think Youth Radio and NPR for it. Good luck to any couple trying to make it in this soulless wasteland of a world we live in.

Sent by Bryan | 9:17 PM | 7-25-2008

This is just another showing of the moral decay of our society. Marriage is a sanctified and holy institution, which represents life long commitment. Society's degredation and cheapening of the institution of marriage does not then allow us to create a new standard for marriage. Nor can a comparison be made between marriage and advancing from one level of immorality, fornication, to a worse one, fornication with the high probability of bastard offspring and STD's! Without the commitment of marriage, promiscuity is near unavoidable in a relationship that is sexual. I'm twenty years old and from a very liberal city; "Baltimore." The U.S. needs a moral revival.

Sent by Kevin Smith | 9:31 PM | 7-25-2008

The take home message is, sex should not be taken lightly. This story proves the value of sex education. The young adults who choose to have sex should be as educated as this young man is.

Sent by CR | 9:49 PM | 7-25-2008

Excellent commentary. This is what's happening. ok. I hope that ALL the couples are getting tested before going condom free, but they aren't. If my girl were a teenager (she's 8) and listened to this, I would hope to be there with her to discuss reality.
Monogamy doesn't happen all that easily for teens...... if you are a female and have gone
condom free with one "love" then going condom
free with the next "love" gets easier . Without the "hassel" of testing...then, it's with the incredibly hot
guy across the room who wants to make a move on
you and your boyfriend is out with his best friend
and you are pissed. .... you have unprotected sex.
you have warts on your genetals, you ache and have
no idea tested positive for chlymidia
(spelling?). Right now, stripper chic and butt
jiggling are glamorized to a really alarming extent
among the youth. This, in itself, promotes sexuality without thought. So, I do not think that
my daughter needs info that tells her that if she
loves "John" they should go to a clinic and then
have unprotected sex. Not because she won't do it
with John, but because the next time she falls in
"love" it may be looked at as a hassle and not done
at all. Teens---condoms---clear, straight,safemessage.......period. One other thing,
if this is meant to address the youth, then please
offer the other side of the coin......been there, done
that in the 70's and have STD's to deal with and
medicate. Last thought. Why the F would anyone condone a message that promotes monogomy amongst teens. Get a grip. two years ain't monogamy and do we really want our kids to "commit" to each other at such a young age only to create a very difficult future for themselves and their offspring? Love, good. Commitment in terms of engagement........scary. oh, to the guy who said that this proves that his kids will one day rule over these dumb ones. you have no idea what your kids are doing....just say it scares you.

Sent by Lori Palmer | 10:32 PM | 7-25-2008

I was rather astounded by the headline as well, but when I read that they were ditching condoms for more long-term forms of birth control (i.e. the pill or IUDs), and that is what currently is the visible distinction between short-term and long-term relationships makes sense. It would be nice if people used the pill or more long-term birth control from the get-go, but it's an important observation to make, if somewhat ideosincratic.

Sent by C. Kellner | 10:40 PM | 7-25-2008

Ladies! Having trouble getting a man to marry you no matter how much you put out? The man who marries you will be the one YOU MAKE WAIT to sleep with you until your wedding night. And ahhh! what a wedding night you will have! ;-)

Sent by A Barry | 10:54 PM | 7-25-2008

I'm fascinated by all the people that seem to think that having unprotected sex as a committed married couple is any different from having unprotected sex as a committed, unmarried couple. If we are to focus only on sexually transmitted infections and forget, momentarily, about the risk of unwanted pregnancy, any couple that has decided to have a child has had to trust that their partner has been faithful and is healthy. This is trust and commitment. This is commitment to their partner that they will be faithful and stay monogamous. Does the presence or absence of a ring make that commitment any different? Do you ever hear anyone judge a couple for having unsafe sex when they decide to have a child? If that's their decision, usually people celebrate that there's a child on the way and don't even think for a second whether or not one person could have an infection. And what about all the married couples that have sex without a condom but are using birth control? Just because they are married, is it automatically okay for them to have sex without a condom? How are they any different from a couple trying to conceive if both couples have committed to each other and trust each other's commitment?

I am not trying to condone unsafe sex in an uncommitted couple. I think that if you don't know your partner's health status you must use a condom. What I find fascinating is the value some people seem to place on metal object around one's finger, and how it seems to symbolize true commitment and trust.

And on the issue of Mr. Henshaw's report, do not judge him for reporting what he sees among his peers. He's just telling it like it is. On the issue of NPR airing this story, do not judge them for allowing someone to tell it like it is. Whether or not you think the issue is actually a problem, how ignorant to think that talking about it will make it worse.

Sent by Alex | 12:24 AM | 7-26-2008

Of all the negative comments, I was intrigued by one in particular:

How about a radical idea - being a virgin until you get married, and staying with that one person until you die.

What if your spouse dies before you??? This advice works fine for men -- who usually mary someone a few months to a few years younger, and who have a shorter life expectancy, but does it work for women?

