A few weeks ago, Jill McDevitt, a sexologist in San Diego, posted on social media about how some of the information from condom research might apply to the mask discussion. “We can pull right from the condom data and make it work,” she said.
In particular, she focused on the need to acknowledge that wearing one doesn’t feel as good as not wearing one. “No one’s like, ‘Whoo-hoo, I get to wear a mask today!’” Dr. McDevitt said. Telling people it does feel the same, she said, “feels invalidating — people dig their heels in more.”
We should focus on helping people connect with friends and family without fighting. “Lead with empathy,” she said. Start by acknowledging, “This is hard for you.” Start by asking, “How do we make this as easy as possible?”
With condoms, that meant making them accessible, available, free — like the ones in our exam rooms. But it also meant helping people negotiate, Dr. McDevitt said: “It can be, say, something like, it sucks to wear a mask, I don’t like them either, this is not forever, but in the meantime it allows us to be safer when we’re together.”
Or maybe it’s offering, “Let me help you find one that’s more comfortable for you, they make ones that don’t fall off your nose or fog up glasses.”
Dr. Ybarra said, “We say, people don’t think condoms feel good, let’s talk about what can increase pleasure.” It helps to elicit the messages from the population you’re trying to educate, she said, to listen carefully and learn what the cultural barriers may be, and to hear from the people who are choosing to wear masks. And it helps to contextualize risk, she said, to offer data and to send the message, “We are all in this together, we are all at risk.”
Another guideline that carries over from sexual negotiation, Dr. McDevitt said, is the importance of consent: People are allowed to change their minds. “We’re allowed to walk away if someone doesn’t want to wear a mask, we’re allowed not to spend time with them.”