by Marlowe Granados, Advice Columnist and Author of Happy Hour
I have a distinct memory of being a teenager crossing a major intersection and reaching into my handbag only to have a strip of condoms fall out in front of the stalled cars. I laughed as I bent down to pick them up. There was something mischievous about this display—I wasn’t embarrassed. Not only was I having sex, but I was confident about how in control I was. This was in deep contrast to my age. I was on the cusp of turning seventeen and I was wild and gregarious. I rode around the city on a bicycle liberated from the garage of a bike thief. I would hop around from one older boy’s house to another older boy’s house. I knew my behaviour was probably frowned upon, but I was having fun and I would not allow for any consequences to derail the freedom and mischief I was having. Condoms were a necessity for my lifestyle! I would not be on birth control until my early twenties, and using condoms made me feel secure in my choice to have multiple partners.
People always found it a bit audacious that I carried condoms with me. At first it didn’t occur to me that there was some sort of stigma to it. Maybe they thought it wasn’t my place to carry them, or that carrying them cemented that casual sex was actually a part of my life and not just something that spontaneously happened ever so often. I’ve always been of the mind that whenever I leave the house who knows what could transpire, and I’ve always wanted to be prepared. Whenever I was in someone’s bed and they related that they did not have any protection with them, I would pull a little something from one of my tiny handbags. If they had been planning on going without, here I was, a foil to their plans and in control of my own night. Sometimes the face of this new sexual partner would fall, others expressed shock at me having a condom hidden away. They’d ask, “Did you expect this to happen, us to have sex?” I’d wave these reactions away. For me, it was just sexual etiquette. My personal preference was always to leave the situation in a way I would least regret.
As I got older and had relationships of varying trust and intimacy, I found that there were times I was “allergic” to some partners. I am no expert, but there was something about our chemistries that did not work. When we had unprotected sex there was always a chance I would have a reaction and my PH would end up unbalanced. This felt like a loss of control. It felt like a consequence. The unpleasantness of having a UTI or BV was a snag in my daily life. Maybe my body was telling me that my partner was not the best match, or maybe it was simply biochemistry, but I did not want to admit defeat. Prioritizing my own body and going back to regularly using condoms became the only way to re-establish that kind of freewheeling lifestyle that I had when I was young. It was only then I realized that to me, the meaning of living no-strings-attached as a woman was really to have no loose ends, where I retained responsibility for my body and my sexual choices. At the very least, I could not allow myself to be inconvenienced by someone else. If I was to have a misadventure, let it be me at the wheel.
Marlowe Granados is the author of Happy Hour, a novel the New York Times called “confident, charismatic and alive to the pleasure of observation.” She is a writer and filmmaker based in Toronto.