Sent by K | 12:26 AM | 7-26-2008

I heard this essay when it aired. I was in my car, but fortunately at a red light, for it caused me to stare openmouthed at my radio. While I personally recognized that the young man was simply reporting some "truths" of his generation and found it interesting, I knew the story was going to cause a firestorm. I was impressed that he stressed the importance of getting tested and commented on how condoms have become an important signifier on many levels. I think, however, the story would have best been served by an in-depth piece rather than the quick, "hip" treatment it got.

Sent by Kristen | 1:31 AM | 7-26-2008

After reading all of these comments before listening to the story I thought I was going to be shocked. Instead, it seems like the only shocking thing is how out of touch many NPR listeners are with the experiences of the younger generations. I heard little advocacy in the report, just a lot of insight into sexual relationships of the younger generations.

Sent by Lee | 1:44 AM | 7-26-2008

As it would seem, despite ideological differences, relationships and sex invite a tempest of issues, troubles, experiences and perspectives that vex and dismay. I suppose inviting the turbulent waters of race relations to join the conversation complicates things quite a bit. One cannot deny however that the youth today deal with a great deal of arguements and controversies which range from their personal health and whom they choose to love, to the general health and well-being of their fellow citizens and, quite possibly, the planet they inhabit. This generation is not short of very real phantoms that threaten them much more than the fear of being convicted imprudent. The expression of trust vital to intimate, loving relationships may arrive in a variety of unestablished forms, and will ascend effortlessly above the piercing shrieks denouncing their apparent vulgarities. The will to trust someone and express an earnest commitment to raising off-spring together, despite alternative measures to prevent such occurances, rather than the herd mentality to marry and breed is truly a remarkable trend indeed. To me, it inspires faith in the youth who choose to have children because they recognize the great joy and, more importantly, responsibility that it truly entails, it also denotes a commitment to another person that doesn't need societal bondage to perpetuate and signals a maturity and self-awareness among men and women that is reassuring to see awaken. Therefore, those who are offended may continue to condemn, however the youth will continue to 'hump' on and express love without expressing the will to mutliply the human race into stupidity and non-existence.

Sent by Stephanie Anne Foshay | 3:28 AM | 7-26-2008

Why the controversy? I am not sure what "generation" this is supposed to be talking about, but I am in my early thirties, and it was (and is) the same way. Meeting someone and dating and having sex was one level. Deciding to trust each other and not use a condom means that you are not going to see other people, not even a slip, and that you trust the other person enough to do the same, which does take a certain amount of honesty and reflection. Most people I know have only ever done this once or twice, as they only did it with people they considered to be serious, long-term partners.
What is so dangerous about monogamy? Seriously, wake up people.

Sent by John | 8:16 AM | 7-26-2008

Engagement is supposed to be a public declaration of the couple's commitment to one another, preparing them before entering into life long relationship. The public nature of engagement and marriage encourages the commitment to be a lasting one. Sex without condoms is something being done behind closed doors that the world does not need to know or hear about. It sounds more like men wanting something that would be more pleasurable for them and using the act as a promise rather than having to actually make one. It is sad that my generation has come to accept such trifling resemblances of true commitment.

Sent by Alicia P | 8:26 AM | 7-26-2008

That was a good look into the youth perspective. They are keeping their health in mind and maybe, just maybe, they are making more of a commitment to monogamy knowing that not only their, but their partner's health is on the line. Keep it fresh NPR.

Sent by Melanie T | 8:49 AM | 7-26-2008

As a parent with teenagers, I applaud Pendarvis' attempt at approaching the realities facing the younger generations of today; however, I would have hoped that he would have also examined the issue from a different angle. The fact is that young people are not using condoms because of the desire to have pleasurable sex, period. Despite the so-called commitment between sex partners who presumably are monogamous, STDs are still at an alarming rate among 13-25 year olds. It seems to me that young people just want to have earth-shattering sex and are fearful of long-lasting commitment. I commend Pendarvis for bringing this issue to light.

Sent by Stanford Obi | 9:48 AM | 7-26-2008

I actually found Pendarvis Harshaw to be pretty dull - more an MTV style public service anouncement than real journalism. Although equating condom free sex with engagement is a bit extreme, getting tested together is a major step in a relationship. Are the listeners suggesting that those who are actually engaged can just skip those kinds of discussions? Surely all healthy couples, engaged or not, have had a sit-down chat about birth control and sexual history.

The real shocker is not that young couples have frank discussions with their partners, but rather that racism is still simmering away under the surface. If one of the commentators on This American Life were to take the same position it would be treated as a witty aside, and nobody would call into question the education of the essayist. Why would the NPR comment board allow someone like Kristopher H to describe the radio essay as "puked out with an uneducated speech impediment." Saying that his children will dominate these "half witted masses" sounds overtly racist to me. NPR doesn't need to give Mr. H a forum for his bigotry. That is why these comments are reviewed by an editor, no?

