real life

Does carrying condoms make you easy?

Let’s play a game. Imagine walking into the home of someone you liked. What one thing could you see that would convince you that you were NOT compatible?

I recently put this question out to my Facebook friends. The responses ranged from the flippant and amusing (a pair of crocs/ a Nickleback CD/ a dream catcher/ more grooming products than I own/ my ex-wife) to the more serious and political (a wall photo of Pauline Hanson, Reagan or Bush/ a gun or drugs/ religious propaganda/ pin-up posters of women/ anything Nazi related). My own? Cats- lots and lots of cats/ a soft toy collection/ multiple framed photos of his mother.

Of the 60 odd responses no-one mentioned condoms. This isn’t surprising. But I raise this because in a recent edition of Elle magazine, William Adams Jr. (better known as will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas) lists condoms as the number one thing that would turn him off a girl. And I don’t think he meant it in that flippant “a copy of The Da Vinci Code” sort of a way:

ELLE: If you walked into a woman’s house, what one item would convince you that you weren’t compatible?
W: If she had condoms in her house, that would just fuckin’ throw me off. That’s just tacky.

ELLE: Well, okay, I could see if she had a candy bowl full of them on the coffee table. But if she’s got a few in a drawer, wouldn’t that simply suggest she’s health-conscious?

W: I just think, like, if you’re into someone and you guys get to that level, then that’s something you should converse about together and say, “Hey, maybe we should get some.”

Hmmm. OK let’s get to unpacking this little chestnut, shall we?

When I was growing up, there was an unwritten rule about contraception. Condoms (and possibly lube) were the boy’s responsibility and everything else fell to the girl. This made sense. Just as girls are always better at knowing which tampons to buy for themselves, boys are generally better at knowing which size condoms fit them best.

However, just because traditionally boys might have done the majority of the baggie-buying, this doesn’t mean that sexually active or interested girls should not also keep spare condoms on hand. On the contrary, given that condoms are the only contraceptive devices which protect against STI’s (and given that boys sometimes don’t buy or run out of condoms, or tell us that they “forgot” to bring them before trying to persuade us that it “feels better” to go au naturale) it is a smart idea for all sexually active girls to keep condoms on hand.

So why would will.i.am be so repulsed and threatened by a girl who is smart, responsible and proactive about maintaining her (and for that matter his) sexual health? And would he also object to seeing tampons, bikini waxing strips or the contraceptive pill in a girl’s house? I think not and here is why.

I suspect that the true reason why some (though certainly not all) men are confronted by the idea of a woman who owns condoms (especially if she owns only half a packet of condoms) is because it is a strong indication that she has probably had sex with people other than you. Unlike the contraceptive pill which can be explained away in myriad ways (I take it for my acne/ it helps me regulate my cycle/ blah blah blah) condoms are irrefutable evidence that a woman wants to have sex and probably has had sex with other men.

But why is this threatening? Wouldn’t you prefer a partner who is smart, responsible, health conscious and hey, a little accomplished in the boudoir? Why, exactly, is it that so many men want to imagine that we are virgins when they bed us? Do they subscribe to the idea that a woman’s sexuality is a limited resource? Or are they just insecure and scared of the idea that “we might have had better” than them in the past? After all, a virgin has no yardstick (so to speak) to compare you against.

In her spectacular book, Princesses and Pornstars, feminist Emily Maguire explores this issue further. Emily writes:

“Why is promiscuity (however it is defined) such a bad thing? Why is experience – something that often makes you more accomplished – considered a bad thing when it comes to sex? The answer, sadly, is that many people still consider a woman’s sexuality to be a limited resource… Depending on who is doing the comparing, a woman (or more specifically, a vagina) is either like a battery (can only be used so many times before it runs out) or a car (value decreases with use)”.

“Even ignoring the offensive connotations of woman as a tradable commodity, these kinds of analogies are ridiculous because they rest on the idea that a vagina has a severely limited life span. Anyone who has, or has had an extended relationship with a vagina, knows this is nonsense”.

Amen to that. And it’s also about time we stopped shaming women who enjoy sex and stopped policing female sexuality as a way of managing male performance anxiety.

But there is one other aspect to this debate which I think warrants exploration. If we return to the idea that men are generally responsible for purchasing condoms while women are expected to “take care of the other stuff” (which may or may not also include condoms) then in terms of time, money, effort, doctors visits and physical side effects, women get a pretty shit deal. Sure, it’s important that women hold the reigns when it comes to controlling their own bodies and fertility, but given all the doctors visits, bloating, weight gain, mood swings, cramping, not to mention the tedium that goes with having to remember to take a pill each day I think it’s fair to say that women often carry the bulk of the responsibility.

This is why I’ve long since insisted (I mean, politely requested) that long term boyfriends pay for half of any expense related to contraception. After all, it’s “our sex life”, not “my sex life”- and “we” take the risks, not “I” take the risks.

As for will.i.am? GROW UP YOU CHUMP!

Do you keep condoms on you? In your home? Do you take responsibility for your contraception or do you rely on your partner?