It takes four hands, essentially two people. to open the box containing the new Consent Condom created by BBDO, an Argentinian advertising agency and this is deliberate. The agency wanted to highlight the importance of consent in sexual relationships and was working on behalf of Tulipan, a company which sells condoms and adult toys. BBDO has been handing them out in bars and at events in and around Buenos Aires for free and the intention is to produce them commercially.
The Consent Condom box has four push buttons along the sides and the top and can only be opened by four hands so two people essentially. The video which goes alongside the product says, “if they don’t say yes, it means no – consent is the most important thing in sex.”Surprisingly, reviews have been a little mixed, some feel it hits the mark whilst others say if a man doesn’t care then condoms of any sort are going to be the last things on his mind.
One of the drivers for the product was the AHF Argentina Survey which asked 30.000 people about their condom habits and discovered that only 14.5% of Argentinian men regularly (not even constantly) used a condom with a whopping 65% saying that their condom use was only occasional. The other influencer was something called The Dress for Respect campaign in Brazil which created a dress with sensors sewn into the lining. The idea was to record how many times the wearer was touched and in what location. Three testers each wore one of the dresses to a nightclub in Sao Paolo where the sensors revealed they were touched 157 times in under four hours, all non-consensual engagement. Rather like the Consent Condoms, the dress is intended to open up the dialogue about respect in relationships, boundaries and understanding the consent debate.
Some people take the view that the Consent Condoms suggest that consent is a debate whereas, in reality, it should be totally non-negotiable. Others voice the opinion that consent has nothing to do with condoms; if a man isn’t interested in consensual sex then a lack of condom is hardly likely to bother him at all. Are the Consent Condoms part of a valid debate or is it just a clever publicity stunt designed to get everyone talking about the product?
Very worryingly, the United Nations estimates that 70% of women across the globe experience some form of sexual violence from an intimate partner. YouTubers have rubbished the campaign by proving that it is perfectly possible to open the Condom Consent box with just two hands as its not so large that one person can’t do it alone. And isn’t consent an ongoing status so even after the condom has been put on, consent could still be withdrawn? Is Tulipan just trying to make commercial mileage out of a gimmick disguised with an ethical message in order to increase sales of their product? It looks increasingly likely.
But it is hard to genuinely level criticism against them as the whole campaign has engendered much-needed commentary and debate about the whole issue of consent. But consent condoms are not a new idea. A few years ago, the US non-profit group FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture released their own consent condoms which, instead of a funky box, were printed with clever and informative slogans on the packets. “Ask before unwrapping” or “Always ask for a yes before you undress” and, “The dress does not mean yes” were some of their tag lines and their stated mission was to encourage the conversation about consent rather than allowing impressions, assumptions and innuendo to be the standard.
Anything that widens the debate about consent and encourages healthy sexual relationships has to be a good thing and the conversation about safe sex can usefully be part of this. The condom wrappers as with the Consent Condom box was designed to be light-hearted and fun and encourage debate about something that is not talked about enough and is, in fact, deadly serious. The conversation between two people about consent must also include the condom statement as consent to sex should really mean consent to safe sex. The practice of stealthing – the removal of a condom during intercourse without the knowledge or consent of the female – demonstrates a distinction in law between consensual sex with a condom and the removal of that consent in parallel with the removal of the condom.