'It's not complicated, just a fashion statement,' said pop star Lady GaGa of the range of condoms she's designed with Jeremy Scott for the contraception brand Proper Attire. Well, the thing is, condoms are complicated, there's no getting away from it - perhaps particularly ones that come in bright orange, green and pink animal prints - either ribbed, studded or sheer - and are promoted as 'making women feel more comfortable buying, carrying and using condoms.' Now - let's be clear - all proceeds from the sale of these condoms do go to Planned Parenthood - a very, very good idea - but the campaign still bears some scrutiny.
So, the suggestion here is that women don't like buying or using condoms because they are ugly. Proper Attire proposes that if only condoms were more aesthetically pleasing - and celebrity-endorsed - women would have a change of attitude towards them. This could be taken as a mild offense to women's intelligence. It is hard to imagine even the most fashion-conscious amongst us refusing to pick up condoms because of how they look - pale, rubbery, gooey in that non-descript packaging. Animal print condoms created by a fashion icon and a designer, on the other hand, are on a whole different level – a 'must-have' as the Proper Attire site states.
If women do buy these designer condoms, are they meant to actually use them for sex, or just carry the box around like the 'accessory' they claim to be? Or perhaps even buy up lots to sell on Ebay, or keep them in the attic for a few years until they become a collector's item? (Discussion of fashion-forward condoms at the 1:40 mark of this Alexander Wang video – Wang is another designer who has done condoms for Proper Attrire.)
Proper Attire must see women discussing buying these condoms with their friends, thereby opening up conversation about condoms and their importance in preventing STIs and HIV transmission. But we might wonder how this conversation is intended to go between two teenagers, or two casual partners of any age - and how the man is supposed to respond to the presentation of pink animal print condoms and whether this will make him more enthusiastic about using them. The campaign contains strong statements that emphasize women taking control - 'Dress him up' and 'Fit him right' and 'Required for entry' - but not because women are more likely to be infected, or that they can become pregnant - but because women like their condoms to match their outfit. It makes you wonder is it condoms that women are supposed to find ugly, or penises? Is this just another body part (albeit a man's this time) that women are being pressured to decorate?
Proper Attire suggests women who find it difficult to talk about using a condom can borrow one of their taglines to 'lighten it up a little.' If only our relationship to condoms was that simple.
Condoms have been demonized by the abstinence-only culture under the previous administration - which allowed for systematic undermining of the method's effectiveness. If we think over how condoms are considered in our culture, they are indeed long due for a rebranding. We talk about how they break, how they smell bad, how they get in the way, how men don't like them, how women don't like them - and all this, however honest, is undermining and most definitely stops people using them when they really should. There is such cultural resistance to condoms it is hard to know where the rumors end and the truth begins. Covering them in animal print and attaching Lady GaGa's name doesn't seem to be a foolproof answer. However, as all proceeds go to Planned Parenthood then we can see this is not a stand-alone strategy for education - and as such, it's really only a silly means to a more serious end.