Sent by Sarah | 10:15 AM | 7-26-2008

This is nonsense. If the female is using
either the birth control pill or any one of the many other methods available to her that prevent becoming pregnant, does that indicate commitment? Using contraceptive measures prior to marriage might very well indicate otherwise,non-commitment.

Sent by Chuck | 11:08 AM | 7-26-2008

Watch the movie "Idiocracy" and then think about the implications of this concept. All of a sudden the premise is not that funny - it's a frightening possibility.

Sent by Bobby K | 11:31 AM | 7-26-2008

To a 28 year old, white, women's college graduate, Pendarvis Harshaw's comment on the significance of condom-less sex seems relevant to my own experiences. Yes, there is a risk posed by ridding the riding cap, but marriage doesn't magically solve the difficulty of commitment. I've read numerous articles about women getting a STD from their husbands; a commitment can be broken whether or not legally bound or approved of by "God." Two adults trading the condoms for commitment happens. In my social circle, it often happens before engagement, but it is the logical step on the way toward marriage. Harshaw's sound bite was reality to many young people. Get over religious dogma and realize that many, many people have sex without a ring, and many people progress to a point when they feel it's time for safe sex without a rubber.
But, yes, I agree that this trick is not for kids.

Sent by Alex (girl) | 12:28 PM | 7-26-2008

Though NPR's use of hip hop and scratching seemed hokey, many people are missing the point of the story. Engagement and marriage are not the only signs of commitment. Getting tested before engaging in condomless sex puts the Harshaw head and shoulders above his peers when it comes to safe sex. My graduate school educated friends are often not so well advised. I applaud Harshaw's frank discussion of commitment and safer sex.

Also, many comments seem aghast at the idea that people would have unprotected sex outside of marriage. One partner could cheat, bringing STD's to the union. Further, condomless sex risks unplanned pregnancy. Is there some cheating-prevention-wedding-vow-potion that I am unaware of? Are condoms the most effective form of birth control? Those who preach no sex until marriage are unrealistic. Those who advocate for infallible condom use are fooling themselves. Our sexually active community needs safer sex options that are realistic, available, and will be used.

Sent by Anonymous | 1:59 PM | 7-26-2008

As a Youth Radio reporter, I predicted this uproar over Pendarvis' story. I would never expect a vast majority of NPR listeners to ever understand what is going on with our generation and why. Frankly all this uproar in
response to a report on the philosophies and practices of youth in America won't do anything to change this trend, let alone stop your sons and daughters from practicing unsafe sex. Pendarvis never endorsed unprotected
sex as the new alternative to marriage or long-term commitment; he simply made the observation and reported on it. In fact he went out of his way to detail the lengths that some young people are willing to go to in order to
protect against unwanted pregnancy and disease.

Our generation has few examples of healthy relationships outside of television, and even those suffer through character replacements & contract expirations. The ring Dad bought Mom so many years ago was pawned and spent on a lawyer, or a down-payment on a new life, so the value this financial symbol of commitment had also came with an expiration date.

The irony is that while listeners from older generations are outraged over this story, it's my generation that has long been outraged by baby boomers who have depreciated the value of conventional marriage and left the world
worse off than it was when they arrived. I view the outrage these listeners are going through as a fit of denial. Denial that it wasn't the heart-felt talks and pamphlets you showed us that we learned from, but it was your

Sent by King Anyi Howell | 2:18 PM | 7-26-2008

I second others' remarks regarding borderline racism... just because you utilize intelligent-sounding vocabulary doesn't make your comments any less unenlightened. And is anyone out there really that shocked that teens are having sex? Let's engage reality; they are.

The elephant in the room seems to me to be the inherent infeasibility of the truly monogamous relationship. Let's engage another reality; partners, whether married or not, teen or not, of any race or income level, male or female or TG, cheat. And when that happens, it is so socially unacceptable that, like every other socially unacceptable behavior, the risk involved increases dramatically. And afterward, it is easier to pretend it didn't happen, run with the probabilities, than get re-screened or return to condom use with your primary sexual partner until you know you are "safe" again.

Humans aren't alone; nearly all animals engage in promiscuous behavior. But humans are alone in that our promiscuity is global, and at times anonymous. This gives our potential extraneous partners an unidentifiable component of risk. How do we address this problem, without ignoring it? A parallel, I think, is Abstinence Only, which ignores the reality of teen sex. As a result, teens in AO programs are the LEAST educated about the risks of sexual behavior, and the responsible steps needed to avoid those risks. Reality; teens have sex. (What's shocking about this NPR story is what these teens DO DO to protect themselves, not what they discard or when). Reality; partners cheat. How should we address it?

