What’s the difference between buying a box of condoms and buying a pair of shoes? Besides being able to try one (but thankfully not the other) on at the store, there isn’t any! Or at least there shouldn't be. Shoes protect your feet the same way condoms protect your privates, except instead of shielding you from the harsh weather the way footwear does, latex contraceptives protect you from sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and unwanted pregnancies.
One particular condom-maker to keep on your radar is ONE®. Established in 2003 in the United States, the brand is committed to making products designed for safe, healthy and enjoyable sex more accessible and less intimidating for those using them for the first time. The fact that their packaging doesn’t take itself too seriously certainly helps — the brand comes with 400+ artistic packaging designs that ensure surprise and delight, and minimize the awkwardness of buying a pack.
The condom-buying taboo
Many people get red-faced when buying condoms. It's a world-wide issue that doesn't really change no matter what age or sex you are. Presenting a packet of banana-flavored condoms at a checkout counter or, god forbid, having to ask your regular pharmacist for one, is a public declaration of one’s intention to have sex and of planning to enjoy it. Something many are still uncomfortable with.
But surely your health is more important than a little embarrassment and a few wide-eyed glares? It shouldn't really be embarrassing in the first place! Buying contraceptives means that you're responsible enough to take the initiative and protect yourself and your partner. If anything, it spreads a positive message about sensibility.
Why aren't more women buying and carrying condoms?
More often than not, in a heterosexual relationship, women entrust the process of purchasing condoms to men. The assumption that buying contraceptives is a man's duty is a byproduct of a social norm that goes unchallenged in many relationships: a preconceived notion that the man is in charge. This gendered expectation for men can affect people in same-sex relationships too, as it gives the other partner less agency over their sexual preferences and choices.
ONE® wants this to change. Their Mixed Pleasures line, for example, places a bet on variety. By packaging together one piece each of Super Sensitive, Super Studs, and Flavor waves condoms, both men and women get to experience several of its best-sellers with one purchase and find a product that works best for them. (Subsequent trips to the supermarket should be less daunting once you know what you want.) ONE® also offers the classics such as flavored condoms ( strawberry, chocolate and mint), while the new “Super Studs" line features an edition with 264 studs for maximum pleasure and stimulation.
A lot of research also points to the fact that having an open conversation about the use of contraceptives actually helps foster a healthier relationship. Besides, wouldn't the experience be so much more enjoyable if both parties were protected and didn't have to worry about the potential consequence? Any person engaging in sexual activity can and should purchase their own contraceptives, not wait for the other party to take the initiative (what if you don’t like bananas?).
Let's talk about sex
Perhaps the first step to normalizing the purchase of condoms is to normalize conversations about sex in general. It is not difficult to get contraception and protection in Vietnam, but the social stigma around it continues to weigh heavily.
Vietnam has a young population whose sexual values have vaulted the conservative barriers of an oriental country. Yet, the older generation of parents and teachers still typically veer away from the topic of safe sex (or sex in general), and young people are left without the correct information and support as their sex lives continue to evolve.
The more comfortable you are with buying condoms, the more embarrassment surrounding the topic of sex will be destroyed. To remove the social stigma around the purchase of condoms, companies like ONE® have begun to focus their efforts on changing how they market their products.
In addition to their non-threatening colorful packaging, ONE® works closely with educators to find ways to promote safe sex in a non-preachy way, invests in encouraging open conversations about sex and sexuality, promotes physical and emotional health, and provides free information on contraceptive usage for those who need it the most through their local outreach programs.
Condom shame has always existed and will probably always exist in some form. But the solution doesn't lie in installing more condom-vending machines in dark corners away from the prying eyes, but in creating a society where conversations about safe sex aren’t hushed, and purchasing condoms - whether in a pharmacy, supermarket or a corner store - is considered part of being human. Because it is.