Fans of shock jock Howard Stern know that he likes using condoms, but that's not too surprising given his oft-reported small size and easily aroused, hornball reputation. But for many of the rest of us, condoms can be a real hassle, an inconvenience, or even a barrier to a fulfilling night. Why?
1. One Size Does Not Fit All.
It's hard to get a good fit. For those of us who don't quite have any business buying Magnums or Pee Wees, it's tough to find something that fits comfortably but stays on for the duration (losing one is not fun). You don't want something too tight (seriously), too loose (see above), or wrongly shaped. The last brand I tried I could not get on at all (boy was that frustrating).
2. Too Thick or Too Thin.
Very thick condoms depress me so much I'd rather not have sex at all, because I feel more from walking down the street. Very thin condoms are much more exciting -- in large part because they break so frequently, making it seem like you're playing horizontal Russian Roulette.
3. Buying Condoms is Horribly Embarassing.
I've heard of normally law-abiding people getting arrested for shoplifting because they were too embarrassed to show condoms to the store clerk. This makes sense to me. I personally put a great deal of thought into where I buy condoms, always trying to order online (this can be perilous though, depending on the name on the shipping label). Plus, there is a longer waiting time than buying a handgun, unless you splurge for express shipping.
4. Timing Can Be Tricky.
Another friend of mine told me she wishes she was bi, because when she hooked up with a friend in college she discovered that it's much easier to get things going between two women, and for much longer, because "there aren't so many things that need to happen, in the right order."
5. Disposal is Icky.
You know when you wake up after a good night, and hop out of bed to get two glasses of water, and set foot on a slick? Yeah, that's gross. I'm also always paranoid that no matter how many times I wrap up condoms and wrappers in tissue, my roommates or friendly garbage workers will see it and assume I'm some depraved heathen.
6. It Can Break the Mood.
It's true that one often doesn't have a condom on the scene. I used to carry one in my wallet, but stopped because 1) several times I reached for a business card and knocked it out in front of people, which was mortifying. 2) I was told that wallets wear condoms out quickly and can make them fail. Unless you are Don Johnson it can be a bit awkward to break the mood and go find something, especially given point 3.
7. They Don't Feel As Good.
No matter how technologically advanced, it can be hard to forget that you have a piece of material between you and your lover. In the fascinating book Dark Star Safari, Paul Theroux laments that a prominent African he meets decries condoms, since they prevent "skeen to skeen" contact. Yet Africa staggers under terrible HIV rates (in another disturbing passage, Theroux relates a commonly encountered folk belief from his travels: that one can be cured of HIV by having sex with a virgin, the younger the better).
I've heard lambskin condoms feel better, but they do not prevent against STDs, due to tiny holes, plus they creep me out. The only other creature's skin I wear is leather shoes, and I at least have socks on then. Speaking of tiny holes, Theroux wrote that many Africans he met believe laytex condoms are bogus anyway, since they are filled with tiny holes. Yet they cannot explain how rubber tires somehow manage to stay inflated
So, now that we agree that condoms are far from perfect, we also have to agree that condoms are, in many cases, the best protection we have for safe sex in a complicated world, and can literally save your life (sometimes I'm bummed I missed the swinging, lusty days before HIV, although you'd have to go way, way back into evolution to find a time before any STDs, if there ever was). To drive this crucial message home, Trojan Condoms has recently launched the American Condom Campaign, with the goal of giving away 1 million condoms free to Americans at risk. The campaign has some great celebrity endorsers, from the RZA to Giancarlo Esposito, Dana Delaney, Josh Lucas, Alan Cumming and more.
On the well-executed campaign site, help earn condoms for the drive simply by posting or rating comments, taking the pledge, testing your sex ed knowledge with a quiz (I got 8/10!), forwarding an alert to a friend or, for the most points, uploading your own community video.
In a video produced by the campaign, Trojan street soldiers table an event in Truth style. Channeling Ricky from the Trailer Park Boys, one of the advocates tries to give out free samples of syphilis, herpes and chlamydia (the real name of a young girl in Detroit, according to my friend who's a doctor there). "If you love somebody you should give them something from you, and that's why I try to push syphilis," he explains. "When you get up in the morning and it burns, you feel alive."
"Don't hesitate, copulate, and get in here and get some genital warts," he says, pointing out that you can share it with your wife, girlfriend, boss or sister -- well probably (hopefully) not your sister.
Trojan points out some very sobering facts, which few are probably aware of. For example, they cite a Kaiser Family Foundation study indicating that a shocking one third of sexually active people catch some kind of sexually transmitted infection by age 25 (I'd only been with one person by age 25, so that strikes me as particularly surprising). The campaign notes that a staggering 65 million Americans have an incurable STD. Some 5,000 new Americans get HIV a year, and millions get another STD. Many of those are developing antibiotic resistance, something that also impacts our health and environmental safety in other areas.
According to the smarter sex survey, 85% of students ages 18-24 say they never use a condom at all, suggesting that policy makers, condom companies, parents, peers and more are not doing enough to address and counter the complaints enumerated above. We need to get real. We need better condoms, better access, less social stigma, and more realistic, holistic sex education. The U.S. federal government spent $176 million on abstinence-only education in 2007, when objective studies and common sense have clearly shown that abstinence only education cannot be the only piece of the puzzle, and is often harmful. (Witness the recent New Yorker piece on evangelical girls getting pregnant at alarming rates, long after Hester Pryne.)
We need to realize that kids are embarrassed to buy condoms, they don't know to try different brands, and they are too afraid to ask for advice. And then we wonder why people aren't using them? Not all condoms are the same, and I have found some over the years that I definitely find most acceptable. I've also found some tricks to store them in convenient locations, so it's easier to keep the mood going.
For this post I informally asked a few friends about their experiences with condoms, and their answers were all over the map. Some, like Howard Stern, say they really prefer them. Others said they really don't mind them, or find them a very minor inconvenience. I'm still not a fan personally, but I use them anyway because my life is too important to me not to. I hope you'll agree, and try to find what works for you to stay safe.
Enter your city or zip code to get your local temperature and air quality and find local green food and recycling resources near you.