Sent by dirk | 3:22 PM | 7-26-2008

I had a hysterectomy just before my husband and I began dating. Therefore, the pregnancy issue no longer mattered, but the STD issue certainly did. I devised a "litmus test" to determine whether our relationship would go anywhere, and whether or not I could trust him. I asked him to get checked for STDs before I would sleep with him. If he had shown the slightest reluctance, I would have kicked him to the curb.

His initial reluctance grew from the fact that he "didn't know" where his closest Planned Parenthood office was. I looked it up online and emailed him the website address. He went the next day to get tested, and brought me the written test results--clean.

The staff at the clinic apparently thought he feared already having an STD, or suspected me of having one, and that's why he came in for the testing. He had a very hard time convincing them otherwise!

Based on all the negative comments I read, before I listened to Mr. Harshaw's program, I fully expected him to be a clueless Neanderthal who "just wanted to get some" without any regard for the consequences. Many listeners pointed out, and I join their ranks, that he made a big deal out of the fact that the "no condom" decision came about only after *both* partners in the discussion thoroughly talked things out.

If the "no condom" thing gets put on the table solely by the guy, the guy attempts to force the issue, and the girl meekly gives in for fear of losing him, then that's not much of a relationship. But when both partners agree, both go to get tested, and both find each other to be STD-free, what's the problem?

I imagine alot of the "problem", as envisioned by my peer group (I'm 36), is the horrified notion of teenagers having sex. I received my first sexual proposition (I turned him down) at the tender age of 15. Much as each generation would like to think that "this couldn't happen to my baby boy/girl", parents aren't helping their kids by keeping their own heads in the sand.

Sent by Jennifer R. Ewing | 9:54 PM | 7-26-2008

In my relationship, sex w/o a condom means the risk of pregnancy, (not an STD or HIV because we tested first) but it's a calculated risk based on trust and love for the other partner. I don't think it's the "new" engagement, but it does signify a trust that is usually only found in committed relationships. Also in my relationship... the consequences of not using the condom are considered and a solution for those consequences is clearly agreed upon.

Sent by Dana | 12:39 PM | 7-27-2008

I can think of nothing less romantic than walking down a health clinic isle with my partner.

Pendarvis Harshaw is an immoral idiot, trying to "intellectualize" replacing the physical act of sex with the spiritual commitment of marriage. This philosophy exemplifies everything that is backwards with Hip Hop culture: no personal responsibility, no commitment, no respect.

The media loves to blame singular people for the issues our country is facing. But the truth is the aggregate dearth of character among such youth is far more damaging.

Sex Without Condoms? Know your audience. Never have I been more nauseated listening to NPR. Never again will I donate until I receive a listener apology and Mr. Harshaw is removed from your organization.

Sent by Russell Myers | 7:39 PM | 7-27-2008

Pens N Pistols keep doing what your doing. Your thoughts on this no condom things is becoming more of a reality especially in the younger community its not necessarily our generation that is making the mistake however we are adding fuel to the fire by what we do as young adults to show our younger brothers and sisters. They only react to how we portray things so if we portray things to be good when they really aren't who are we really hurting @ the end of the day.

Sent by Brandon Williams | 11:48 AM | 7-28-2008

Who benefits most from not wearing a condom? The male in terms of more sensation. And that is the only benefit. The probable consequences out weigh the benefits. Who carries more burden when the male is not responsible enough to wear a condom? The female. She is subject to the physical consequences and side affects of her chosen form of birth control. Further, no birth control method is 100% affective. If this is a burden a female is willing to take, by all means go for it. But consider the consequences.
Almost everyone thinks they are in love when they enter a relationship. Many of us get carried away in our zeal to cement our new relationship. Especially in "love at first sight" scenarios. Young people are more vulnerable to these first experiences of love. And they are the ones who pay. Why else is that new HIV cases are most prevalent in those in their early 20's?
It certainly would be nice if the essayist's naivete were without consequences. But the fact of the matter is that sex without a condom is no guarantee that someone isn't cheating (with someone else without condoms) or that the relationship will last.
One of my first partners was religious about wearing condoms. The entire duration of our relation. He had never had sex without a condom. I'm of the mind that if a man starts having sex with a condom and doesn't stop; he won't feel inclined to coax a partner into unsafe, burdensome sex.
Young people very often loose their heads in the heat of the moment, men and women alike. Having a plan of action before hand, like wearing a condom is a required prerequisite for sex; keeps young people out of trouble. If there is some romantic, gray area idea that condom less sex is some sort of unspoken contract (which is totally naive) that the partner must not break and therefore more "romantic"; there is higher possibility of young people being irresponsible with sex and putting themselves at risk.
I know a woman who whole heartedly gave herself to the relationship with 2 different men. She's had a total of 2 partners... at 23 years old. She now has hepC and hpv. With both men, she thought that she had the security of a long term relationship and they were seemingly "great" guys. Not saying that all men are this way (many woman engage in the same behavior), but it's really better safe than sorry. Women who allow themselves to engage in no condom sex (especially if they are reluctant) aren't helping the cause of safe sex. For every woman (or gay man) that allows their partner to go no condom there is a woman or gay parnter after you that has to deal with a spoiled man who thinks that woman can be coerced or maniplated with words and promises of love into having unprotected sex. Planting the idea that condom less sex equates to a committed relationship in impressionable young minds is careless.

