Condom-free sex replaces the engagement ring!

NPR listeners are in a tizzy, and it's not because "A Prairie Home Companion" is going off the air (relax guys, it's not). In a recent Youth Radio broadcast of "What's the New What" clocking in at just three minutes and 14 seconds in length, teen Pendarvis Harshaw managed to turn the time-honored tradition of the engagement ring on its platinum ass. Harshaw claims that "among his friends, the transition from condoms to no-condoms signifies a lasting commitment." The articulate and controversial mini-essay inspired such heated debate that according to the site, "Commenting on this story is now closed."

But wait a minute, could he be on to something?

"My generation has known the threat of HIV/AIDS for our entire lives, and sex without a condom isn't something we enter into lightly. For a lot of my friends, the transition from having sex with, to sex without a condom, is seen as a symbolic engagement. It shows trust, commitment and the prospect of a shared future. An engagement more practical than spending on money on a piece of jewelry for a marriage that might not pass the test of time."

Harshaw refers to "Engagement 2.0" as a mature process far more serious than planning what type of flowers you'll line the church with. Making a pact that actually has more solid consequences entails "marching down the aisle of the health clinic together," getting STD tests and choosing a method of birth control in order to enjoy healthy sex.

As one woman interviewed says, "A ring is very temporate, you can just sort of take that ring off whereas you know, if you don't use condoms and you get an STD, that's a much less temporary result of your engagement than a tan line on your finger."

In this age of 50% divorce rates, I think there's something honorable in the idea of making a spiritual and physical promise to uphold the sanctity of each other's bodies and health, in theory. Unfortunately in practice, the fact is that people cheat, those who do so are prone to lie about it, and I wonder if the kind of reckless, spontaneous type of individual who does indulge in sex with someone other than their domestic partner is using a condom in the first place, since a recent study showed that while HPV and HIV infections are up, condom usage is down and sorry, but it ain't due to rampant monogamy.

Like I said, I love the idea of Harshaw's clever conceit (his supporters say it's a "fresh and insightful" take on modern relationships), but I can see why some people might argue that any promotion of unprotected sex, even under the specific context in which Harshaw presents it, is inherently irresponsible and dangerous. As dangerous in fact, as the societal conditions under which he formed his noble, if flawed hypothesis.

See also: "Does anyone really need a divorce ring?"