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.”
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.
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.
VICE Meets Sue Johanson
In the third and final part of the Sue Johanson interview, she talks with Kara Crabb about important things like dick sizes, vagina sizes, and the female orgasm. She also teaches Kara a valuable lesson about safe sex: how to put on a condom with your mouth.
In part one of our three-parter with Sue Johanson of Sunday Night Sex Show fame, Kara Crabb chats with Sue about her origins as a nurse, being a pioneer of sexual education in a time when abortion was illegal, and the priests who told her to poke holes in condoms.
Measure B Is a Pain in the Dick
Let’s not bullshit ourselves, condoms flat out suck—both in one’s private life and in pornos. They’re uncomfortable boner-ruiners and girls are always trying to put holes in them to get my babies. In porn, from a fan’s perspective, it’s just not stimulating to see a plastic bag going in and out of a girl’s mouth/butthole. I understand the need for them, but I just don’t like them and I am thankful I’m married and no longer forced to use them. Recently, a law was passed in Los Angeles that is so preposterous it could send porn stars and porn industry people to jail if they don’t use condoms, dental dams, and all sorts of other forms of safe sex in their films. The law is called Measure B (or Measure Bullshit to the folks who will be pummeled by its iron fist).
Measure B, which is really just a witch hunt and a means to run pornographers out of LA County, was proposed by the well-financed AIDS Healthcare Foundation President, Michael Weinstein. The language on the ballot was so deceptive it led voters to believe it was a law to protect the performers in the porn industry. The reality is that Measure B calls for pornographers to purchase health permits and it opens their shoots up to random inspections from the Health Department to make sure they are complying with the law. This goes for everyone, even the lowly cam girls who are in the safety of their own homes doing solo shows to help put themselves through college.
Many of my friends are both up in arms and fearful of what is to come. Director Kimberly Kane, who you know from my recent episodes of Skinema and her VICE magazine feature on Zak Smith and Mandy Morbid, is now a criminal under Measure B. She was uncharacteristically speechless when I asked her for a quote about the law. She didn’t know what to say for days. She finally told me, “Technically they’ll penalize you for breaking the law even if you’re married and performing with your spouse without a condom. Everything I do now is illegal without a permit, a condom, and probably someone on set from the Heath Department making sure that everything is up to code. I don’t know what we’re going to do. They say it’s a First Amendment violation and it could be litigation for a long time. But no one knows. Everyone is very worried. Measure B basically runs us out of town on a moral stance. They say Vegas or Nevada is an option [for relocating the industry]…”