When I was four, I found a sealed condom packet in my parents’ bedroom. The illustrated instructions on the back were bizarre but interesting. Then my mother walked in. She could’ve been rattled, and shooed me away, but she sat down and painstakingly answered my overflowing questions. And that would be the last time for a long time before I saw anyone have a proper conversation about condoms.
The next vague mention of it was in that one condom ad, where a dude who is unbelievably happy about the rain comes into a chemist’s store and asks for a “chhatri“? He meant a condom. If I was that chemist I’d probably have banished him and his euphemisms from my store.
What it always boiled down to was euphemisms, so we never learned to talk about condoms – kinda like how we don’t talk sex and sexuality. And as a result, our little latex friends get a pretty bad rap. It seems like we should know a little more about one of the few things standing between our bodies and several potentially life-threatening diseases. Everybody seems to know a little some-some about condoms and sex in general, but most of the time that isn’t enough. So here’s a couple of myths and facts that you oughta know!
The first time condoms got significant recognition when HIV/AIDS was discovered in 1981, after which the use of latex condoms was encouraged in nearly every part of the world. But condoms have existed since pretty much forever. There’s cave paintings from 15,000 BC that depict “penis sheaths,” but arguably the first use of a condom specifically to prevent disease was by King Minos of Crete, in 3000 BC. Of course these were made of linen and probably not that effective. By about 1400 CE, aristocrats in Asia had developed slightly better version, made of oil paper, animal intestines or tortoise shell. That last one sounds a mite uncomfortable, eh? Wait until you hear about the first rubber condom invented in 1885 that was as thick as a bicycle tube. Yikes! It wasn’t until 1920 that the high-tensile latex condom was finally made.
Whoa there, tiger, slow down. The whole point of a condom is to not tear during sex. Yes, condoms can tear or break for a couple of reasons, but it isn’t because you’re too much of a pro for the condom to handle. Tears happen when a condom is not put on properly (here’s a helpful guide) or if the latex is exposed to too much oil. So using a water-based lubricant, and making sure you don’t get any oil-based lipsticks on your condoms is always a good practice. As for effectiveness, they are effective 98% of the time, when used correctly. Not to cramp your style, folks, but just take precaution with your precaution, okay?
We like to think this is true, because we like to think of condoms as contraceptives. Yes condoms are a form of birth control, but they are also meant to guard against Chlamydia, Gonorrhoea, Herpes, HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases or infections. We also tend to believe this myth because we think all sex is peno-vaginal. Remember that one time from “Sex and the City” when Miranda insisted on using a condom for oral sex? It wasn’t just for laughs. And anal sex? Rubber up, please and thank you. Because we think sex is peno-vaginal, we completely write off safe sex for gay or lesbian partners, who don’t have to deal with unplanned pregnancies, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have to worry about other medical risks! So really, no matter what kind of sex you’re having, and no matter what your sexual orientation is, it’s always a good idea to use a condom.
Alright, granted, this horrifying incident has actually happened to some people, and has taken a lot of embarrassment, fear and struggling before it can be fixed. The risk here is that, once the condom has slipped off – you may be exposed to infection. Also, having a foreign object inside your body that you are unable to remove is obviously a big no-no. But this isn’t everybody’s condom story. It usually happens because – you guessed it – the condom wasn’t put on correctly, or was the wrong size and slipped off. So as long as you have all this sorted before you start, you’re good.
Okay, so technically a condom is supposed to restrict the flow of semen (as well as more malicious microorganisms), but this is a complaint that is more culturally constructed than anything else. Sure, sex feels different without a condom, but it’s also a heck of a lot more dangerous. And if this is about a size thing, allow me to reiterate – High. Tensile. Latex. Never has anything been truer to the phrase “one size fits all.” And if proof is what you’re after, check out any of the million blown-up condom challenges on YouTube:
Okay, even though “female condoms” are now available in the market, you can kind of see why this is still a widely held belief. You think “condom” and you think “penis” and you think “men.” But it isn’t that simple. For one thing, the idea is obviously exclusive of trans and non-binary people. For another, it perpetuates the idea that only men are sexually active beings, and condoms exist solely for the purposes of their sex drives. No. Condoms are a shared responsibility between two (or more) partners.
This comes from the idea that anything even remotely related to sexuality is bad. Which of course is bunkum. Buying condoms, refreshing an old stock, and having a supply at hand whenever you’re settling in for some safe consensual sexy-times actually makes you a responsible person. So don’t let anyone shame you for having condoms on you. That makes about as much sense as tsk tsking at someone for “open-carrying” a pack of sanitary napkins, without the black bag.
I don’t know how many of you had to sit through the awkward giggling session in school that was supposed to be Sex Education, but I did, and I sure didn’t get told all of this stuff. The condom is a pretty splendid invention, so why shouldn’t we know more about it? Not only does is prevent disease transmission, it also encourages a healthier sexual culture. For people who enjoy having sex, condoms are here to make things safer and more comfortable. They’ve helped reduce unwanted pregnancies, changed family planning, and even altered some of the power dynamics between men and women. And, more interestingly, condoms have meant safer sex practices for people of all orientations as well. Funny how long we’ve come since those tortoise shells, huh?