Published in Catalogue, 2017
I distinctly remember the first time I ever saw a condom in real life and that, as would be the experience of so many other young girls, it was a moment entirely removed from the reality of sex. Sitting cross-legged on the edge of my friend’s mother’s bed, I watched as my friend rifled through her drawers, extracted the tiny foil packages while screeching. She tossed them between us as though they’d already touched a human penis, which is how far sex had felt from our teenage world; everywhere, and yet, nowhere useful.
I remember feeling daring unwrapping them, recognising that we were encountering the artefacts of a culture we didn’t understand, and however abstract, the adult implications of the moment. And later, I remember slipping and screaming down the hallway wearing the condoms as socks, when my friend’s mother returned and – in mock horror – swept us out of her bedroom.
I knew that condoms belonged to sex but could not conceivably understand their importance, their political weight or what the term “safe sex” actually meant on an individual scale. And, in light of the statistics of condom usage that have flummoxed the medical community in recent years, it appears that a great number of us are still failing to conceive of condoms with any grounded ethical significance. Pregnancy is one issue but the lack of regard for illness and public health is unavoidably troubling.
We are increasingly beginning to ignore condoms; perhaps in some way the nagging reminder of intercourse as a transferral of fluids detracts from the idealistic portrait of sex that we see on screens and so wish to believe we can enjoy. The fact is, as a generation, we are not only using condoms markedly less than previous generations, we are also entirely altering the culture of the prophylactic and when we fail to see how this directly impacts the wider picture of population’s health, this becomes problematic on a global scale.