Condoms: Modern Miracle or Dirty Little Secret?

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If you had told Socrates or Queen Victoria that one day there would be an inexpensive little gadget that would prevent pregnancy while allowing you to enjoy sexual intercourse, they would have said “No waaay!”

Well, “Waaay!” That gadget is here, and it’s the condom.

As with everything sexual, the U.S. has a love-hate relationship with condoms. Americans spend millions of dollars buying millions of condoms every year. But stores often make them hard to find; a billion dollars in your tax money has been spent to discourage young people from using them; people are never shown using or even discussing them on TV; their advertising is severely curtailed, and used to be illegal altogether.

Today there are two new shots in this love-hate relationship.

Radio stations in Phoenix (104.7 KISS) and Tucson (93.7 KRQ) are actually bleeping the words “condoms” and “rubbers” in new songs. Eminem’s “Crack A Bottle” and Asher Roth’s “I Love College” were both censored this week. (Honor Roll mention: 98.3 in Phoenix does not censor these songs, according to Rachel Wheatcroft.)

What exactly is wrong with the people running these stations? I understand that Arizona has plenty of religious people who might object to the mention of condoms (which also makes no sense). But—duh—none of them are listening to this degenerate music. Nevertheless, these people are willing to complain about it anyway—it isn’t enough that they don’t want the option of listening, they don’t want anyone else to have the option.

And that’s where democracy always breaks down around sexuality and public policy, because very few 16-year-olds—or adults for that matter—are going to complain, “you bleeped innocent words in songs I like, cut it out!”

Fortunately, there’s two-part good news on the condom front. First, there’s a new product: SKYN, a non-latex condom. Second, it’s being advertised in a new way: with pictures and words focused on sex.

According to sex educator and product tester Cory Silverberg, the new condoms “stretch like latex condoms, they’re comfortable, and they don’t smell bad. They have a lower slippage and breakage rate than other non-latex condoms.” They’re FDA approved for both contraception and disease protection. And in double-blind clinical trials, some couples preferred these condoms over latex ones.

The advertising for them is cool: see the video clip by clicking on the little “Watch now” box. It features kissing, undressing, and messy bedrooms. It’s currently running on MTV, and Ansell Healthcare/Lifestyles plans to roll the spots out onto cable shows this summer.

“We know what people do with condoms,” said marketing executive Carol Carrozza. “They use them to have sex. Why not just admit this, rather than fooling around with dumb humor and euphemisms?”

Indeed, this goes straight to the matter. Many Americans don’t like to talk about sex in a straightforward, honest way. And they depend on their institutions—government, media, religion—to maintain an environment that restricts or prevents such behavior.

That’s why there are laws against nude beaches, regulations banning women’s nipples on TV, and the Christian Right gets to use the legislative process to lie about the alleged effects of pornography.

We’re eager to see how many stations accept the ads—which, as you’ll see, don’t show any flesh that you can’t see every evening on CSI or Grey’s Anatomy. Presumably, Morality in Media will be angry and scared, predicting that children will be harmed by seeing an ad for a product their parents, friends (and perhaps they) use.

We wish Carrozza, Lifestyles, and SKYN, um, godspeed in their campaign to get people to use their product. And to admit why they do.

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