Social Implications of Condoms

One of the units we covered in class focused on global and transnational sexualities. We explored the variations in sexual freedom, sexual expression, and among genders between different cultures. Our studies led us to analyze the globalization of sexuality. Globalization, as explained by Peter Chua, “is the idea that the world seems as though it is getting smaller” (NSS 507). Technology and the industrialization of business have made the spread of information and goods nearly instantaneous, creating “homogenized” ideals ad norms worldwide (NSS 508).

An instance in which globalization is especially evident is in the industrialization of condoms. In his article, “Condoms in the Global Economy,” Peter Chua explores the discourses surrounding personal condom use and condoms as an economic concept. The arguments supporting and condemning condom use are interesting because they display the ideals of their nation of origination. I want to explore these arguments, as well as the nuances in the perspectives on condoms between North American and European countries as seen in the documentary “Let’s Talk About Sex.”

Introducing condoms as an economic commodity in today’s society is an interesting venture covered by Chua in his article. He begins with the history of condoms, highlighting the time period during which condoms began being mass-produced, which was just after World War II (NSS 510). The demand for condoms increased when family planning practices were implemented and when the HIV/AIDS scare motivated people to have protected sex in the decades following the war (NSS 510). Have we ever considered that the condom industry was controversial, at least with regards to race and gender? Jobs in factories were racially segregated, giving white upper-class workers managerial or supervising positions while black workers handle heavy, dangerous machinery (NSS 510). These jobs were for men; women worked for less pay, in jobs that required less training and education (NSS 510). These inequalities tie into the inequalities later seen between races and gender on a global scale. We will see how people of certain races, from third-world countries, do not have equal access to condoms, and women’s rights and equality are not recognized in the field of contraception.

Continuing the idea of condoms as economic commodities, I thought it was interesting how the efforts of sexual health aid provided by first-world countries like the US to third-world countries is more for economic gain than it is to help these people. At least that is the way that the people living in these poverty-stricken countries see it. Chua states in his article, “While the US government provided millions of dollars to reduce fertility and increase HIV/AIDS prevention in the Third World, most of the money actually stayed within the US” (NSS 510). He goes on to say that providing condoms to these countries actually makes such countries dependent on the US, and not the health providers in their own countries (NSS 511). So while the US is making a profit off of these countries in poverty, these third-world countries are getting nowhere in their struggle against poverty. It is also important to note that women in these situations do not feel empowered by their sexuality just because they may have access to condoms. No, instead they feel forced into family planning strategies or unwanted contraceptive methods. Isn’t it interesting how a material good can have such history in social and economic injustice while as well as affect how women perceive their sexuality?

The arguments surrounding condoms are based on moral ideals, sexual freedom, and gender equality. The conservatives argue that condoms actually promote sexual activity and negatively impact society because they interrupt natural procreation (NSS 512). This is a heteronormative mindset; assuming that people engage in strictly heterosexual sexual behaviors excludes the entire homosexual community from condom use. Research has shown that condoms significantly reduce the spread of STDs, including HIV. Isn’t that a very positive contribution to society? Well social moralists would say that people would practice abstinence if condoms weren’t available. Is that true? I think the ways of accessing condoms are far too great and sex is too appealing for most people for them to just stop doing it altogether. Also, condoms have provided women with the freedom to control their sexuality by giving them the choice of procreation. Taking that away would be an extreme injustice to women as it is not their “duty” to bear children. Women and men both have the right to dictate their sexualities, without government interference.

Altogether, these different perspectives regarding condoms have led to varying expressions of sexualities, as in the North American versus European countries spotlighted in the documentary, “Let’s Talk About Sex.” Mostly, the differences revolved around the cultures’ openness about sex. In European countries, they openly discussed sex and embraced it as a natural, human occurrence. Children were introduced to sex at a young age, being taught safe sexual practices such as condom use, from the beginning. Teens in America said that they hardly talked with their parents about sex, it was too awkward to discuss with them. These discourses permeated the topic of condoms and their social stigma. In Europe, it was seen as responsible to have a condom in your wallet. American teens refuted that fact by saying guys were perverts or questionable if they always carried condoms. What does that say about our society? Somehow, safe sex has been stigmatized here giving condoms a negative image. This has serious social implications if we want to create a safe sex society that encourages people to embrace their sexual rights.

From their manufacturing and industrialization to personal use, the social implications of condoms are heavily debated. The sexuality of people around the world is affected by the production and distribution of condoms.

2 thoughts on “Social Implications of Condoms

  1. I really like this economic background of condoms. It’s so interesting how such a small piece of rubber can dictate our worlds to a large extent. You mentioned that “condoms have provided women with the freedom to control their sexuality by giving them the choice of procreation,” which is very true. If women do not want to use or worry about condoms, want reassurance, or don’t want men to complain about condoms, they also go on birth control as another means to avoiding pregnancy (even though they do not prevent STDs). Just like condoms aren’t readily available everywhere, neither is birth control. Both of these should be spread throughout the world; everyone should be allowed to control their bodies and determine if and when they want to procreate.

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  2. I feel like American society should attempt to mimic European countries in the acceptance of sex and the normality of carrying condoms around. I also feel like the religious conservatives who argue against condom use are pushing their beliefs onto others. Not everyone wants to save sex until marriage, not everyone is heterosexual, and not everyone believes that it is wrong to use contraception. I feel like increasing availability of condoms will not increase the rates of teens having sex all that much; if they really want to have sex, they will find a way to do so.

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