(File photo) A worker watches condoms on a production line.

Cape Town - Most people know that condoms should be worn by everyone who wants to enjoy sex without the risk of an unwanted pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections (STI).

Despite this, the lines around condom use can become blurred, especially for long-term couples in love.

Condom Week runs from February 10 to 16 and covers Valentine’s Day.

It’s an important time to consider the options and negotiate safely, to avoid what can be for many a sticky situation, according to a press release.

“Condom usage among South Africans of all ages is sadly on the decline, according to a household survey released in 2012 and published in 2013 led by the HSRC (Human Sciences Research Council).

“People find lots of excuses not to use them, and being in a relationship is one we hear a lot,” says Palesa Khambi, Head of Communications at Marie Stopes South Africa, a nationwide sexual and reproductive healthcare provider.

“Being in a relationship is not a good enough reason to stop using condoms. Let’s be real,” Khambi says, “cheating happens, mistakes get made, it’s not uncommon.”

She says that getting serious about someone and showing you care doesn’t have to mean losing the latex.

South Africa has one of the highest prevalence rates of HIV in the world, and STIs such as gonorrhea, genital herpes, and syphilis are also common. Many of these diseases show few symptoms in the beginning, and may even lie dormant for years, Khambi explains.

That means that even the most considerate and faithful partner could be holding on to an infection from a previous partner.

“The old advice that when you sleep with someone you’re ‘having sex with everyone they’ve ever had sex with; might seem gross but it’s true,” says Khambi.

The case for condoms is even stronger when one considers that over half of South African pregnancies are reported as unplanned and half of those as unwanted.

Condoms are the only contraceptives that can be used in conjunction with other methods like the pill, loop and injectable for dual protection against pregnancy as well as HIV and STIs.

The key to keeping condoms in the mix for many couples is recognising what they can add. Many brands offer cooling or warming sensations, ribbing (for her pleasure), tingling, flavours and a variety of lubes, all of which can make for more fun, prolong the act and minimise post-sex clean-up.

Of course even for rubber regulars, there may come a time when the decision to stop using condoms comes up.

“That is a very significant step that should involve an open, honest talk between partners about monogamy and expectations,” says Khambi. Both partners should be tested for HIV and STIs and the female partner should decide on a contraceptive method that suits her lifestyle, unless they are planning for a family she says.

Marie Stopes South Africa provides testing and treatment for STIs and HIV as a well as a wide range of contraceptive options. - IOL, adapted from a press release