Please Do Not Enjoy This Experience

From approximately 2003 through sometime in 2009, I contributed to a political blog called Best of the Blogs, which no longer exists. While it lasted, it was great fun: one of the contributors had been one of the first staff writers at Rolling Stone; another was a former military man based in Japan; still another punctuated his opinions with different colored fonts and occasionally feuded with his fellow contributors. (He’s still online, and still quirky, as I discovered entirely by accident a few days ago.) On the flip, there’s another post I wrote for the site back in 2007, which might still be of interest to readers a decade later. It’s got nothing to do with the usual run of stuff around here, so read it if you want, or don’t.

A Southern friend of mine says that among the kids she grew up with (and the kids who still live in the Bible Belt, or under its influence), planning to have sex is planning to sin—which is why so many kids blunder into sex without protection, and suffer the consequences as a result. You’d think that the gas-station-restroom condom dispenser might be a mild antidote to that attitude. No need to face the pharmacist—just drop three quarters, turn the handle, and get down. But the widely prevalent attitude that sex equals sin is showing up even on some of those roadside icons.

Today, on a trip to rural Indiana, I stopped at a convenience store where the condom dispenser in the men’s room featured a most interesting bit of text on the front, right above the selections. I didn’t write it down verbatim, but it went something like this: “Condoms may not be 100 percent effective in preventing AIDS or other sexually transmitted diseases. The only 100-percent-effective way to fight AIDS is abstinence before marriage and monogamy after marriage.”

Translation: “We’re selling condoms, yeah, but only for the prevention of disease, so don’t get any ideas about preventing anything else. And you didn’t ask, but we think that when it comes to sex, you should be either abstinent or monogamous, but if you were, you wouldn’t have the need for our product, and we’d be, well, screwed, although not in the way you’re about to be. So please buy our product if you must. Understand, however, that we feel kind of guilty for selling it to you, and that it’s just as important that you feel guilty too. Do you feel guilty yet?”

The condom company is based in Kannapolis, North Carolina. And, coming from the Bible Belt as they do, you have to give them some credit for having the courage of their convictions. But it’s mighty weird, too—the venerable condom machine, which has hung on restroom walls for untold years in mute testimonial to the ubiquity of a basic human need and the practical desire to avoid its harshest consequences—is being enlisted in the service of new-millennium cultural engineering.

(Additional note: there’s a new post at One Day in Your Life today.)

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