lions and condoms and bears, oh my!
As a relatively young person (only my students and my taste in music and movie stars can make me feel like an old lady), it seems to me that my entire adult sexuality has intersected with politics in some way. From the simple fact that I am a woman to the more complex question of using birth control, my body has existed in a network not just of personal decisions and thinking, but of very present and demanding social “suggestions.” My decision not to pursue my doctorate was influenced by the realization that I needed to “plan ahead” and think about the family I wanted to have. My decisions on sex and partners in college were influenced by the pressures of what scholars (some of my professors included) call “hook-up culture.” And on and on.
Perhaps one of the most memorable experiences of my college career occurred at the very end of my senior year. I was working on my last major paper in the computer lab when one of my friends rushed in exclaiming, “Condoms for everyone!” and literally showered me with condoms taken from the student health center. He helped me pick them up, and I won the grand prize of 25 condoms, absolutely 0 of which I needed. Later, as a grad student, I would shop for condoms in Japan with one of my friends from high school, who picked up a package of glow-in-the-dark condoms similar to the ones pictured above.
Yet I realized yesterday that I have never purchased – or even picked up for free from student health – my own condoms. I did win an assortment in a giveaway last May, but I consider that something of the coward’s way out, since everything was conducted under the protective (relative) anonymity of the Internet.
Sure, I can argue that I generally have no use for condoms. I could use them with toys, but I could also not, especially if I don’t share and am good about cleaning (which I am). I kept some in my drawer as a college student because my roommate was more likely to need them. (Another memorable college experience is being woken at 3AM by a text message from my roommate asking if I had any to spare.) But at the same time I sense that part of my reluctance stems from very subtle social pressure I experienced – and probably continue to experience – to be a “good girl.” In short, I suspect that I am simply too embarrassed to buy condoms.
(Now I realize I should have made that one of my printed New Year’s Resoluations. Alas.)
Just a quick, in-the-bathtub analysis of such a simple issue made me hesitate to think about all the more complex, emotional decisions about my body, health, partner, family, and sex I may or will have to make someday. I am an avoider by nature; I avoid the tough stuff in hopes that eventually I’ll be strong enough to deal with it or that it’ll just magically go away. (In general, neither of these things happen, and I just have to tackle the issue like the weakling that I am.) But I could not argue that no matter what the decision is or what I decide, my politics as a woman, Asian American, liberal would somehow play into it, and that one small decision could become “representative” of something much bigger.
Not that this is a new realization, since that’s what I think half (or more) of my college education was about. But now that I’m ostensibly an “adult,” my decisions seem to have much greater meaning. I’m not sure that’s true, but that’s what I’m led to believe. And I find myself astounded that I have not done what I’m fairly certain most of the stupid boys I knew in high school and college have done. And, moreover, that it’s simply because I’m embarrassed.
It’s strange to think that this issue, that frankly I would consider a relatively small issue, based on my life experiences, has taken center stage in politics and completely usurped the more fundamental question of health care. Newsweek published a very interesting article last week, right before Valentine’s Day, about the culture wars and contraception. The full article can be read here. But questions of sex and sexuality are dangerous, and so it’s not surprising that anything related to them ends up embroiled in much bigger discussions.
I should just be honest with myself: buying condoms? A very, very small matter. I can do it if I put my mind to it. (Much like I can drink milk, take Vitamin D pills, and floss when I put my mind to it.) Even though it seems like the whole world is talking about it, I don’t have to listen. I can safely walk into a drugstore, pick up a box, and pay for it at the counter. I’ve paid for Plan B, and that wasn’t so hard. (I avoiding making eye contact with the pharmacist, for fear of the JUDGMENT in her eyes, which made it easier.)
Besides, compared to the birth control I could be buying? A little package of condoms is the least intimidating. Especially if they’ve got cute little bears on the packaging.
(Thanks to Newsweek for the links; they’ll take you to The Daily Beast for reading/viewing. Also, if you’re interested in Rilakkuma condoms, you can get them from White Rabbit Express here.)