Sent by Jamie | 2:39 PM | 7-28-2008

I am the Co-Founder and International Director of mothers2mothers. Based in Cape Town South Africa, we primarily work with pregnant women and new mothers who are infected with HIV/AIDS. I have to tell you I am disappointed beyond belief in NPR and think this has to be the most irresponsible, criminal thing you have ever aired. We work with about 80,000 young women every month...the vast majority of whom contracted HIV from men they loved and trusted. In the US, the largest growing population of people acquiring HIV/AIDS are young people of color, particularly women...most of whom love and trust their partners. How dare you air a segment that supports and encourages sex without condoms. This isn't a sign of love, it's a sign of stupidity. Unwanted pregnancy or STIs arent the greatest threat of this "trend"'s the lifelong tragedy that is AIDS...and yet you never bothered to mention the word. One example of misplaced "trust", one broken "engagement" and the ramifications last a lifetime. Try putting that to rap music.

Sent by Robin Smalley | 8:46 PM | 7-28-2008

I'm a professional sex educator and the behavior the reporter describes is acutally significantly more responsible than sex between most young people.
At the college where I work a mere 25% of our students use a condom every time they have sex--and only 25% of them say they're in a "relationship." The rest are already on a hormonal method like the pill or the ring, and have sex without condoms routinely because they don't perceive themselves to be at risk for STIs.
This reporter and his peers who use condoms until both partners get tested and then switch to a hormonal method of birth control is actually model safe sex behavior.
Sexual activity comes with risks--and partners who discuss them, reason with them, and take steps to reduce them are role models. I wish more college students did the same.

Sent by Guli Fager | 12:33 PM | 7-29-2008

So the ideal of commitment, fidelity and romance has been reduced to whether or not you wear a rubber during sex? Wow, that's an incredibly easy way to avoid having to deal with any of those annoying things like a steady income or the ability to cope with small hurdles in your life.

Sent by Jeremy | 1:56 PM | 7-29-2008

Nothing like featuring a few urban dialects to being out some listeners' latent racism.

Sent by Dave-O | 2:19 PM | 7-29-2008

I'd agree that sex without a condom is a big step in a responsible, "modern" relationship... but with how many STI's can be asymptomatic, I hope these "sex without a condom" commitments come with trips to the STI clinic to get tested.

I've said this many times before: Love is not a barrier method. Serial monogamy where you use condoms for the first few months, then stop because you're in love ... is stupid. Use condoms, get tested, THEN drop the condoms. Anything else is just russian roulette. I haven't had unprotected sex with someone I wasn't fluid bonded with in years -- and I *still* get tested yearly. Condoms aren't perfect, either.

Sent by Donna | 2:23 PM | 7-29-2008

first off, i'd like to say that i very much agree with Jamie. i'd like to repost here something that i just posted over on the's comments section:

so, my problems with this: condoms are a form of birth-control. the only form operating on the male end of things these days. unless you have a latex allergy, there's not much harm a condom can do to you. and they work. then look at the other side of things - female brith-control (pills, shots, patches, as I believe he says). these, as they are mostly (all?) hormonal, can have a HUGE impact on the woman taking them. why then, i would ask this teen, do women have to bear the full burden of the practice of sexual activity? having to stick to a regiment of daily pill-takings, monthly shots, going to the clinic or the pharmacy. sure, they could "do it together," but it isn't his body. this seems incredibly unfair.

on another, different side of things, what about people with STIs? can they not be engaged? would they not be considered "normal" enough to be in this new codified form of relationships/love? pardon me for taking this out to its limits, but this is an idiotic piece of "youth opinion." it makes me ashamed to be a youth. if my generation's sexual politics are headed in this direction of (not so new) (hetero-)normalizing, phalo-dominance, i'm very ashamed.

Sent by Isaac | 2:27 PM | 7-29-2008

From the time I was 18 until I was about 24, I felt exactly the same way. Sex without a condom - after sex education had taught us - was more intimate and felt like a stronger connection.

After my girlfriend of 4 years and I broke up, I realized that the risks of serial monogamy without clear commitment were significant. STD testing will miss HIV if you were recently infected. STDs like genital warts and herpes rely not on tests but on the honesty of partners. And birth control is quite good now, but still not perfect.

We have to make difficult choices at all stages, and I would encourage all to think about the long-term.

Sent by Dave | 4:06 PM | 7-29-2008

Kudo's for airing a controversial, thought-provoking piece.

As someone who is in a consensual open relationship (polyamory) and who has sex with multiple partners, I've made the choice that I will use protection with all of my partners. We recognize and accept that because of how we have chosen to structure our relationships we are accepting an increased level of risk. Because of that we go to greater lengths to protect ourselves and our partners, including using barrier protection and getting regular testing.

