Sex as a Part of Global Economies and Transnational Relations

Our book defines globalization as “the idea that the world seems as if it is getting smaller.” With globalization, we see a convergence of ideas, products, services, and programs transnationally.  Growing modes of technology and transportation contribute to these exchanges and the growth of international economical markets.  The book also defines transnational as “extending beyond the boundaries beyond the nation.”  We have seen the ways in which ideologies have crossed boundaries and been exchanged transnationally, and ideologies regarding sexual identities and gender expression are no exception.  With growing globalization and transnational exchanges, we see an emergence of Western imperialism in the ways that the global north (i.e. westernized powerful countries) imposes standards and ideals upon the global south (i.e. third world developing countries).  Whether physical bodies are moving from place to place and contributing to the movement of ideas about sexual performances or behaviors, or standards of beauty and media portrayals are being transferred from country to country, we see sexuality begin exchanged on the economic of a constantly changing world.  Peter Chua’s piece “Condoms in the Global Economy” gives us a clearer picture of the ways in which sex is exchanged as a commodity and ideals, values, and goods that revolve around ideas about sex are exchanged on a very large scale. 

Chua writes at length about the role that condoms play for different organizations and people across the globe.  Ideas about condom use are very different in different regions and amongst different groups. Some people are very passionate about promoting condom use to prevent the spreading of STDs, particularly among disproportionately susceptible populations. Other people are concerned with the prohibition of pleasure that condom use incites, and they are willing to risk STD contraction to experience sexual pleasure in its fullest capacity.  People study the social factors that prevent condom use and the circumstances that make condoms the only option of STD prevention and birth control among certain groups.  Condoms play a huge role socially among different groups of people.

Chua aims in his piece to examine the roles that condoms play as global commodities.  Condoms are one aspect of sexual practices that are more than merely a social construction, instead they are physical objects subject to advertisement, promotion, and scrutiny. Chua suggests this idea that is in great support of a world systems theory of legal global pluralism.  He writes about condoms being promoted and distributed by First World countries to Third World countries, making developing nations economically dependent upon western ideals and markets.  Furthermore, Chua suggests, this also leads to Third World dependence on the West for ideologies about gender, sexuality, and the morality behind sexual behaviors.  Western ideas, through the distribution and promotion of condoms, encourage individual freedom and sexual autonomy, which may not inherently exist in the governments of developing countries.  Condoms, quite unexpectedly, are symbols of sexual freedom and agency in countries that may not experience the same individual rights and liberties that the U.S.does.

Chua’s article offers several benefits.  Condoms as global market commodities are rarely studied and have not been as widely framed as condoms as preventative tools and promoters of good morals.  Chua also provides a history of condom production, suggesting that as years of production have progressed, condoms are becoming more effective among a wider array of groups across the globe.  The limitations to Chua’s article that I found is that he doesn’t really address the role that condoms do play in perpetuating the existence of commercial industries like sex work.  There are actually high rates of condom use in commercial sex work worldwide, namely because no one wants to run a brothel where all of the sex workers have STDs.  Where condom use is low is actually in perhaps the most rational settings of sex, in intimate partner relationships.  Public health researchers are suggesting that condom campaign strategies need to be employed that are targeted towards people who are having sex with a partner in a relationship to stop the rampant spread of HIV.  Chua doesn’t touch on this point of condom use and non-use among certain groups.

In an MHS course that I took called HIV/AIDS in the Global Community, we studied the effects of condom distribution campaigns in different regions of the world.  The most successful country that we studied in terms of rates of condom use was Thailand.  Thailand is unique because the commercial sex industry is one of the largest and economically booking industries in the country.  STD rates were high in the late 70s and early 80s, and public health officials noticed the need for strategies to combat this.  Thailand did something that seems on the surface to be very simplistic, but actually proved to be quite effective.  Thailand invented a character, “The Condom Man,” a superhero that publicly advocates condom use and distributes condoms to several groups of people.  This character is well-known just as super heroes are in the U.S. The public in Thailand responded very positively to The Condom Man’s promotion strategies, and rates of condom use have gone up significantly in this country.

In relation to Chua’s article about the role that condoms play in the global economic market, it would be interesting to compare condom distribution campaign strategies in countries across the globe. What strategies work best, and at whom are they targeted? When condoms are promoted as items, commodities, how does that shape the way that sexual behaviors are acknowledged, promoted, or discouraged in different countries?


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