There is no condom for the human heart


Next week is National Condom Week. Now, isn't that just what you were looking forward to? asks Breda O'Brien

Picture it. There you are, hoping for a quiet coffee with the paper in your local pub, and a smiling blonde shoves shiny foil packets into your hands with a cheery injunction to enjoy yourself, but be sure to use a condom. You get home, and absent-mindedly tell your four year old that you bought her sweets.

When she searches in your jacket pocket, you wonder vaguely why she is complaining that the packet is very small, and very hard to open.

Meanwhile your hard-pressed spouse appears, exhibiting dangerous signs of high blood pressure and wants to know, (a) why you are giving the four year old condoms to play with and (b) what you are doing with said condoms in the first place.

I'm only joking. You are safe enough. National Condom Week is only going to target females in the 16-24 age group. Oh, so you have a 16-year-old daughter, too? Rotten piece of luck. Whom can we thank for the glorious seven days ahead? Those nice people at Durex, of course.

In a completely disinterested fashion, they want your 16 year old to pack her condoms along with her taxi fare when she goes out at night.

They want to "empower 16-24 year olds to say no to unprotected sex". Note, they don't want to empower 16 year olds to say no to sex, just to unprotected sex. That, of course, has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that if more young people said no to sex, the, um, swelling profits of Durex might fall somewhat.

Now, Durex, who on their website are coy about very little, are very coy when it comes to revealing how many condoms they sell. They can't tell you, because it is commercially sensitive information. I bet it is. It is just coincidental that the age group they are targeting just happens to be the age-group that has by far the highest level of disposable income.

Funny, on the informative Durex website, it turns out that they hand out free condoms to people aged 13-19 in Britain. Guess they figure that the repressed Irish are not quite ready for that one.

Or maybe, just maybe, they are planning to exploit the Bliss readership phenomenon. For those of you delightfully unaware of such things, Bliss is a magazine allegedly aimed at older teens. No 18 year old would be seen dead with it.

Instead, it is devoured cover to cover by nine to 14 year olds, all looking for tips on how to be the adults they are so desperate to be.

Durex are planning to launch a website, with the gloriously sexist title: "He says - you say". They will give your daughter slick one-liners to deal with his refusal to wear a condom.

In the Durex universe, one thing appears not to have changed. Men are still out for what they can get, and all that is different is the correct response by young women.

Once upon a time, they were supposed to be outraged at this caddish behaviour. Now, they are supposed to buy their own condoms. Ah, progress.

Durex are allegedly targeting this website at 16-24 year olds, but just exactly how they intend to confine the readership to this age-group is never quite explained. Perish the thought, they could not be actively planning to exploit the fact that much younger internet surfers will access the site? Oh, surely not.

Not these great benefactors, who are sending Liz McClarnon, formerly of Atomic Kitten and now desperately trying to launch a solo career, all the way from Britain to Ireland to show us how cool condoms are.

They want us to face reality. When you take that weekend away in Prague with your beloved without the kids, just to remind each other why you actually got married, the kids have a "free gaff".

They will use that free gaff to hold a party, where some couples will have oral sex behind the sofa in the living room, and other couples will have sex in your en suite. Never mind that this is an outrageous slur on the majority of young people who will do no such thing, we have to face "reality".

Funny, when we hear young people are slugging vodka and ending up in Accident and Emergency, we produce investigative programmes, write concerned editorials and put pressure on the Minister for Health to do something to change their behaviour. When we hear that 15 year olds are having sex, we fire a few condoms at them, for fear of being judgmental.

Sometimes you need a little comfort. Numbed by the crass nature of the proposed campaign, I took refuge in one of my favourite columns by Frederica Mathewes-Green.

In a dry, witty piece, she points out that societal change rarely comes through moralising. Instead, "simple common sense has a tendency to re-emerge".

For those nostalgic for the "good old days", she analyses It Happened One Night, a 1934 movie starring Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert. Now, the characters are emphatically not going to have sex before marriage, but they smoke all the time. It is not even safe smoking, as Gable smokes in a haystack.

Further, Gable's first appearance is when he is roaring drunk, and this is taken to be hilarious. In post-Prohibition era USA, being drunk was seen as fashionable, cool and rebellious, and those who objected were prudes and squares. In 2006, smoking and being drunk are seen as neither cool nor clever. They have disappeared from movies except as signs of dysfunctionality.

Mathewes-Green's thesis is that today, casual, promiscuous sex is seen as cool, but that one day, the damage done by it will be seen as catastrophic, too. After all, condoms may provide limited protection against disease and pregnancy, but there is no condom for the human heart.

Perhaps the thought that cultural mores change for the better may comfort you as you live through National Condom Week. Then again, you might just decide that you can't wait 70 years, and decide to start your own little cultural revolution by talking to your 16 year old daughter before the shiny foil packet people get to her.