Why are some of us still embarrassed to buy condoms in public?
Even when they are easily available in supermarkets and chemists it’s still awkward having them in the shopping basket. Buying condoms means that you want sex and many aren’t comfortable showing it, when in our modern society it really should be as easy as buying toothpaste.
It’s a different issue in most of the developing countries where women who want to use safe and effective family planning methods are unable to because they lack access to information and services.
One exception is Thailand, where the birth rate has lowered quickly and substantially thanks to an extremely creative family planning approach. The man behind the plan is Mechai Viravaidya, who was born to a Thai father and Scottish mother, and was educated at Geelong Grammar School and the University of Melbourne. He returned to Thailand and worked for a government development agency, where he realised that the rapid population growth was hindering rural development.
Mechai established a progressive family planning program with a high-profile public education campaign promoting condoms. The education started at schools and involved staging condom balloon-blowing contests for school children and their teachers. He and his co-workers handed out condoms at cinemas and traffic jams, encouraged taxi drivers to give them to their clients and even gave the traffic police boxes of condoms to distribute – they were called “cops and rubbers”.
The campaign was popular because relationships between men and women in Thailand are more egalitarian than most in the developing world. Most Thais are Buddhists, and Buddhist scripture preaches: “Many children make you poor.”
Mechai also founded a restaurant chain called Cabbages and Condoms, which reflects his philosophy that contraception and condoms should be as accessible as cabbage. The slogan of the restaurant is “our food is guaranteed not to cause pregnancy”. Condoms and sex toys are part of the decor – hanging from ceilings, embedded in tables, fixed to lamps or imitating table flowers. Condoms, rather than mints or fortune cookies, are given to customers with their bills.
Mechai was affectionately nicknamed “Mr Condom”. He was given several awards and in 2007 became the recipient of a $1 million grant from Bill and Melinda Gates Award for Global Health for confronting “taboo subjects like sex and HIV/AIDS directly in order to save lives”.
The problem with condoms is that both men and women often don’t like to use them. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation offered $100,000 in initial funding and up to $1 million for anyone who could develop the “next generation condom”. This condom should significantly preserve or enhance pleasure in order to improve uptake and regular use. Additional concepts that may help increase uptake could include better-designed condoms that are easier to apply, improved packaging and ways to address and overcome cultural barriers.
A possible runner-up is the Origami Male Condom, which folds and unfolds concertina style – like a piece of paper – unlike the more conventional condoms that require unrolling. This folded design provides two important innovations: the consistent expansion and contraction of the condom allows a natural reciprocating motion of the penis within the internally lubricated condom; and the easier, fast application just before intercourse and with no disruption to intimacy is likely to make sex more fun.
This condom is designed to provide a more pleasurable experience for men and women and also protection against HIV/AIDS and all other sexual transmitted infections. But we have to wait until 2015 for it to be available on the market pending regulatory approvals.
It’s no surprise that buying condoms online has become very popular, especially with the variety that’s available. They come in all sorts of colours, flavours and sizes. There are supersensitive condoms, ribbed and studded ones, even ones that glow in the dark. There are vibrating condom rings with batteries, condoms with anaesthetic cream inside to help with premature ejaculation and condoms with tingly warm lubricant.
The results of a national survey conducted by La Trobe University’s Australian Research Centre for Sex, Health and Society reported that only about 50 per cent of young Australians used condoms in the last year and the rate of sexual transmitted infections had gone up significantly.
Wouldn’t it be a good idea to stage condom balloon-blowing contests for our high school students and their teachers as part of sex education?
Matty Silver is a sex educator and writer for the lifestyle section of the Sydney Morning Herald in Australia. Though she’s Downunder, she writers about issues we all face. We’re pleased to have her join us and share her thoughts and articles.
Reprinted with permission from Matty Silver. All copyrights property of Ms. Silver and SMH and/or photographer