Changing Condom Culture
The important challenge of getting women in the condom carrying game
By Sarah Jayne, co-founder of Unbound.
I was out and about one evening this week, skipping from a happy hour to a birthday party and topping off the night with a quick drop-by at a friend’s rooftop. I decided to test something out: I asked anyone whom I had been chatting with for a while for a condom. Just a simple, “Hey, do you have a condom on you?” I was genuinely curious how many women and men I would encounter who actually had condoms on hand. The results were interesting, but not surprising and mostly depressing.
Here’s a little back-story on why I decided to go on a Condom Scavenger Hunt: the practice of carrying a condom is one that’s romanticized (if not celebrated) in our culture. Oh—hah—I should have mentioned that this only applies if you’re male. For the boys, carrying a condom is a right of passage. Hell, your school (or maybe even your parent) provided you with this latex token of sexual freedom. If you’re a woman and you are carrying a condom, it’s assumed that you’ve come to this rooftop party to sleep with all the men present and perhaps even the rest of Brooklyn, too. And that’s one of the relatively better scenarios. Extreme cases, although more complex, include women that have been detained at customs or arrested on suspicion of prostitution for simply carrying condoms. Yes, that’s in the U.S. While several laws have only recently been passed to prevent such groundless arrests in the first place, the mainstream social and cultural stigma of a woman carrying condoms is thriving, very real, and it’s total bullshit. The answer is not to tell women to not carry condoms, it’s to encourage more women to carry condoms.
On the surface, democratizing condom possession is an important way to promote a proactive approach to controlling STIs. Condoms are the only form of birth control that protects against both pregnancy and STIs. And real talk: for women to reach parity with men, we need to have a very active role in deciding the circumstances under which we have children. Counting on your male partner to have a condom since he’s the one who wears it is a cop-out. We’re one-half of the sex that’s going to be had, and unfortunately, our portion carries the burden of greater post-coital risks. We’ve got to work to erode that uneasy feeling that comes with carrying condoms.
When I asked a few girls if they had a condom (maybe eight or nine, all during one-on-one conversations), the answer was a resounding “no” across the board. But the reaction to my question varied:
“No, but I totally should, shouldn’t I?”
“No way, I’d be embarrassed to carry them around.”
“No, my boyfriend might though…”
“No, I’m on the pill, in case.”
“No, but if you find someone who does, my friend just asked me the same question.”
The guys? Four for four.
I even asked two women’s restroom attendants if they ever stocked or sold condoms and the response: “No, they usually just have them in the men’s room.” Fair enough, I guess, the bathroom attendant/bathroom-user relationship is confusing enough. (Do you pay for the mint? The paper towel?) I sent a dude-friend into a men’s room at two establishments, and both times he came back with a condom (and tipped $2 both times … noted). But what if you’re in a couple where there is no man? Condoms don’t merely function as a birth control method for straight folks — they’re also an important form of protection when sharing toys between female partners.
Lest we forget, women were once criticized and even punished for wearing pants. It was considered something that only men did, and simply improper for women. But more and more women started to wear them, and now we live in a world of unisex jorts … See where I’m going here? The point: put a condom in your pocket. That’s right, your pants pocket. If you don’t rely on condoms as a form of birth control, do it anyways! Wait, why?
Aside from the glaringly obvious point that a friend may find herself in need, it deconstructs the belief that women shouldn’t carry condoms or that if they do, there’s an overwhelming or even prosecutable level of promiscuity going on. Carry a condom—because if we all do, maybe we can start to normalize it.
If we all do, women will no longer suffer the stigma of perceived promiscuity, and condoms no longer get improperly categorized as a status token for men when in reality they are an important health tool for all. And life will go on (and probably for the better).
Oh—and the next time a hologram nightmare pop star (or anyone) says it’s “tacky” for a woman to have condoms on hand, speak out against it. No one has any right to shame a woman for taking measures that might save her life or at the very least, would let her avoid a drastic, unwanted change of course. And if you see me out while on a condom scavenger hunt of your own, say hi and ask me for a one. We at Unbound believe in the importance of condoms and in the importance of everyone carrying them. There are some great brands out there—brands that take a passion for design and a commitment to social responsibility very seriously, and I am more than happy to spread the love.