In the past, I was in a relationship where after STD testing and establishing another method of pregnancy prevention (IUD), and much discussion and negotiation of how to handle things if something happened as a result of our choice, we stopped using barrier protection.

It was a commitment, both physical, emotional, and in some ways spiritual. It brought greater intimacy to our relationship, and greater pleasure as well.

If young people view this as a commitment, then good for them! Not using barrier protection *is* a risk and not one to be taken lightly, even in a monogamous relationship.

However the comments implying that not using barrier protection within a monogamous marriage is safer ignore the fact that cheating is prevalent amongst both men and women.

If these young people are making their commitment with full knowledge of what they are doing (including STD tests and pregnancy prevention), then I would argue that they are actually being safer than a couple that uses protection up until marriage and then dispenses with it.

If there was ever an argument for sex education based on protection, vs. abstinence, this piece is it.

Sent by Timothy O. | 4:18 PM | 7-29-2008

I can see what they are saying. I think that sex without condoms does show a sign of trust. I had gotten out of a relationship where my girlfriend was cheating on me. I insisted on using condoms with my current girlfriend until I got the results of all my STD tests. We are in a commited relationship and using other forms of birth control. But I think the idea of condoms also shows the level of trust in a relationship. We've all heard about the comments about married men that use condoms and what's the first thing that comes to mind, "Oh, he must be cheating on his wife." Because a married/committed man doesn't need a condom. I'm not saying this is always true, but it is the perception.

Sent by James Scott Avery | 4:55 PM | 7-29-2008

I thought the piece was naive. It doesn't offend me. There are many levels of commitment and yes, a couple consciously deciding to forego protection against STDs is indeed one level. It's just that it is several orders of magnitude less than an engagement. Perhaps the experience of the author's peer group is that marriage is largely a temporary, easy-to-walk-away-from type of commitment. That would be the real tragedy -- a significant number of young persons' view of marriage has deteriorated to the point that merely committing to monogamy in a smart way is the equivalent of getting engaged.

Sent by galen | 6:20 PM | 7-29-2008

What about staying a virgin until you are married then staying with that one person. Uhhhh that was when women were taught to suck it up. Now we have choices as do men. We can try it before we buy it.

Things change. I have to say anonymous sex without a condom is CRAZY. If you know the persona and have a commited relationship, I don't see the problem.

Sent by Alice Jones | 6:36 PM | 7-29-2008

I agree -- somewhat. Condomless sex isn't the new engagement ring, but it does signify a serious committment and extension of trust beyond mere words.

For me and my husband, the decision to switch from condoms to the pill a few months after we started dating came a while after the decision to be "boyfriend-girlfriend," and was a much bigger deal to us. It showed that we were not just committed to each other for now, for as long as the romance lasted, but that we didn't plan to sleep with anyone else ever. EVER. Luckily for us it actually worked out that way.

That being said, my now-husband did give me HPV, so even committment isn't foolproof.

Sent by anonymous | 7:07 PM | 7-29-2008

That's sweet but she's still gona want a rock!

Sent by Mark e. | 8:42 PM | 7-29-2008

The previewed comments were quite hastily constructed,and blatantly displayed those listeners lack of understanding. Pen, as he is affectionately called, was merely stating that the lack of the use of condoms with those in a relationship can been seen as an ultimate sign of trust and monogamy, thus the engagement analogy. I believe he was also trying to stress that the non-condom theory especially in these days of HIV/AIDS, amongst other STI's, is preposterous even in married couples.Commitment in todays world does not necessarily equal to exemption from disease, because life experience and observation has shown me that infidelity is way more common than monogamy.

Sent by Nicole Austin | 9:07 PM | 7-29-2008

I think the piece was interesting. But anyone who thinks that sex without a condom is safe or a good measure of commitment should have their head examined (and other parts). Women often don't know they have STDs (lack of symptoms), people are not always forthcoming about there sexual past and once you have herpes (or AIDS!) it's for the rest of your life.

BTW was I the only one laughing at the lady that kept calling it PBR - HaHa, SHE was a couple a cans short of a six pack

Sent by Mr. Tana | 2:07 AM | 7-30-2008

When I was an Americorps. VISTA volunteer on the Southside of Chicago, I learned to perceive the situation with empathy rather than sympathy. There were AIDS survivors of nearly every age (children and seniors); there was also an incredible sense of hope and love for life. I can understand the appeal of sex without a condom as a measure of intimacy, but then again, there is no shortage of HIV stories, or Type-II Herpes stories, or even Hepatitis stories. Well, people are stupid sometimes.

The main people who volunteered to work in the HIV prevention programs HIV+. Go figure that one out.

