These Guys Are Trying to Improve Lebanese Sex Lives
“If my girlfriend doesn’t come, can I return this?”
That’s one of the stranger queries the founders of Yalla Condoms have had from customers since launching their lube and condom delivery website a little over a week ago.
According to Yalla founders Zadi Hobeika and Robert Tabet, the site is a result of a very local problem. They say that the average Lebanese person isn’t exactly comfortable when it comes to buying contraceptives. So at a party in January of this year, the two came up with a remedy: a discreet service that could supply a vast array of condoms, lube, creams, and various sex-related accessories to the masses, allowing them to practice safe sex while also broadening their horizons. In a society where the neighborhood pharmacy may well be owned by your family’s landlord, any opportunity to avoid an awkward encounter while buying all your sexual paraphernalia is a welcomed one.
Hobeika, 28, has lived abroad most of his life, but owns an advertising agency in Lebanon and recently left Google Dublin to come back to his homeland. He made the move in the hope of working on projects that he feels passionately about, and watching him switch between laughter and mock seriousness, it becomes immediately clear that he and Tabet are enjoying their first foray into the sex-product industry.
Selling Safe Sex to the Developing World
Population growth is slowing in most of the world, but not in Pakistan—the UN estimates that the country had 173 million residents as of 2010, up from 143 million in 2000, and only 111 million in 1990. This is a problem, especially in rural areas where poverty and lack of government services are widespread. DKT International, an NGO that provides birth control throughout the developing world, is among the organizations trying to contain the country’s population bomb, and it’s doing so with condom commercials that are too hot for Pakistani TVDKT was founded by Phil Harvey, who made his fortune selling sex toys, condoms, and porn through his company Adam & Eve. DKT sells rather than donates condoms in order to take advantage of retail distribution networks (shopkeepers have to be able to profit from something to stock it on their shelves) and because buying family-planning products encourages people to value and actually use them. A big part of DKT’s strategy is not just educating people about birth control but marketing their products, which is why they aired a commercial that showed Pakistani supermodel Mathira married to a goofball of a dude because he used the company’s Josh Condoms. Unfortunately, the spot drew complaints for being “immoral” and was pulled off the air in late July by conservative government censors.
Christopher Purdy, executive vice president for DKT, which has operated in Pakistan since last year, said the problem with the ad was not just Mathira’s image (she’s the Marilyn Monroe of Pakistan, he said) but the somewhat hidden implication that the couple had sex before tying the knot.
The ad was also accused of promoting oral sex because Josh Condoms come in a strawberry flavor, but that’s “in the eye of the beholder,” according to Christopher. “Why you’d want a strawberry-flavored condom is usually just to mask the scent of the latex,” he said. “The irony is that we’ve been selling strawberry-flavored condoms since we started [in Pakistan], and that’s our number-one variant.”
Stoya on Condoms in Porn
Harm reduction strategies are meant to reduce the harm associated with certain activities through education, illness prevention, and treatment. The adult industry’s system of regular STI testing and exposure tracking protocol is one such method of harm reduction. I would argue that the laws and rules associated with driving are also a kind of harm reduction. In the case of roads, two-ton vehicles are rocketing around at speeds faster than the most exceptional horse could ever hope to reach. Requiring drivers to follow speed limits, stick to established traffic patterns, and communicate with each other using turn signals and brake lights reduces the likelihood of one crashing into another. However, as long as human and mechanical error exist, the roads will never be completely safe.
In the case of adult films, people are engaging in exhibitionistic sex for public viewing pleasure. These sex acts are generally longer in duration and more theatrical in content than the average sex act. Recreational sex and professional sex in front of cameras both involve a certain level of risk, and those of us who engage in professional sex in front of cameras take precautions to lessen the potential for harm at work. Every time that a hole in our precautions is exposed, we look for ways to further lessen the risk. As with cars, as long as human and mechanical error exist, sex will never be completely safe.
Buying Condoms in Pakistan Is Hard
The first time I tried to buy condoms in Karachi, I caught the store clerk looking at my ringless finger. When I made a questioning face at his disapproving expression, he asked me if I had a husband. “No,” I admitted.
That’s when he told me he couldn’t sell me condoms. “I wouldn’t want my baby sister to be able to buy it so easily,” he explained. I nodded although I disagreed. “But, wouldn’t you want your sister to be able to have safe sex?” I asked him. I told him that if she was buying her own condoms, her having sex was probably inevitable. “Wouldn’t you rather she not get pregnant?” He shook his head and told me he’d rather she never have sex. Before I could continue to argue the point, he waved me along. “Try another store,” he said firmly.
I’d approached the street-vendor mostly out of curiosity. At a recent dinner party, one of my female friends told me that she was tired of her boyfriend showing up at her house without condoms. “Then he wants to have sex,” she said, rolling her eyes. I laughed, asking her why she didn’t just keep a box at home. Her eyes grew exaggeratedly round and she giggled. “How on earth could I possibly buy my own condoms? Women can’t just walk into a store and buy them!”
