What's A "Consent Condom"? Experts Weigh In On Why It Misses The Point
Conversations about consent are critical for ensuring that everyone is engaging in safe and healthy sex. In light of today's discussions surrounding consent, many companies are beginning to build products that can further the conversation — including Argentinian company Tulipán, which recently developed the world's first "consent condom." Elite Daily reached out to Tulipán for comment but didn't hear back by the time of publication. You might be wondering: what's a "consent condom?" According to CBS, it's a condom that cannot be opened unless four hands are touching it. While the idea of creating tools to enable the discourse around consent is a wonderful in theory, I wasn't sure how this condom would play into the prevention of sexual assault in practice. To find out more, I spoke with several sex experts, to try to get the bottom of why exactly why a consent condom misses the point of the conversation around consensual sex.
The truth is, while condoms do prevent STDs and pregnancy, people don't actually need condoms to have sex, and someone who perpetrates sexual assault might not care about using one. "The box is the only consensual aspect to it," Life Coach Nina Rubin tells Elite Daily. "I’m sure there are workarounds, and for someone who isn’t in the habit of asking for consent, the condoms won’t matter anyway." Creating a product that enables safe, healthy, and consensual sex, will not necessarily appeal to the people who aren't interested in consensual sex to begin with.
According to Bustle.com, consent condoms also have the potential to be used to help people prevent accusations of sexual misconduct or to shift towards victim-blaming. Issues related to victim-blaming have occurred with products ostensibly designed to prevent sexual assault in the past, such as the rape-drug detecting nail polish. According to Newsweek, this nail polish, which would turn a different color if dipped in a beverage containing a rape-drug, caused a controversy in 2014, because it put the onus to defend against date rape on victims. One argument against them was that if a person did report being roofied, they might be guilted for not having worn or used the nail polish, instead of focusing on the person who put the roofie in their drink. "I can only imagine two types of people using consent condoms," Remy Kassimir, the host of How Cum podcast, tells Elite Daily. "Partners who are comfortable with each other who think this would be a fun activity in their sex life, or one person in a duo who wants to do some really disgusting sh*t and just want a consent condom as a receipt that they were allowed." Of course, this in no way means that using a consent condom is wrong in and of itself — it just suggests that the nature of a consent condom can enable someone to engage in inappropriate sexual behavior.
Consent condoms also assume that all users have the same accessibility, and that all sexual encounters take place between two able-bodied people — with four hands. The truth is, not all sexual partners have the same ability to open condoms. In creating a product designed to prevent sexual assault, the company missed the accessibility mark. "Certainly, a Rubik's cube style condom box does not eliminate the need to have a big, sometimes difficult conversation about consent," Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Nicole Richardson tells Elite Daily. The product is deliberately challenging to open, which means it isn't an option for everyone.
Additionally, anyone engaging in sexual activity needs to have a continuous conversation affirming consent. Using a consent condom might lead someone to believe that the conversation about consent is a 'one-time' thing. Consent isn't something you check off and then don't ever come back to — it needs to be talked about at every step of a sexual interaction. "A product doesn't necessarily solve the difficulties people have around talking about sex, including consent," Relationship Counselor and Clinical Sexologist Dr. Martha Tara Lee tells Elite Daily. "Consent can be withdrawn at any point." Kassimir echoes her sentiment. "How many times have people been naked together, gearing up for sex, or even HAVING sex when something occurs that makes them not want to have sex anymore? Many." Consent can be withdrawn at any point — not just while putting on a condom. The idea that consent is only relevant at the "putting on the condom-stage" of a sexual interaction is inaccurate, and consent condoms could enforce this false belief.
Finally, not all sex is penetrative, and consent condoms might suggest that the only time one needs to ask for consent is when you could otherwise be putting on a condom. "Besides the act of intercourse, you still have acts of outercourse," Matchmaking and Dating Expert Stef Safran tells Elite Daily. All types of intimacy require consent, not just penetrative sex. "When there is a new thing happening (even kissing), or change up of position, or something is going into a new hole; people should be checking in with each other," Kassimir says. Of course, there are other reasons to use condoms — beyond intercourse — but One Medical reports that most Americans associate condoms with only intercourse. Consent condoms may implicitly link consent to intercourse, but there are a whole host of other times when obtaining consent is critical.
Despite the intent, consent condoms miss the point of the conversation around sexual assault for a myriad of reasons. Consent isn't something that you give or get only when you're putting on a condom — in fact, consent condoms could hypothetically be used as a way to defend against rape accusations. That's not to say that there aren't benefits to creating products intended to prevent perpetrators from committing sexual assault, such as making people more aware of the need for consent. Moreover, the act of using a consent condom isn't inherently wrong. But these condoms don't address the heart of the issues around sexual assault, and they run the risk of creating a false idea about what it means to engage in consensual sex.