Variations on traditional condoms include extended options for male condoms, female condoms, and ornamental condoms designed to increase pleasure during sex. Colored condoms, especially in brown and black shades, allow for diverse representation through condom color choice. This empowers brown and black-skinned people who seek condoms that match their skin color and do not drastically change the tint of their penis. Unlike cream-tinted normal condoms, darker colored condoms do not white-wash or dramatically alter the color of the skin underneath. These condoms combat the generally white-catered market of sexual goods and objects, offering an alternative to popular white-washed condoms.
Non-Traditional Condoms and Empowerment
Condoms are objects that symbolize sexual activity, protection, and safety. They serve as a way for people to protect themselves and their partners from pregnancy as well as sexually transmitted diseases, or STDs. Although the traditional male condom has been mass-produced and used as a contraceptive since the nineteenth century, condom variations have only become popular in the last few decades. Such variations include condoms targeted towards specific populations: extended options for male condoms, female condoms, and ornamental condoms designed to increase pleasure during sex. These innovations provide a greater number of contraceptive choices for men with specific needs, women, homosexual men who are on the “bottom,” and people of color. Despite the traditional promotion of condoms as either a contraceptive type or STD-prevention tool, an overlooked function of the condom is its ability to empower anyone engaging in sexual acts, especially people who do not fit the “white cis, straight man” profile—that is, the audience mainly targeted by condom companies.
Three main non-traditional types of condoms exist: an extended range of male condoms, female condoms, and ornamental condoms. These improved male condoms include an extended range of male condoms in a variety of lengths and diameters that better fit penises of different lengths and girths. These condoms help provide options for well-fitting condoms to those whose penises are larger or smaller, in length and/or girth. Further, it helps to alleviate the concern of decreased pleasure and sensation due to condom usage, which is exacerbated by the lack of access of many men to well-fitting condoms. Female, or internal, condoms are larger sheaths made to fit vaginas as opposed to penises. They can be used by women or men who are on the “bottom” in male-male sex, and offer an alternative birth control method to populations that traditionally have less influence on the use of protection (particularly, male condoms). Additionally, specialty female condoms, such as the teeth-lined Rape-aXe condoms, are designed to empower women and help them catch their rapists. Ornamental condoms are sheaths that are studded, ribbed, colored, flavored, or scented. They are designed to enhance the enjoyment of sexual acts by including pleasure-inducing sensory aspects to the sheaths. Colored condoms in particular offer an alternative for men of color who seek protective devices that do not lighten the color of their penises the way normal condoms do.
Variations on traditional male condoms provide alternatives to men who desire or require such enhanced alternatives. Normal condoms are offered with a few options, with variations in lubrication, thickness, material, and size available at many drug stores. That array of condoms serves many, but not all, people. Focusing specifically on size, men are often offered only regular condoms and large or XL condoms. Ill-fitting condoms, however, pose a concern to safety to those whose penises are smaller or larger than the traditional size. Too big and the risk of condom breakage increases; too small and the risk of condom slippage increases. Besides unsafe condom usage, societal perceptions are detrimental to those whose penises are too small – whether in length or in girth – for a traditional condom. Due to societal norms and ideals, “a smaller penis decreases sexual confidence” and “appear[s] to drive anxiety and dissatisfaction.” Because larger penises are valued by society and seen as a sign of greater masculinity, those who require smaller sized condoms are often embarrassed; for those who have “bought a small condom before and it was still too big, it’s horrible… to have that experience,” describes Davin Wedel, the president of a custom-fit condom company called myONE. Offering male condoms in a variety of lengths and diameters as to better fit penises of different lengths and girths, the company and others like it seek to create well-fitting condoms. Prior to the development of this company and their line of products, the FDA had strict mandates on the size of condoms that could legally be sold; the minimum condom size was 6.69 inches long and 1.85 inches wide. With the approval of the myONE condoms, condoms now are offered as different combinations of “8 condom lengths (4.92 inches to 8.19 inches) and 9 condoms widths (1.77 inches to 2.52 inches).” The range of better-fitting condoms enables people to purchase condoms that fit correctly, increasing their contraceptive and STD safety, and just as importantly, helps them avoid the embarrassment of tell-tale signs of a smaller than average penis size – predominantly, bunching of extra condom material and slippage. These benefits specifically helps men of East Asian descent, whom researchers have determined tend to have, on average, smaller penis sizes than people of Caucasoid (Europeans, South Asian, and North African) or Negroid (sub-Saharan African) descent. Chinese condoms target a consumer base consisting of Chinese men, meaning they are “slightly smaller in length and girth than those being sold in Western countries.” As a result, it is clear that East Asian men in America are more likely than white men, the targeted consumer base in America, to have issues with how condoms fit. On the other hand, people of African descent are also more likely to have fit issues with regular condoms as well – however, larger sized condoms are more popularly available, such as the widely touted “Magnum” and “Magnum XL” products. It is the people with smaller-than-average penises who suffer the most: from both the stigma of having a small penis as well as a lack of well-fitting condoms. The saying “one size fits all” very clearly does not apply to this contraceptive product. Just like the existence of various lines of clothing made to better fit petite, tall, or plus-sized bodies helps them feel confident in their clothing, the existence of myONE and specifically sized condoms helps empower those with varying penis sizes.
