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The consent condom hurts more than it helps

You might have noticed that I went on a bit of a Twitter rant the other day.

Okay, I go on Twitter rants a lot - but this was bigger than usual.

An Argentinian company Tulipán has created a "consent condom" that can only be accessed if four hands simultaneously press buttons on each side of its box.


A few situations where this consent condom is an impractical pile of trash:
  • You are consensually tied up
  • Someone is amputated or disabled in another way
  • Someone prefers a certain type of condom (do they come in different sizes? latex free?)
  • There are more than two people engaging in intercourse
But really, the reason I'm so pissed off is not because of the practicalities of having to solve a fucking Rubix Cube to get some, it's because it does fuck all to fix the problem society has with consent. 

In fact, I think it actually adds to society's fucked up ideas of what consent actually is. 

If you're wondering what the fuck I personally mean by consent and how I see it operating in the perfect world, please read my 4,000-word rant on the subject. It's great, if shouty.  

I'm not going to go over what the fuck consent is, because the aforementioned blog covers that. What I will do however is rip this consent condom to shreds.

First up: coercion

In a perfect world consent would be a simple yes or no answer to the question "would you like to bang me?". But in the shitty, real world we actually live in people can be pressurised into saying yes to sex. Alcohol, drugs, power imbalances, mental health problems, and lack of assertiveness can all create environments where someone might say "yes" when what they really mean is "okay because I don't really know how to say no". 

That is not consent. 


The consent condom might get Agree To Press The Button Consent but that's not the same as Fuck Me, I Want You So Bad Consent. 

Second up: changing your mind

"I want to stop"

"Aww babe, but you pressed the buttons on the consent condom so you've consented until I blow my load"

Okay, I am being facetious with my dialogue. But this is an important part of consent that the consent condom doesn't cover: someone is allowed to withdraw consent at any time. 

You can say yes to sex, and you can click a fucking button or sign a piece of paper, but you are always allowed to change your mind. The consent condom flies in the face of that rule.

See also: consent apps on your phone where people fucking sign away their consent. Shudder. 

Third up: you still need to consent to the individual sex acts

Sexual intercourse is a broad term that covers a lot of sexual acts. When you're getting jiggy with it, you need to make sure the person you're with (and yourself, of course) are consenting to the particular sex acts that are being acted out. 

This is where so many of us (my younger self included) fail to grasp consent. There are many sex acts out there, and you'll meet very few people are happy with all of them, all the time. There are a few mainstream sex acts that I don't enjoy, and I have ended up in arguments mid-sex with people gobsmacked that I might know what my body likes sexually more than they do. 

Consent isn't just about getting that initial, overarching yes that this person is down for getting naked. It's about making sure that they are comfortable with whatever you are doing - from relaxed missionary with the lights out to an anal-centric threesome.

Fourth up: men hate condoms already

During my big 4,000+ rant on sexual consent, I mentioned a hill that I am prepared to die on: condom use, STD testing, and contraception is a consent issue. But I've never had a man turn around to me and ask "what are your feelings on condoms use? Are you comfortable going barrierless?"

Condoms aren't sexy and, yeah, sex feels better without them (don't @ me). But that doesn't change the fact that I'd rather lose a bit sensation than risk an STD or pregnancy (I'm not going to put my body through hormonal contraception while I'm single, so I rely on barrier). I only feel comfortable going barrierless when I'm steady with someone.

Making condoms more difficult to use isn't going to change that. They are already fiddly things: sometimes you need to spend 5 minutes finding one, the packets can be difficult to rip into, and sometimes you roll it on the wrong way.

I rest my case. 

Fifth up: it doesn't get to the root of the problem

Granted, the creators of the consent condom have said themselves that this is designed to fix the world - but it's to get people to stop and think about consent. I say bollocks to that, because (as I mentioned above) this condom reinforces the confusion society already has around consent. 

The problem isn't that society doesn't like the idea of consent, it's that we can't grasp it. A lot of people who have committed sexual assault don't even realise that they have. If I was to go back in time and pull up past partners for crossing the boundaries of consent, they would probably justify it one way or another (in fact, some of my past partners have been pulled up for touching me in a way I did not like - in some cases I had verbally said no - and they defended themselves rather than apologising and vowing to change). 

People are thinking about consent. We're having national dialogues about it. You can't get away from the topic right now. 

If you're a left-leaning, rich person who can do some good for the world, I don't want you to make products that encourage consent - because consent is not a gap in the market that needs to be filled. I want you to funnel that money into a campaign for better sex education, go buy 100 copies of some incredible feminist-leaning books about sex and give them out for free, or buy advertising space on a billboard and fill it with a banner that says "people are allowed to give consent and then change their mind". 

You know, something that gets to the root of the issue and makes people stop and think about their attitude to other people's bodies. 

Sixth (and last up): it sides with preparators more than victims

I know the creators probably had good intentions when they brain-stormed the consent condom. 

But the thing with the consent condom (and the other forms of 'proving' consent, such as filming your partner saying yes) is that it's more about people covering their backs than it is about making people feel safe. 

Because, as I said earlier, this condom doesn't actually guarantee that real consent was given. It just proves that a box was opened. 

Hypothetical situation: 
  • You consent to sex with someone
  • Open the box to get a condom (and prove your consent)
  • They start doing a specific sex act that you don't want to be done to you
  • You ask them to stop
  • They don't, because you gave consent (duh)
  • You end up assaulted, feel violated, but can't take legal action because they have 'proof' that you consented. 
I know men are scared right now (and you should be because too many of you are personified trash cans and you're getting your comeuppance). But if the conversation around consent scares you and you have a massive fear of being falsely accused, you need to sit with yourself about why that is. 

Why do you so desperately want proof that all your sexual encounters were consensual? Do you look back at some of your previous sexual encounters and realise that you could have practised better consent? Do you not believe all the stories from women that are currently in the media? Do you think false accusations are more common than they actually are? Do you actively want to assault women and think this is a good way to avoid prosecution? 

As far as I'm concerned, someone with solid communication and empathy skills shouldn't need to partake in a weird condom-opening ceremony to prove that their partner has consented. Consent, at the end of the day, is largely a communication and empathy skill.

And if you don't know how to communicate and empathise with sexual partners than you're probably going to cross a boundary at some point - consent condom or not. 

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