But no apologetic intended, the generation of children born in the 1980's have an unmatched sense of sarcasm - we were exposed to a large amount of MTV and simultaneously witnessed a reality that was diametrically opposed to that fantasy. America to us is a different place than our parents knew; as modern culture plays out, that too, is changing. We value the outrageous exciting and death-defying - it's what we were promised with the X-Games, MTV cribs, Food commercials, nearly every US Military commercial, and even our social causes. We never knew life without video games.

I think it's shameful that people are giving value judgments on this subject; it is that judgment process that is, IMHO, the real American disease. We see other people as the enemy; we see other people as stupid, promiscuous, or valueless, instead of accepting the contrarian nature of the human spirit. In a way, Harshaw has exposed our American anxiety about love, sex, disease, and even social class.

I found Harshaw's commentary to be extremely insightful and critical of his peers; it's a shame that beautifully ironic commentary like this can't be appreciated by everyone. Hopefully, Harshaw's wit will carry over into larger media consciousness and shed light on a taboo subject.

My only criticism of Harshaw's article: you might want to wink at the audience if you're making an aside. Make sure we can see the wizard behind the curtain, otherwise, we'll think there isn't one there at all.

Sent by Matteo | 2:19 AM | 7-30-2008

This isn't revolutionary! Marriage and a nuclear family have been pie in the sky dreams, if dreams at all, to generations of urban minorities burdened by poverty and low expectations. Bet you didn't know Snoop Dogg has a wife. Is Jay-Z married to Beyonce or not? Marriage is too bourgeois for the young hip-hop crowd to publicly pursue. The new commitment as Harshaw sees it is how sex and relationships among the lower class have responded to the pressures of STDs. This will not become the norm among those whose socioeconomic background and prospects still encourage them to dream of a husband or wife. Harshaw's model is an improvement what preceded it (casual sex, protected or unprotected) but lacks the reinforcement and support that the law and the community give to a formal commitment.

Sent by Stan | 3:41 AM | 7-30-2008

The biggest flaw in Mr. Harshaw's reasoning is that all STD tests have false negative rates (some are quite high.) Since he used HIV as the example (and let's be honest, it's the only one people seem to care about anyway,) he should know that within the first six months of infection, a standard HIV test will often be negative. Also, is the corollary of his STD testing hypothesis true? If he walks down the health center hall with his partner and finds that one of them has an STD, does the purported love simply evaporate? This was a rather obviously contrived piece meant to be inflammatory. Based on all the comments here, it worked. Still, it was childishly silly.

Sent by Matt M. | 7:42 AM | 7-30-2008

Having done research on high risk adolescents - many of them part of the street culture - I found this piece both disturbing and typical. Kids in our study, and in most others, stop using condoms as soon as they think they are in a 'serious' relationship. Condoms are for people you don't trust.

Unfortunately, these kids also tended to keep having survival and casual sex with other people. And many of these serious relationships didn't last. So their trust put both them and their partners at risk.

It was the kids who were least trustful, often because they came from very difficult families, who were least able to find stable partners, who engaged in relatively safe (or at least condomed) sex. Such a sad commentary.

Sent by Nancy Darling | 11:04 AM | 7-30-2008

Love without trust is not love at all. The article refers to people who LOVE, TRUST, RESPECT AND BELIEVE IN EACH OTHER.What's wrong with that? You there, who has sooo much anger in you from this article. Do YOU have REAL LOVE IN YOUR LIFE?

Sent by 7thBillion | 11:46 AM | 7-30-2008

As a 20-year-old, upper middle class, white female college student, I can confidently state that ceasing the use of condoms (in favor of STD tests and use of the birth control pill) is seen by my peers as a significant step in a relationship - but not necessarily as serious a step as Harshaw describes. There are certainly irresponsible people who have condom-less one night stands, relying only on their partner's word about the pill and STDs. But most of my friends who confine their sexual activity to monogamous relationships will use a condom for the first few months (simultaneously with the birth control pill) and then stop using them when they feel they have achieved a level of trust such that they can be confident that their partner is clean, will not cheat, and (on the part of the male) is reliably taking birth control. It doesn't mean they are engaged, it just means that their level of sexual trust has increased.

Sent by Ashley | 1:02 PM | 7-30-2008

@Matt M.

Modern HIV tests can and do detect the presence of antibodies to the virus within days or weeks. They can also give a result within minutes from a simple cheek swab.

Not all clinics/doctors will offer this version of the test, but it is our there and the 6 month window no longer really applies (for HIV).

Sent by Timothy O. | 1:05 PM | 7-30-2008

To those that are saying that sex without condoms should be done only within the institution of marriage, I ask: what about couples in committed, long-term, same-sex relationships? For those who blissfully live in your heterocetric worlds, let me let you in on something that I'm reminded of every day: gay/lesbian folks can't get married to their partners in most of the world! So even if I agreed with the notion that one should wait for sex until marriage, then I guess I'd be waiting a really long time. Nevermind that I'm in a loving relationship: until I get married (rather, until the United States as a whole lets me get married to who I want), it would seem that many of the folks here think I should sit, be patient, and wait.

