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What’s the condom too small for: your dick, or your ego?

21 May

by Jess

This guy's head is tiny!

The Washington Post had a story today on how District youth are complaining that the city’s free condoms are a) not Trojans and b) too small, because apparently they have a) brand loyalty and b) delusions. In response, officials have decided to stock up on Trojan Magnums, the kids’ status rubber of choice. The calculation, it seems, is that it is in the long run a better public health decision to give kids more expensive condoms they might actually use, instead of cheaper condoms they won’t.

That’s sound logic, as far as it goes, and there’s a lot of value (and a lot of challenges) to making safer sex the cool option. But is it really a good idea to give students the big condoms just to, you know, make them feel big? Because here’s the thing about condoms: they have two main characteristics, which are that they are a) not the most comfortable garment you’ll ever wear and b) REALLY STRETCHY. We’re not talking about penis Spanx here. You can roll a regular-size condom over your entire forearm. I sincerely doubt the condom itself is genuinely too small for a significant percentage of DC youth, though granted it’s tighter than wearing nothing. It’s the text on the label they’re worried about.

My guess is that their brand loyalty isn’t to the word “Trojan,” but the word “Magnum.” That’s a well-known, instantly recognizable big-size option, pretty much the only one that’s reliably available in drugstores. If Durex (the cheaper brand currently offered for free in DC) made a condom with “ENORMOUS COCK” printed on the wrapper, I’m sure the kids would forget about their Trojan preference. Because seriously, Trojans smell like a traffic accident. They’re awful. In fact, the one dude I know who genuinely has to use Magnums bitches about it, because they are frankly gross. They’re just the thing he’s stuck using if he has to buy condoms at the last minute and cannot get finely tailored cocksheaths from France or whatever you do when you need special sizes and don’t want to be stuck with the smell of screeching tires.

As an analogy: I wear an F cup right now, which means it is flamboyantly difficult to find bras that are even a little bit cute. If enormous beige armored granny brassieres became status symbols because they’re the thing that people with huge breasts wear, and all the little high school girls were going around in putty-colored boulder-holders because the coyly peeking-out industrial-strength strap advertised their nonexistent knockers, those would still be TERRIBLE BRAS. And I would still be stuck with them, because I actually DO wear a big cup size, and I would realize that only the people who have never actually needed those bras would be willing to put up with their total wretchedness just to send a signal that they’re well-endowed. And no matter how cool they became, it wouldn’t change the fact that they DON’T FIT MOST PEOPLE, who should be glad about that, because it means they have a choice about whether to wear awful bras.

Only, in this scenario, imagine that if you have insufficient breast support, SOMEONE GETS PREGNANT. Because actually, there are consequences to wearing a too-big condom, beyond just feeling roomy latex billow loosely on your genitals like Lawrence of Arabia’s robes. Namely, too-big condoms FALL OFF. (Granted, too-small condoms are more likely to break, which is why good sex education involves telling kids how to tell whether condoms are too small FOR THEIR PENISES instead of just too small for their social status.)

Sorry to get so cappy, but I find it profoundly frustrating that the cult of the big dick is so ingrained that it leads kids to request — and officials to grant, apparently — special accommodation they almost certainly don’t need. Obviously people should not have to wear condoms that pain them or risk breakage because they’re so snug, and it’s important for the health department to keep some larger sizes on hand so that people with non-standard bodies aren’t penalized (hee). But I’m very doubtful that a majority of DC young people are in desperate pain from having to wrap their genitals in something that YOU CAN PUT OVER YOUR HEAD AND INFLATE WITH YOUR NOSE.

A few months ago, Amanda Hess and I went to see a play called “Deez Nutz,” which was a collection of monologues and poetry intended to convey the experience of being a young black man in the District. It was very interesting, but to me the most interesting part was that every performer started his scene by taking off his shirt and doing 50 push-ups. Even in a context designed to interrogate masculinity and the demands it puts on young men in urban areas, each man established his strength and virility before (and, often, during) a performance that delved into the reality of his experience. It was like a charm against showing vulnerability. That’s what I see happening with the Magnum demand. It’s very unlikely that a significant percentage of young men in this city genuinely cannot use regular-size Durex condoms, either because of extreme pain or risk of breakage. It’s very likely that they have a lot invested in presenting themselves as Magnum Men.

That’s dangerous on its face — because too-big condoms really aren’t as safe, although it’s certainly true that they’re safer than condoms that get thrown out because they’re not manly enough — and it’s also dangerous in its implications, since the manly-man pose has all kinds of implications for violence and subjugation of women and other men (this week’s Sexist Beatdown gets into this in a brilliant way that I will hopefully write more on another time). The need for young men to present an almost outlandishly masculine face is something the DC health department should be addressing, not enabling. In the meantime, may I suggest that the city invest instead in custom wrappers reading “I’m Studly” or “Observe My Dominant Genitalia” or something?