Musing On Condoms (20/06/2003)

I've been thinking a lot about condoms this morning. I really don't like them. Not because, as the Pope says, "You can't feel a damned thing" (or is the Vatican position based on something else? I never did follow these issues)... but just in general really. Here are nine reasons:

1) This is an obsolete solution. I mean sometimes the old methods are the best but really, these things have been around since ancient times when the romans were sewing ocelot spleens round their cocks (I'm not a historian you understand so I may have the exact details wrong). It strikes me that pretty much everything else the Romans did is looking pretty shonky by now so why, in the vital area of shagging, are we still using 2000 year old technology. I'm not wearing a toga or sending a slave down to the server with my web pages written in latin. So why am I relying on Roman (indeed probably pre-Roman for all I know) technology in this area?

2) This is not a problem we should solve in hardware. I'm sorry, but if we were solving computer viruses by encasing our computers in a perspex box people might well ask what the hell the designers were thinking. This is a problem which needs a software solution. Really, we just want the equivalent of a firewall installed. A simple ruleset like "PUBIC_LICE=DENY, PREGNANCY=DENY, AIDS= DENY, RAW_SEXUAL_EXPERIENCE=ALLOW (ATTRACTIVE PARTNERS ONLY)" would sort out the whole damn thing. Sure, you'd want to be sure that the person who set it up was competent but anything which makes computer geeks more sexually attractive is fine with me.

3) The advertising alone is enough to put me off (See my thoughts on advertising elsewhere). Really, it's handled very badly. Ever seen anything LESS sexy than a condom advert? If sex sells then the condom is the obvious product to go with -- but for that product they decide to go with sports cars and yachts and abstract pictures. Have you seen the pictures on those condom leaflets? They could only make them less sexy by doing a cross sectional diagram. I'm looking at one now and the picture is a pastel coloured drawing of an unnaturally pink man, rampant (yet curiously also couchant, which is unique in heraldry I think) on a plain white background. No mood lighting, no partner, no subtelty. It looks like he's using a condom on his own on the set of THX-1138. That doesn't do it for me.

4) They're acquired from the wrong kind of places. The places you can get condoms are: Pub toilets, the family planning clinic, the chemists and the supermarket. Bad and wrong. None of these places exude eroticism. Well, not in the pubs I go in. The pub toilets thing is particularly wrong. The pub toilet purchase is likely to be an impulse buy based upon the fact that drunkenly stumbling into the same woman repeatedly is often mistaken for her being interested. This is not the best time for a carefully considered purchase with maximum sex appeal. I noticed the other day that a York pub (I forget which) has only one condom machine which sells "special theraputic structures", I'm sure you've seen the things, they look like the top bits of the more gaudy and tasteless Cambridge colleges. The word theraputic intrigues me here - like I'm going to be using them for massage or something. "Ooooh, I've got this terrible stiffness in my cervix, you wouldn't mind just... thanks, that's very theraputic, yeah, rub a little harder, great... let me tell you I've had such a day at work... yeeah, a bit higher, I'm all knotted up... " Also, before I become distracted by that image, this was the only machine in the place and it said "product not to be used as a barrier". I'm assuming they meant "not to be used to prevent disease and pregnancy" rather than trying to say they would be ineffective for crowd control. Fortunately, I'd no intention of shagging my mate Dave (who I was drinking with at the time) but if I had, I'd have been out of luck and looking for a different pub toilet. Not good. Perhaps it's just me and the rest of you find pub loos and chemists suffused with sensuality and think of shagging whenever you're buying toenail clippers or popping for a pee in Wetherspoons.

5) Condoms are just a bad engineering solution. If, when SARS was concerning people, the official solution was to wrap a placcy bag around your head then we'd think that someone somewhere just wasn't taking the whole damn thing seriously. But for sex we're lead to believe "wrap the affected area in rubber" is a cutting edge solution.

