As a sex therapist and educator, I am constantly being bombarded with different products related to sex and sexual health. As you might know, sex is a multibillion-dollar industry, which causes entrepreneurs to flock to every possible new gadget that seems to be at all lucrative. But don’t worry! I am here to talk about concerning products before you spend your hard-earned cash on the newest fad (you’re welcome!). So, hold on tight for this week’s Genitals Beware!

Alternative Condoms

Okay—these “condoms” are near and dear to my heart if my heart was a black hole filled with painful STD’s. But seriously, this new fad of condoms (and we are using that word loosely here) offer little or no protection to the shaft. They typically sit on the head of the penis and because the shaft is virtually unprotected it will “enhance sexual pleasure for both partners.”  So how is this product problematic you ask?

1. Condoms are used NOT ONLY to prevent unwanted pregnancies but to prevent sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and some of the most common STDs, like Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, Herpes, HPV, etc. etc. are transmitted via skin to skin contact. And I don’t know about you, but my most pleasurable sexual experiences have always been sans burning pain and green discharge.

2. Not everyone who uses condoms does it to prevent pregnancy and because these condoms clearly prevent against very few STDs (if any) the designers are forgetting a very large population of condom wearers: penis owners having sex with other penis owners! But even if this isn’t their target audience, the companies are being reckless with its messaging, leading us to my next concern…

3.  Marketing these alternative condoms as a way to enhance pleasure is hella problematic. According to one of the company’s crowdfunding Campaign, “Only 20% of men in developed countries wear condoms. Why? Because condoms are uncomfortable and get in the way of a full sexual experience.” Uh, say what? This statement is like if sex negativity married toxic masculinity and created a tiny, grandiose condom child that fit “securely” at the head of a penis because sex is only about the penile sensation and nothing else, right? Well, not according to an Indiana University study. They found that men who reported less sensation were typically young; less sexually experienced; felt insecure about their erections, and had partners who complained about discomfort during sex. On the other hand, those who reported no difference in sensation tended to be older, more experienced, engaged in different types of sex outside of penetration (receiving and giving), enjoyed the duration and intensity of intercourse, and ejaculated while wearing the condom. So, who are these alternative condom companies marketing to?? You’ll have to ask them because I am still confused on that one. BUT, if we go by the information found by Indiana University, many of these condom users will likely be young men who are inexperienced and insecure, who truly believe that the only way to have a good sexual experience is to wear a “condom” with the least amount of coverage… Yikes! As a sex therapist and educator that makes me feel sad, while annoyed AF. Wreckless marketing I tell you!

    • When Sex Educator, Angel Kalafatis-Russell (aka Professor Sex), questioned a company about this on Instagram she was met with an interesting response, specifically how helpful alternative condoms are for “monogamous couples” looking for better sexual experiences. Yet, monogamous (what does this have to do with monogamy? Not sure) couples in developed countries who are only interested in pregnancy prevention presumably have access to other pregnancy preventative methods, such as IUDs (which are 99% effective), as well as the birth control pill. Their marketing sends mixed messages… on the one hand, they say that they are for couples who don’t want babies, but then many of these company’s websites are comparing their product to typical condoms with full coverage. Kalafatis-Russell made sure to highlight the fact that “so far, [condoms] are the most effective and accessible risk reduction barrier method.” She then goes on to note that statements about the typical condom’s minimization of pleasure are “subjective, incorrect, and harmful.” I’d have to agree with Professor Sex on all of her points.

4. Throughout my research on alternative condoms, I continued to notice the argument that the percentage of people who use condoms is really low due to poor sensation. However, they seem to be ignoring other mitigating factors, i.e. lack of government funding for comprehensive sex education, which INCLUDES ways to prevent STDs and unplanned pregnancy. Prior to the Obama Administration, 1.5 billion dollars had gone towards abstinence-only education. Yet, once that funding was cut (Thanks, Obama!), we saw that in teens ages 15-19 years of age there was a reduction of unprotected sex by 60%, as well as delayed sexual initiation, reduction in the number of sexual partners, or increased condom or contraceptive use in 40% of teens. Maybe if the U.S. had better sex education programming, teens (who eventually become adults) would be more comfortable with condom use. And maybe if companies stopped perpetuating negative stereotypes about condoms, we’d be in a better place, as well *sips tea*.

5. Consequently, if these condoms aren’t providing disclaimers (on social media) about the very high potential of STD transmission to their presumably younger condom users, well… I’d imagine you can connect the dots on that one.

 

Wrap Up (oh the puns are endless!)

If you are so inclined to purchase an alternative condom, make sure that you aren’t using it for a random hookup or with people you are seeing but are unsure if they’ve been tested yet. If the company can prove the cap is strong enough to withstand penetration and ejaculation while on the penis head (some are still in a testing phase of production), you should only be using it for pregnancy prevention with partners who have tested negative for STDs.

Until next time…

Xo Kristin

Learn more about Professor Sex here!

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