Alvin Barleycorn dresses like an unnamed extra from your favourite costume drama. But unlike the merrily dead cast of Downton and The Crown, he’s got to live with the consequences of Late Modernity; so he’s standing athwart history yelling “Reverse!” His next entry is here.
I have often wondered who actually buys condoms.
I know that the hypothetical answer you’re supposed to give to government Thought Inspectors is “Every responsible and educated young man or woman, as men and women are co-responsible for the practising of safe, responsible, mutually respectful and definitely maturely discussed-in-advance sex”. That’s the answer that a PSHE teacher would probably give, anyway.
After all, there isn’t any possibility that a young British couple in 2017 would actually be aiming to conceive, as my understanding is that people under 35 don’t have children anymore. There are so many important Netflix series to binge on, so many Social Justice demos to go on, and so many privileges to check, they really haven’t the time.
In any case, actually utilising your genitals for their biologically ordained function is simply conforming to the culturally constructed heteronormative systemic structure that promotes a totalising and reactionary neo-colonial vision of the nuclear family at the expense of minority gay bi trans and non-binary discourses. Or something.
So, given the above, you’d expect millennials to be strolling casually into Boots all the time, heading straight to the Durex section, picking up variety packs of Hyper Maxi Pleasure Sensitive Plus-Size Banana Fragranced Extra Ribbed johnnies, flashing smug glances over their shoulders as they signal their sexually responsible virtue as well as their prospective prowess in the bedroom to customers who are buying less politically progressive items such as razor blades. After all, who shaves nowadays?
The thing is, you don’t see that in Boots – ever. The condoms section is always completely deserted. Embarrassed and awkward men actually walk a long-winded path around the section, maintaining a modest minimum radius from the shelf so as to avoid even the faintest possibility of someone they know, or a total stranger, seeing them too close and passing social judgment.
The only people I have ever seen buying condoms from Boots were two teenagers in overly tight suits and skinny ties on their way to their post-GCSE high school prom, and even then they made about four tactical passes of the aisle in the pretence of looking for something else before realising that in order to actually purchase the products they wanted they needed to stop and pick them up physically. A nervous conversation about exactly how to go about buying them shot backwards and forwards between them: “Mate, these are what we want”, “Nah mate, Sophie would be well into these ones!” “Mate you’re never going to pull Sophie, she’s well fit”. And so on.
The fact is nobody buys condoms in the shops. I was reflecting today on why this was, as I was on my way to buy something boring like decongestant tablets for a cold. And what I don’t understand is, why? We live in an era when all social stigma attached to casual sex, or to revealing the most intimate and personal details of one’s bodily functions to the rest of the universe via social media is regarded as normal, has all but faded away.
Being coy or private about sex is seen as being stuffy or judgmental, and believing in sexual restraint or exclusivity is often looked on as highly uncool. That being the case, why do people remain incurably, excruciatingly embarrassed about presenting a packet of rubbers to one of those bespectacled girls in white coats behind the counter, who in any case spend their day handing out laxatives and tampons and who probably are in truth really hard to embarrass?
I think it must be the case that condoms are, well, rubbish, and no amount of PSHE or government propaganda can quite fully brainwash us into believing otherwise. There is clearly something less than ideal about these disgusting, slippery sheaths made of rubber and lubricant, designed solely for the purpose of frustrating nature’s mechanism for making new people and for guarding against the clap. Is the clap real, or just something they talk about in Shakespeare? I’m not actually sure.
There is something symbolically depressing about condoms: they represent the fact that in truth you are not fully committed to this person and have no idea how long you expect the relationship to last. It’s saying “Let’s be honest, we may well not see each other again because I don’t actually like you that much and I might try and shag Tracey instead tomorrow night, and I can’t be arsed to wait.” They also imply that you don’t really trust the other person not to give you some disease that will make you go blind, lose your limbs and die.
The reason that kids in school don’t listen to teachers who tell them in Sex Ed that sex with a condom doesn’t make a difference to enjoyment and doesn’t involve any extra effort or discomfort is because those teachers are lying.
Condoms are, pre-theoretically: emasculating, pathetic, embarrassing and clearly not what God (or evolution, if that’s your God) intended, and no amount of health lectures by earnest JCR Women’s Officers can detract from their fundamental, irredeemable crapness.
I’m not saying that you should sleep around with multiple partners without using precautions – that would be foolhardy and dangerous. The reason that people are embarrassed about buying Durex at Boots, however, is because it is an objectively embarrassing thing to do, and because when it comes down to it, you’re broadcasting the fact that you’re about to have shit sex with someone you don’t care about.
Condoms have created a culture in which men can get sex from women while offering zero commitment. This is a system men have been yearning for, for millennia – and I can’t believe that women have gone along with it.
So, if you do ever catch a spotty teenager picking up a packet of French gentlemen, yield to the urge to turn your nose up. He deserves it.
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