Aside from male condoms and its variations, another key contraceptive method is the female condom. It provides an avenue for female sexual empowerment, especially in the African and Asian countries where the female condom is much more popular. Because male condoms are applied to the penis, the partner on the bottom – whether that is a woman or a man (for men who have sex with men [MSM]) – has limited control over its usage. Some must plead with their partner to use the protective device, and their own sexual health is subsequently placed in the hands of their partner. The female condom, able to be inserted into the female vagina or the anus, especially in male-male intercourse, provides autonomy to the opposite side: it allows both partners to be able to control their level of protection from STDs and pregnancy. This is one of the only STD-protective devices that females and men who are on the “bottom” have the capacity to employ, even though their partner’s knowledge about the use of the product is still inevitable. This increases the bargaining power of those who do not normally wear the condom; that is, females and MSM who are on the bottom are able to assert their own right to wearing a condom, rather than being forced to plead with their partner and having to ask them to use a condom or other protective device. Female sex workers also particularly benefit from the product, as they tend to have low bargaining power with their partners and have an increased risk of STDs because of their interaction with multiple partners, partners with an extensive sexual history, and partners in a position of power (as the money stems from the partner, the “employer” of the escort). These are populations who have limited power in traditional male condom usage, and are empowered by the availability of the female condom. Further, because it is a new product oft advertised as a form of choice to those who are not regularly offered such power in the decision-making process regarding protection during intercourse, the female condom is able to foster new discussions not often mediated by the excessively advertised male condom. While those with penises may remain firm in their beliefs regarding male condom usage, the existence of the female condom opens up the playing field such that new audiences can now initiate their own protection from pregnancy and STDs. The product helps to alter normal connotations and discussions associated with the male condom, provide a form of direct protection during intercourse for populations unable to utilize the male condom, and balance the power dynamic of the decision process revolving around condom usage.
Variations of the female condom also exist that continue to empower women, although in a different context. Most prominently, the Rape-aXe is an innovative female condom meant to provide wearers with a degree of protection from rapists. The inside of the Rape-aXe’s latex sheath is embedded with sharp, teeth-like barbs meant to attach onto the skin of the rapist after penetration and inflict great pain that can only be relieved by the help of a medical professional. It provides two methods of empowerment: first, the victim is given a chance to escape after the initial penetration, when the attacker is incapacitated with pain. Secondly, the Rape-aXe stores genetic material that can be used to convict the guilty rapist after the object is removed. This dual function allows victims to protect themselves during the rape and to seek justice afterwards. Some argue that the product can make victims vulnerable to retaliation by ensnared men and places rape-prevention responsibility on would-be victims. Admittedly, both are true; however, the product does not need to serve all protective purposes for all women by any means. Women who are particularly susceptible to rape due to geographical location (living or visiting an area with high rates of rape) may just desire something that can hurt a rapist in case other protective strategies fail, or want an additional protective device they can wear in addition to other ones they might carry. A South African woman, Dr. Sonnette Ehler, created the product particularly for other South African women, a population with one of the highest risks in the world of being raped. If women, especially South African women who would particularly benefit from the product, can feel safer at night when the Rape-aXe is inserted, the product can be considering successful simply in that it allows women to have lessened fear and/or anxiety about rape. It need not fully protect women against rapists in order to empower them.
Yet another area of condom variations is the field of ornamental condoms, which include unconventionally designed condoms that differ from the popular smooth, translucent sheath design. Manufacturers offer many different colors, textures, smells, and flavors, appealing to the preferences of a wide array of those engaging in sexual intercourse. Some offer obvious benefits in terms of pleasure. Ribbed or studded condoms increase physical sensation in both partners engaging in intercourse, while flavored and scented condoms increase enjoyment of those engaging in oral sex by masking the natural tastes and odors with familiar, artificial ones. However, colored condoms are particularly intriguing, as they do not provide any obvious pleasurable benefit. The question remains: why would someone pay additional money to have condoms in different shades? The answer depends. For some, brightly colored condoms provide visual stimuli that make the penis more appealing or interesting, adding to sexual pleasure in that manner. However, for others, such condoms have deeper implications than just interesting colors. In the context of race, it is interesting to note the flesh-colored tint of normal condoms – that is, the creamy tint of a product designed to appeal to white men. Condom color is more important to black men than those of other races. Black colored condoms empower brown and black men seeking condoms that match their skin color and do not drastically change the tint of their penis. In that way, colored condoms allow men of color to come closer to feeling as if they are not wearing a condom at all. In fact, any non-white colored condom helps prevent men from feeling white-washed by the protective sheath they are employing. Asian men have also benefited from the availability of black-colored condoms. A Japanese company sells “a line of black condoms bearing such catchphrases as “Black is Beautiful” and “Bigger is Better,” sold in fashionable Tokyo boutiques,” capitalizing on the understanding that black men tend to have larger penises than men of other races. Although it is a form of racial appropriation, the application of black-colored condoms still helps to empower and increase the confidence of Asian men because of the positive social connotation of black penises. Just like the availability of black dildos and vibrators, it is important to acknowledge the white-catered market of sexual goods. Colored condoms, then, are crucial to the representation and empowerment of men of color.
The availability of different condom variations helps empower the many groups not encompassed by the scope of commonly distributed or sold condoms. Those include (East Asian) males with smaller penis sizes, females, men who have sex with other men, sex workers, men of color, and more. Being able to access suitable forms of protection prevents such populations from being limited to the options offered to the white, heterosexual male target audience of traditional condoms. Instead, people who belong to these groups are able to empower themselves, whether through shame reduction, autonomy of decisions regarding sexual protection, or condom color representation and matching.
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