6) Condom deployment is problematic. Now obviously, anyone who's ever been lucky enough to experience sex with me will have difficulty imagining it could ever be improved in any way. But I think it would be improved if there wasn't that moment where I have to fumble around in a darkened room then balance while performing the unwrap and unroll thing. (And don't, no matter how pissed you are, experiment with the order of things here, because believe me, you'll never get the beggar on if you unroll it too early and you're probably too pissed to admit your mistake and get another one. I speak from bitter experience in this.) This is really bad. If we're going to stick with condoms then there should be a better deployment mechanism. Like how about a button I can press and I place a relevant bodily part into the dispenser and it is fitted for me while the thunderbirds tune plays? That would be brilliant. I'd probably use that even if nobody else was around. I know it's supposed to be erotic to have a your partner fit one - but, frankly, someone with long fingernails, frapping something elastic around my nether regions in mood lighting... I'd want written assurance that they're sober and trained in this and only then is it even going to start being pleasurable.

7) Location Location Location. If you've ever tied someone to a bed and then had ten minutes of her exasperated: "no, the other pocket of my handbag you cretin, underneath the tampax, no, those are bloody tic tacs, oh why can't I get a real man" then you realise that at least the "beep when you whistle" condom is an important development.

8) Timing. When are you supposed to put it on? I'm looking at the official information in mates: "Only put the condom on when the penis is erect and before contact with your partner's body." Now, perhaps I'm unusual but I only usually have an erection after contact with my partners body. I just don't like the idea of her standing on the other side of the room talking dirty so I can put a condom on before we kiss. Anyway, it's a bit presumptuous. What if I just want to hug someone - that's contact with their body - I can't very well put a condom on before hugging someone on the off chance that we shag later. Condom leaflets in general are rather baffling. Take this bit: "Using the other hand, roll the condom down the length of the penis to its base. Withdraw the penis soon after ejactulation..." Now hold on a minute. Isn't there supposed to be something in between this bit. Surely there should be an "hours of tender yet passionate lovemaking while violins play in the background and fireworks explode over a tropical beach" stage in here somewhere? I mean "Unroll. Squirt." is not suffused with erotic tenderness to my mind. They might as well include "Blush and apologise to your partner while saying that you've been very tired lately and can try again in an hour or so" in that set of instructions.

9) Lack of information: There's a whole lot of types right. I mean there's types and flavours and ribbed and striped and whatever. Lots of us use these things. So where's the "What Nodder?" magazine with road tests? Not that I particularly want Jeremy Clarkson saying "1000 BHP of raw rubbery power" (in fact the thought of his blue jeans and beergut being involved in any intimate discussion of sex is giving me a major case of the shudders) but we spend some of the most important minutes (I mean hours, obviously I mean hours, dammit) of our lives using these things so why do I spend more time reading album reviews than condom reviews? If I were purchasing a washing machine I'd probably give a cursory glance to some spec sheets. If I were buying a computer I'd look at articles and talk to the guy in the shop. But condoms, I've never asked anyone for figures. I've never said "but, how does it compare to the Athlon and would I need a bigger heat sink?" in the context of condom purchase. The mates range has: flared [are flares back again?] , contoured, straight, textured and flared (oversized tip) and a sentence on each. There's no performance specs: BHP, 0-60, mpg, whatever. Surely we should be given coefficients of lubricity, erotic quotient, orgasmo-dynamic sensitivity, breaking strain and acceleration figures? No, the nearest we get is that they're manucatured to BS EN 600. Well, the last thing I want sex to be is "British Standard" or "Euro Norm". That sounds like the kind of sex that a particularly dull back bench MP would have (actually, presumably the parties would be strongly divided over whether to have British Standard sex or sign up for the Euro Norm).

So, to conclude, if there are any sex researchers or wannabe sex researchers (and who isn't?) reading this then please: let us have a bit more imagination and aesthetic sense applied to this problem. For example how about an in-penis device which harmlessly converts sperm and viruses into sound waves? Ideally you could choose the tune that would be played as the sperm arrived. I'd buy that - and I'd pay to download extra ringtones too: "Hey sweetness, choose any you like from: I Know it's Over, She'll be coming around the mountain (when she comes) and The Countdown Theme." How bloody suave is that?

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