Why do peo­ple hate the new ‘con­sent con­dom’?

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - FAMILY -

A new con­dom pack­age al­legedly re­quires four hands to get it open — an at­tempt to place con­sent at the cen­ter of con­tra­cep­tion.

“If it’s not a yes, it’s a no,” and “Without con­sent there is no plea­sure,” read the taglines in a pro­mo­tional video for the new “con­sent pack” of con­doms, sold by Ar­gen­tine com­pany Tuli­pan.

All four cor­ners of the pack­age have to be pressed at the same time for the box to open, which, in the­ory, re­quires two sets of on­board hands.

Peo­ple re­ally hate the idea.

“I have seen & taken the p--- out of a LOT of prod­ucts in my time,” tweeted Holly Bax­ter, ed­i­tor for

The In­de­pen­dent’s com­ment desk, “but the Con­sent Con­dom is def­i­nitely the worst one I’ve seen in 2019 so far.”

She wasn’t alone. Across the (in­ter­net) land, folks trashed the idea as fum­bling and mis­guided.

I called Chicago-based sex ed­u­ca­tion in­struc­tor Kim Cav­ill to get her take. Cav­ill ed­u­cates mid­dle and high school stu­dents about safe sex and con­sent in Chicago and the suburbs.

“My im­me­di­ate re­ac­tion was that it’s ableist,” Cav­ill said. “It makes the very large pre­sump­tion that it’s two peo­ple who are go­ing to have con­sen­sual sex, and those two peo­ple are go­ing to be able to use their hands in a very spe­cific way. Bod­ies move dif­fer­ently, and bod­ies move dif­fer­ently dur­ing sex.”

In ad­di­tion, she said, con­sent­ing to open a con­dom doesn’t mean con­sent­ing to ev­ery­thing that hap­pens from that point for­ward.

“It makes the as­sump­tion that con­sent isn’t able to be with­drawn,” Cav­ill said. “That’s not how sex works. Peo­ple can change their mind.”

Some of the con­cerns raised in­cluded the fear that the prod­uct could be used to dis­credit vic­tims of sex­ual as­sault.

“That’s a to­tally le­git­i­mate fear,” Cav­ill said. “Sex­ual as­sault and forced sex are in­cred­i­bly dif­fi­cult to prove in a court of law, and it’s com­pletely le­git­i­mate for sur­vivors, like my­self, and ad­vo­cacy or­ga­ni­za­tions who work with sur­vivors to say, ‘You’re mak­ing an al­ready dif­fi­cult job that much harder.’ ”

Be­cause, of course, hands can be co­erced or forced into open­ing a pack­age. Be­cause mak­ing a con­dom even harder to ac­cess could mean the per­son co­erc­ing or forc­ing the sex just does so without pro­tec­tion.

And from a public health stand­point, Cav­ill said, the four-hands pack­ag­ing takes a prod­uct that consumers al­ready don’t use of­ten enough or prop­erly and makes it harder to ac­cess.

“The main is­sue with con­doms has al­ways been com­pli­ance,” she said. “Con­doms work re­ally well if they’re used con­sis­tently and cor­rectly, and this doesn’t make sense if you look at the bar­ri­ers that al­ready ex­ist to con­dom us­age.”

Her stu­dents, Cav­ill said, need to be taught never to use their teeth or scis­sors to open con­doms. They ask whether they should wear two. They ask how to ac­cess con­doms if they don’t have the money to buy them.

“If we’re go­ing to have a con­ver­sa­tion about con­doms and con­sent and cor­rect con­dom us­age, I wouldn’t be start­ing the con­ver­sa­tion with a con­dom that re­quires two peo­ple to open it,” she said. “I’d start with freely avail­able com­pre­hen­sive sex ed in all high schools, al­low­ing con­dom demon­stra­tions with ex­plicit di­rec­tions, mak­ing con­doms and con­tra­cep­tives much more widely avail­able. I sup­pose, in the­ory, if all those things hap­pen, then years down the line we can talk about your weird con­dom idea.”

For now, Tuli­pan, a com­pany that sells sex toys and sex­ual health prod­ucts, is plac­ing the con­doms in bars, clubs and so­cial events around Buenos Aires, Ar­gentina, and plans to sell them on­line in the fu­ture. In the mean­time, the so­cial me­dia cam­paign is stir­ring up de­bate about whether sim­i­lar prod­ucts will — or should — launch else­where.

Cav­ill wasn’t in­ter­ested in trash­ing the new prod­uct.

“Fail­ure is a teacher,” she said. “I like the learn­ing that can come out of the con­ver­sa­tions we’re hav­ing. But with the prod­uct it­self, I re­main thor­oughly unim­pressed.”

The “con­sent pack” is not un­like apps that have been de­vel­oped to en­cour­age (and dig­i­tize) con­sent, Cav­ill said, in that it sig­nals our col­lec­tive en­try into territory we have tra­di­tion­ally avoided — talk­ing about and teach­ing about gain­ing con­sent.

“We’re hav­ing brand­new con­ver­sa­tions we’ve never had be­fore, and be­cause they’re brand-new, they’re re­ally clumsy,” she said. “That, to me, is where this fits into a larger con­ver­sa­tion.”

Talk­ing and openly com­mu­ni­cat­ing your de­sires and bound­aries be­fore and through­out any sex­ual en­counter re­main the best ways to ap­proach sex, she said. Teach­ing those skills from an early age re­mains the best way to en­cour­age con­sent as a life­long value to pro­tect and up­hold.

“Con­sent needs com­mu­ni­ca­tion,” Cav­ill said. “Whit­tling it down to putting your thumb on a phone or open­ing a con­dom as though that cov­ers the bases, no.

“This is a silly idea,” she said. “I have a lot of crit­i­cisms about it. But I’m glad the prod­uct was made, be­cause we’re hav­ing con­ver­sa­tions about it. And those are con­ver­sa­tions we need to be hav­ing.”

Join the Heidi Stevens Bal­anc­ing Act Face­book group, where she con­tin­ues the con­ver­sa­tion around her col­umns and hosts oc­ca­sional live chats.

YOUTUBE

Con­dom pack­age re­quires four hands to open it, which is meant to sig­nal both par­ties' con­sent. But consumers and sex ed­u­ca­tors have con­cerns.

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