27.6.14

Condoms as the Death of Culture? Kama Sutra Updated

Published in CounterPunch




When the condom is pitted against fidelity, it becomes aquestion of sperm censorship and how it infringes on the freedom of values. Itis a delectable swapping of the blueprint.

India’s Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan in aninterview to The New York Times said:

“The thrust of the AIDS campaign should not only be on the use of condoms. Thissends the wrong message that you can have any kind of illicit sexualrelationship, but as long as you're using a condom, it's fine…One should alsopromote integrity of sexual relationship between husband and wife – a part ofIndian culture.”

While the Abstinence-BeFaithful-Condom (ABC) campaign that he propagates is accepted by UNAIDS –although abstinence and fidelity are mutually exclusive – it is not aboutculture. When his leader Narendra Modi, chief minister of Gujarat then, hadhelped promotea brand with his photograph on the package, did he screen those who boughtthe prophylactic?

The condom as keeper of culture might seem a bitfar-fetched, but how different societies react to it and use it does reveal itsposition in a particular culture.

The minister’s comment cannot be taken as a personalviewpoint as he represents the ruling rightwing Bharatiya Janata Party that ismaking other attempts to retrieve culture. There is an assumption that Indianmarriages are about two pure people coming together and living a fairytale thateven mythology baulks at. Many deities practised polygamy and polyandry,although some of it was in the form of avatars. Today they can be quoted as‘family’, even if a doomed princess was saddled with five brothers as husbandsin the epic Mahabharata, because it is conjoined with other values.

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What is surprising is that the ‘glove’ itself has addedinadvertently to the country’s culture. It was discovered a few years ago thatthe weavers in Uttar Pradesh were using the lubricant from condoms to polishthe zari on sarees to give a diaphanous finish to the six-yard creation.

75 per cent of the sexually-active Indians who should beusing condoms for safe sex are instead putting it to other use. In rural areas,according to one report, “In some places, we found that the condom was beingused to carry water when people go to answer nature’s call in the fields. Thisis a convenient use and throw-water carrier for them. For the children, ofcourse, it is a balloon they love blowing up.” In urban parts of the countrythey are mixed with concrete and tar to help make roads. For roof-making,condoms are spread out to provide a waterproof layer.

NGOs who were given free condoms in bulk to distribute topeople in their anti-HIV and safe sex campaigns had begun this lucrative trade.

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The condom cannot work as second skin in more ways than theliteral sense. It impedes natural resources in a country where additional handsto work is a consideration for perpetuation of the family. The idea ofintroducing safe sex is also anathema to the middle-class that understands theimportance of population control, but not of the slur associated with thecarrier of caution.

Another issue that’s rarely spoken about is that Indians topthe list of small penises. The market now caters to different sizes, butchances are that there would be some inflated egos although it should be seenas cultural/racial, like skin or hair colour, or height. Invariably, theysettle for something that does not fit and might be rendered redundant.

However, it is less disturbing than a brand promoted by theSwiss government targetedat young boys who were thought to be ignorant and indulging in risky behaviour.The size of the condoms was smaller.

The onus on the boys is not only unfair but leaves the girlsout of the decision making process. It initiates a macho notion of the boy incharge of sexual matters and protection at a young age. That it is namedHotshot also makes him into a whiz, not unlike the latex brand that had HarryPotter’s image with a magic wand.

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The high-profile hawking of condoms in hazard areas hascreated less sexual fear and more paranoia regarding saving the soul from purgatory.Defending the minister’s sentiments, VK Subburaj of the National AIDS ControlOrganisation stated:

"For high-risk groups like sex workers and men who have sex with men, we willcontinue the emphasis on condoms as morals won't catch their attention.However, for the general public the minister has asked to stress on morals likebeing faithful, not indulging in pre-marital and extra-marital sex.”

This demeans two segments that have traditionally been partof Indian culture as much as any other. A short-sighted morality is incapableof figuring out that sex workers are not born with an ailment that taints goodmen. It is the general public that patronises them, the hypocrisy of familiesnotwithstanding.



Political ideology that interferes in the family unitdegrades human relationships. A man visiting a red-light area needs to ensuresafe sex not only for himself but also of the woman he is with. Besides that,we completely ignore the fact that without a condom he might impregnate her andowe no responsibility. Suchillegitimate births, even if not accounted for, in their vagueness consolidatethe position of male potency.

According to a study by anthropologist BG Schoepf in Africa:

“Many women avoid using condoms because they are associated with promiscuityand prostitutes. Conversely, men who use condoms offend women because the womenassume he doesn't trust them.”

Fidelity among couples excludes everybody else, and othersituations that could be at risk or are a violation. Domestic rape might bethen considered part of the values, and a small price a woman has to pay for aman who does not stray. In 2010, Dr. Sonnet Ehlers created RapeAxebased on a comment made by a rape victim she met years ago who told her, “Ifonly I had teeth down there”. The female condom priced at $2 was meant todebilitate the rapist. According to its creator: “It hurts, he cannot pee andwalk when it’s on. If he tries to remove it, it will clasp even tighter...however, it doesn’t break the skin.”

This is naïve and burdens the woman in unimaginable ways.Should she anticipate rape and therefore go around wearing the toothy condom?If she happens to be wearing it, and the case gets to court, would the lawyersnot argue that she was prepared for it? There are different levels of sexualabuse and penile penetration is only one of them.

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Condoms contradict creation. That is probably why the majorresponsibility for birth control is on women – they have to visit camps, getpainful instruments fixed, take pills and display their newfound sterility likea badge of duty. This was used to co-opt men. As I wrote in an earlierpiece:

Marketing people decided to transformit into a symbol, a grand combination of potency combined with supremesacrifice. All dread vanished the moment the male species was made to realisethat they were doing it for the better of humankind. With AIDS, the man beganto be seen as an honourable citizen, health conscious and enlightened.Suddenly, an ordinary latex thing became a political, social, and even economic(you are contributing to a better lifestyle for the future generation)statement.


But, add to that the more urgent need for a stiff brew satedwith a coffee flavour, or lubrication for the slip of tongue, ribbed as aspeedbreaker, and you find none of these caters to men. The reason is thatwomen are made accountable and expected to cover up for the denial of maleposterity. The ‘oral’ is at one level mimicking pleasurable infantilism, nottoo different from reclaiming ancient cultural values.

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© Farzana Versey