That’s when I realized that I had no idea how people in Pakistan bought condoms. Afshan, a representative at the Family Planning Association of Pakistan told me that 80 percent of Pakistan’s general stores sold condoms and that it was the most used contraceptive device in the country, with 12 percent of married couples using it as their primary contraception. It’s readily available everywhere from ramshackle kiosks on the city’s sidewalks to larger convenience stores with pharmacy counters.
Stoya on HIV Transmission in Pornography
Last year, when the AIDS Healthcare Federation (AHF) poked their heads into pornography and started the initial push for Measure B, a rarely enforced law that requires condoms to be used in pornography produced in Los Angeles County, high-minded reformers like AHF president Michael Weinstein seemed to have an obvious misunderstanding of how porn works. Like Marie Antoinette’s debunked “Let them eat cake” quip, Weinstein’s “Make them wear condoms” solution to the potential spread of STIs in the business was misguided at best. Weinstein—who I like to imagine wearing an intricate ball gown and a towering wig—doesn’t understand the comparative rigor that professionally produced sex scenes entail. The risk of sexually transmitted infections can’t be neatly solved by a few pieces of latex, in pornography or out of it.
Last week’s news that an adult performer named Cameron Bay tested positive for HIV has brought concern over porn practices back to mainstream attention, but you know what no one is talking about? The heterosexual end of the adult industry has not had a single case of performer-to-performer HIV transmission since 2004. In the few cases since 2004 where an adult performer has tested positive for HIV, porn performers’ self-imposed screening process overseen by the Free Speech Coalition, a nonprofit trade organization, has worked. While incredibly frequent testing has not prevented the rare occasion when a performer has acquired HIV offset, it has successfully prevented them from continuing to perform in sex scenes for long enough to pass HIV on to other performers.
'No Condom as Evidence' Legislation Up for Debate in Albany
It’s the first Thursday of the month, and as per tradition, a cadre of affable, semirowdy hos have filled every seat in the Lower East Side’s Happy Ending Lounge.
Shivering from the residual cold, the crowd—pretty, riot grrrl types in Daria bangs and Doc Martens—lets out a collective giggle as Fiona Apple’s “Criminal” floats through the loudspeakers. “Tonight, we’re playing ho anthems,” the host explains, drowning out Fiona’s molasses admission that she’s been a bad, baaad girl.
The evening’s theme is “Pretty Woman Redux,” part of a monthly storytelling series from the sex-workers’ rights group, the Red Umbrella Project. For two hours, a handful of New York’s most articulate “hos” (as they endearingly call themselves), share intimate, industry tales.
As in past sessions, donations from the event will benefit a cause vital to every sex worker in the city: banning the New York Police Department’s well-documented practice of using condom possession as evidence of prostitution.
It’s a battle health rights advocates have fought for years. In every legislative session since 1999, proponents of a “No Condoms as Evidence” bill have asked state lawmakers to squelch the practice, citing evidence that it’s forced sex workers to stop carrying and using condoms all together. In every session, the bill has died on the committee floor.
In recent months, however, efforts to engage lawmakers have accelerated, thanks to studies released in 2012 by the Pros Network and Human Rights Watch—two Manhattan-based organizations that say the policy has led to a serious public-health crisis.
In the Human Rights study, among a slew of other anecdotes, a sex worker named Anastasia L., claims she had unprotected sex “many times” to avoid the risk of arrest.
How Would Sex Workers Design the Perfect Condom?
It’s very hard to deal with condoms. I imagine it would be very hard to deal with anything that asphyxiates your dick, adds a layer of rubber between a couples’ fun bits, destroys any semblance of sexual spontaneity, and generally makes sex a lot less enjoyable than it should be. All that stuff is still better than risking an STD or a pregnancy, but condoms are undeniably awful.
Hurrah, then, for Bill Gates, who—as you may have heard—is dangling a proportionally paltry $100,000 carrot in front of anyone who can inject a bit more pleasure into rubbering up. Despite the fact that many large medical corporations have ploughed far more than $100,000 into developing more pleasurable protection throughout the past century, Gates is hoping that his prize money will uncover the Popov of prophylactics who’s able to make condoms feel better than unprotected sex.
I’m neither a scientist nor an inventor, so my ideas of how to improve condoms are currently falling pretty short (somewhere around the implausible “make mini ones just for the tip” region). But I am a dreamer, and I dream of one day actually enjoying protected sex. So I thought I’d call up some sex workers—people who use condoms practically every day of their professional lives—and see if they could come up with a design that would make mine and Bill’s dream come true.
Rio Lee, porn star and dominatrix.
VICE: Do you like condoms?
Rio Lee: Obviously I like them because they protect me from scabby diseases, but I don’t like them when a guy gets floppy. I’m a selfish bitch in bed—it’s all about me, me, me—so it’s a problem if a floppy interrupts the sex flow. If you could develop a condom that allows a man to have a continuous Viagra erection that would be amazing.