It's just one more way that homophobia rears its ugly head....

Sent by Michael | 2:37 PM | 7-30-2008

When my boyfriend and I switched to condomless sex, it was quite a while after I realized that I wanted to marry him. He'd had a few sexual relationships with other girls in the past, but had always used a condom. There is a certain significance to the decision to use a condom or not. I'm happy someone else realizes this!

Sent by Jasmine | 6:40 PM | 7-30-2008

I find it absolutely stunning that so many commenting here clearly didn't listen to the same audio essay I did.

According to Mr. Harshaw, his friends are getting tested for STIs and using alternative forms of birth control before dispensing with condom use in monogamous relationships. They are not having unprotected sex with strangers.

But this isn't new, either. I am 32 years old, the vast majority of my friends are in monogamous, unmarried relationships, and do not use condoms anymore but instead rely on hormonal birth control or IUDs. This was also the case while I was in high school, however. Not all teenagers are irresponsible.

Is this still risky to some extent? Of course. Partners are not always faithful, and when they cheat, they don't always take care to protect themselves from infection.

But this is just as true of married adults.

It seems to me that ageism and racism are what motivate most of the negative comments here.

Sent by Lauren W. | 8:06 PM | 7-30-2008

wait wait wait. you mean to tell me that all married couples use condoms and if they don't, they are disgusting? please. a committed relationship is a committed relationship, married or not. partners cheat, married or not. at some point, it's a matter of trust. this whole discussion seems a bit absurd, as the journalist is not condoning or condemning, but rather just reporting.

and, yeah, as a young-ish person i have to say the comment about staying a virgin until one is married is really hilarious. i'm 32 and i still think that that comment is coming from an old victorian age biddy. my goodness. I suppose i shouldn't be educated or employed either....

Sent by tammy Deckman | 8:16 PM | 7-30-2008

It is interesting to me that the lack of a condom signifies a step forward in a relationship. Especially since that is putting all the responsibility in the woman's hand when it comes to birth control.

Sent by katie | 12:59 AM | 7-31-2008

I agree with the article, Not that I believe it's a good idea to have protection less sex as a sign of commitment, but I know many many college friends who do and tell me about how they have taken "that step" I think many of the people who comment negatively do so simply out of their discuss at the idea of of the article and not that journalistic facts it points out

Sent by Marrz | 1:01 AM | 7-31-2008

considering how many young people these days are having casual, not meaningful sex without protection, I was very happy to hear this story. Regardless of whatever sexual lifestyle you support, it's just ignorant to not recognize that other people are having casual, dangerous, unprotected premarital sex. If more youth are regularly using condoms prior to entering trusting, monogamous relationships, I think we should all consider this a step in the right direction. Especially if they're also talking about STDs and other forms of birth control with their partners, despite the current lack of comprehensive sex education in public schools. Thank you NPR for airing opinions on such an important current issue, even if we don't all agree with the opinion aired.

Sent by Allison | 1:16 AM | 7-31-2008

I find it disturbing that so many people are focusing solely on the fact that NPR has covered the issue of young people having unprotected sex, but do not seem to care about what is so much more important--the reality being discussed, and its consequences. Whether you want to think about it or not, this is a health issue that impacts everyone.

Sent by Anne | 1:40 AM | 7-31-2008

It is funny how the far-left immediately accuses those who disagree with their opinions of being racist, old-fashioned, and narrow-minded. Sex without a condom is nothing close to the commitment that marriage entails. Not only are Harshaw's statements ignorant and offensive, they also reveal the inability of many young people to delay gratification. Another listener commented that if Harshaw had a different accent, perhaps people would judge him differently. In my case, I did not judge him on his so-called accent, but rather the ignorance and lack of foresight in his statements.

Sent by Eric | 8:30 AM | 7-31-2008

What a worthless heaping pile of garbage. This goes down with the other thousands of things that idiot Pop/R&B/Rap stars say and do to destroy the youth of today, their innocence, and any last shred of morals that still may be in tact.

I use to listen to NPR for insightful intelligence, but now it's no better than MTV or some ultra liberal californicated let's-destroy-america radio network.

I will no longer be listening to NPR after this.


Sent by Jeff Bourgeois | 10:49 PM | 7-31-2008

In response to posted comments, shame on the self righteous and narrow minded! Do NPR listeners really wish to be veiled from reality? Ought we be coddled by being exposed only to that information which is in accordance with what we already know or believe? Of course not. News is to inform, not to reinforce preexisting opinions, and no one is more qualified than anyone else to decide which parts of a whole truth are less valuable than any other parts. It would be better, I believe, to be open to the world as a whole and to not take offense at what is simply the harmless presentation of new information. And please appreciate that dialectical or intercultural variations are not "impediments" of any kind!

Sent by H Kostansek | 8:34 AM | 8-1-2008