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Self Efficacy and Condom Use - Self Esteem Makes Sex Safer

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Updated February 03, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Why do people fail to practice safe sex? Is it because they don't know they're at risk? Is it because they forgot to buy a condom? Or is it because they don't know how to talk to their partner about safer sex and ask?

Researchers have found that one of the most important factors in a person's ability to negotiate condom use with their partners is something known as self efficacy.

People need to feel confident in their ability to use condoms, or they won't use them. Someone who has high condom use self efficacy (CSE) feels comfortable buying a condom and carrying one with them when they might need it. They feel like they know how to use a condom correctly, and can do so during sex. And, perhaps most importantly, they are confident in their ability to ask their partner to use a condom, and say "no" to anyone who refuses to comply. Self efficacy, in this context, increases not only peoples' intentions to use a condom, but the percentage of time they actually do use them. Both of these are important factors in the promotion of safer sex.

How Do People Develop Condom Self Efficacy?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, a central component of CSE is self esteem. For someone to be able to successfully negotiate condom use, they need to be able to know they can deal with any potential negative consequences of trying. If they are more afraid of losing their partner by bringing up the topic of condom use than worried about the dangers of unprotected sex, it may prevent them from even making an attempt. It's also important for people to be confident in their ability be assertive enough to bring up the topic of condom use and to have faith that they can convince their partner using their verbal skills. Similarly, people need to know they can control their sexual urges well enough to ask for condoms, even under such intoxicating influences as love or alcohol.

Condom Self Efficacy in Teenagers: Talk to Your Kids

It's so critical for teens to be able to talk to not just their peers but their parents about sex. Many studies have shown that teens who can talk to their parents about sex are more likely to use condoms or other contraceptives, have fewer sexual partners, and even delay their sexual debut. How does this translate into actual condom use? It may well be that the self confidence teenagers gain by being able to speak openly about sex with their parents helps them to have similar conversations with their partners.

Making Condoms More Accessible Helps

It may seem silly to some people, but one of the things that often stops individuals from using condoms is embarrassment at having to buy them. Discreetly offering free condoms at bars, schools, and other venues is one way that educators have tried to address this fear, but there are other ways to help. People can be taught that buying condoms is no big deal. Even more importantly, perhaps, stores can be encouraged to put condoms someplace out of the way, but easy to find, so that individuals who want to buy them aren't seen picking them up in plain view. However, they shouldn't be too well hidden. Having to ask a store employee where the condoms are located is likely to scare off a lot of nervous customers. For the record, research has shown time and time again that providing free condoms in schools doesn't encourage teenagers to have sex, it just encourages them to do so safely.

Self Efficacy Isn't Enough. Knowledge Is Necessary Too.

One thing that is important to mention: Just because individuals feel confident in their ability to use condoms doesn't necessarily mean that they are using them correctly. At least one study has found that a person's confidence in their ability to put on a condom the right way has very little to do with their actual skill. Since condoms are most effective when they are not only used consistently but correctly, it's important for educators, the media, and sexual partners to make certain that anyone who might be putting a condom knows how to do it right.

Sources:

Baele J, Dusseldorp E, Maes S. "Condom use self-efficacy: effect on intended and actual condom use in adolescents." J Adolesc Health.

Crosby R, DiClemente RJ, Wingood GM, Sionean C, Cobb BK, Harrington K, Davies S, Hook EW 3rd, Oh MK. "Correct condom application among African-American adolescent females: the relationship to perceived self-efficacy and the association to confirmed STDs." J Adolesc Health. 2001 Sep;29(3):194-9.

Farmer MA, Meston CM. "Predictors of condom use self-efficacy in an ethnically diverse university sample." Arch Sex Behav. 2006 Jun;35(3):313-26.

Gabler J, Kropp F, Silvera DH, Lavack AM. "The role of attitudes and self-efficacy in predicting condom use and purchase intentions." Health Mark Q. 2004;21(3):63-78.

Halpern-Felsher BL, Kropp RY, Boyer CB, Tschann JM, Ellen JM. "Adolescents' self-efficacy to communicate about sex: its role in condom attitudes, commitment, and use." Adolescence. 2004 Fall;39(155):443-56.

Hanna KM. "An adolescent and young adult condom self-efficacy scale." J Pediatr Nurs. 1999 Feb;14(1):59-66.

Sterk CE, Klein H, Elifson KW. "Perceived condom use self-efficacy among at-risk women." AIDS Behav. 2003 Jun;7(2):175-82.

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