What about pickling it in Viagra solution so it somehow works its way in there?
That sounds kind of painful, but I am a slight dominatrix, so that might work. Mind you, I want to be able to fuck it afterwards so I don’t want it to scald the skin off or anything.
Could a condom ever be better than unprotected sex?
Well, with modern technology they must be able to make them better. But where the fuck is the extra pleasure with those ribbed condoms? I genuinely want to know. You’d be much better off putting some frozen peas under the condom skin.
So apart from peas and Viagra coating, what ideas have you got to make condoms better?
First off, if you’re reading this, Bill Gates, this is copyrighted and trademarked under the Miss Rio Lee brand. But I’d say you’d need one of those contraptions like a Fleshlight. When a guy’s got a nice hard-on, you slip his cock in and, as it pulls out, it transfers some sort of micro space-age latex film directly on to the cock so it’s super thin and ready to go.
So do you think the whole condom thing is a way for Gates to market himself as a sex symbol and draw some of the youth market away from Apple?
Bill Gates? Sexy? Maybe that’s the reason, but I’d say a new condom is going to appeal more to the health-conscious and professionals—young people just want to have sex regardless of [whether they have a] condom. But whatever his motivation, if he’s going to do something to improve mine and millions of other people’s sex lives and help sexual health throughout society, then good on him.
NYC Cops Will Arrest You for Carrying Condoms
The woman asked Officer Hill why he was stopping her.
She wore jean shorts and a tight red shirt and had stood outdoors for half an hour. She’d had a conversation with a passing man. When Officer Hill searched her bag, he found a condom and $1.25.
He arrested her for “loitering for the purpose of prostitution.” On the supporting deposition, he filled in the blanks for what she was wearing and how many condoms she had.
When I read over the deposition in the PROS Network’s Public Health Crisis (PDF), a study of how the NYPD arrests folks for carrying condoms, I thought of all the tight shirts I’d worn while idling outside on delicious spring days. I thought, She sounds like me. She sounds like my friends.
The NYPD will arrest you for carrying condoms, but that depends entirely on who you are. If you’re a middle-class white girl like me, you’re probably safe. But say you’re a sex worker or a queer kid kicked out of your home. Say you’re a trans woman out for dinner with your boyfriend. Maybe you’ve been arrested as a sex worker before. Maybe some quota-filling cop thinks you look like a whore.
Then you’re not safe at all.
Like most laughably cruel tricks of the justice system, you probably wouldn’t know that you could be arrested for carrying condoms until it happened to you. Monica Gonzalez is a nurse and a grandmother. In 2008, Officer Sean Spencer arrested her for prostitution while she was on the way to the ER with an asthma attack. The condom he found on her turned out to be imaginary. Gonzalez sued the city after the charges were dropped. But if the condom were real, why should she have even been arrested at all?
Let’s say you are a sex worker. You’re carrying condoms to protect your health and that of your clients. You may have gotten the condoms from the city itself. New York distributes 40 million condoms a year. The city has its own condom brand, it’s logo spelled out in the bright letters they use to mark subway lines. So you’re arrested. The proof needed to lock you up is that you’re carrying one of these city-branded, city-distributed devices. If the cops don’t arrest you, they have a habit of confiscating your condoms.
— Molly Crabapple (via ericmortensen)
Is Poking Holes in Condoms Sexual Assault?
I’m not sure if most of you remember Craig Jaret Hutchinson? He is the 42-year-old Canadian man (and by man, I mean psycho) from Clyde River, Nunavut, who poked holes in an entire pack of condoms in hopes of knocking up his girlfriend so that she would be forced to stay in a relationship with him.
Hutchinson and his girlfriend (who, for obvious reasons, has kept her name private during this long, complicated trial) began dating in 2008 and when things got rocky, Hutchinson executed his genius plan to sabotage condoms so she would get pregnant. It worked. His girlfriend got pregnant and they struggled through the relationship for the sake of the unborn child, but (big shocker) it eventually fell apart. When the couple split, Hutchinson broke down, called his girlfriend and admitted what he had done to the condoms because he was afraid she might contract an STD from another partner if she used the ruined condoms. The girlfriend called the police and scheduled an abortion.
Hutchinson was charged and went to trial in 2009, but the Nova Scotia Supreme Court judge found him not guilty of aggravated sexual assault.
Not guilty of aggravated sexual assault.
I’m going to stop right here. By definition, aggravated sexual assault means that the victim’s life was put at risk. Somehow, a judge found that this was not true. Excuse me? The woman had to have an abortion (which left her with an infection in her uterus and two weeks of “painful complications”). She had to endure the beginning stages of pregnancy without consent on her behalf, plus she had to deal with the emotional, mental and physical trauma of not only this very public case, but the abortion and severed relationship to this pathetic low life. Yes, there was no gun held to her head. Yes, there was no gag rope strangled around her mouth. Yes, the actual sex was consensual, but the absence of valid contraception was not. So was this an assault?