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Reproductive Writes: GaGa for Condoms

'It's not complicated, just a fashion statement,' said pop star Lady GaGa of the range of condoms she's designed with Jeremy Scott for the contraception brand Proper Attire. Well, the thing is, condoms are complicated, there's no getting away from it - perhaps particularly ones that come in bright orange, green and pink animal prints - either ribbed, studded or sheer - and are promoted as 'making women feel more comfortable buying, carrying and using condoms.' Now - let's be clear - all proceeds from the sale of these condoms do go to Planned Parenthood - a very, very good idea - but the campaign still bears some scrutiny.

So, the suggestion here is that women don't like buying or using condoms because they are ugly. Proper Attire proposes that if only condoms were more aesthetically pleasing - and celebrity-endorsed - women would have a change of attitude towards them. This could be taken as a mild offense to women's intelligence. It is hard to imagine even the most fashion-conscious amongst us refusing to pick up condoms because of how they look - pale, rubbery, gooey in that non-descript packaging. Animal print condoms created by a fashion icon and a designer, on the other hand, are on a whole different level – a 'must-have' as the Proper Attire site states.

If women do buy these designer condoms, are they meant to actually use them for sex, or just carry the box around like the 'accessory' they claim to be? Or perhaps even buy up lots to sell on Ebay, or keep them in the attic for a few years until they become a collector's item? (Discussion of fashion-forward condoms at the 1:40 mark of this Alexander Wang video – Wang is another designer who has done condoms for Proper Attrire.)

Proper Attire must see women discussing buying these condoms with their friends, thereby opening up conversation about condoms and their importance in preventing STIs and HIV transmission. But we might wonder how this conversation is intended to go between two teenagers, or two casual partners of any age - and how the man is supposed to respond to the presentation of pink animal print condoms and whether this will make him more enthusiastic about using them. The campaign contains strong statements that emphasize women taking control - 'Dress him up' and 'Fit him right' and 'Required for entry' - but not because women are more likely to be infected, or that they can become pregnant - but because women like their condoms to match their outfit. It makes you wonder is it condoms that women are supposed to find ugly, or penises? Is this just another body part (albeit a man's this time) that women are being pressured to decorate?

Proper Attire suggests women who find it difficult to talk about using a condom can borrow one of their taglines to 'lighten it up a little.' If only our relationship to condoms was that simple.

Condoms have been demonized by the abstinence-only culture under the previous administration - which allowed for systematic undermining of the method's effectiveness. If we think over how condoms are considered in our culture, they are indeed long due for a rebranding. We talk about how they break, how they smell bad, how they get in the way, how men don't like them, how women don't like them - and all this, however honest, is undermining and most definitely stops people using them when they really should. There is such cultural resistance to condoms it is hard to know where the rumors end and the truth begins. Covering them in animal print and attaching Lady GaGa's name doesn't seem to be a foolproof answer. However, as all proceeds go to Planned Parenthood then we can see this is not a stand-alone strategy for education - and as such, it's really only a silly means to a more serious end.

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Comments

9 comments have been made. Post a comment.

Not Scared

I don't think women should be embarrassed to carry condoms around. I carried a condom around way before I ever had sex, just because I like to prepared, be it for my sake or someone elses. Making them pretty or patterned wouldn't make me want to carry them any more or less, sometimes safety overtakes designs.

Just wondering

Aside from all the cultural issues Holly's raised, I can't help wondering about the ink for printing those oh-so-stylish condoms with animal prints. How might it affect vaginal health? Presumably, it's as safe as food coloring (ahem), but it's so easy to get UTIs, yeast infections, and bacterial vaginosis from personal care products that I can't stop myself from thinking about it.

lady Gaga is attempting to

lady Gaga is attempting to open the conversation about condoms. She is also working with Mac Makeup and Cindy Lauper to raise money for HIV/AIDS. She uses her own fashion and makeup to get people to talk about her, so it's not a surprise that she is using fashion and makeup to talk about HIV/AIDS and condoms. I applaud her efforts.

"Dress him up?"

I'm a little unsettled at the way this campaign is clearly all about WOMEN taking care of condoms, rather than both parties of a(n apparently heterosexual) couple. Sure, in some circles there is more of a stigma for women carrying condoms than men (slutty vs. a stud, etc.) but not only does this assume that, among condoms users, only straight women are interested in "fashion accessories;" it also infantalizes the men with phrases like "dress him up" and "fit him right." To me, the implication is that men are little dolls with no sense of fashion OR protection, so it's all up to their female partners.

So, the suggestion here is

So, the suggestion here is that women don't like buying or using condoms because they are ugly. Proper Attire proposes that if only condoms were more aesthetically pleasing - and celebrity-endorsed - women would have a change of attitude towards them. This could be taken as a mild offense to women's intelligence. It is hard to imagine even the most fashion-conscious amongst us refusing to pick up condoms because of how they look - pale, rubbery, gooey in that non-descript packaging. Animal print condoms created by a fashion icon and a designer, on the other hand, are on a whole different level – a 'must-have' as the Proper Attire site states.

This statement is really reaching. Especially this:
"It is hard to imagine even the most fashion-conscious amongst us refusing to pick up condoms because of how they look - pale, rubbery, gooey in that non-descript packaging."

That writes off lots of the female population. Assuming all girls will just go out and get condoms is such a gross generalization--especially when it comes to teenagers. Believe me, I work with troubled teens, and many of them have gotten pregnant because they refused to use condoms.
That's one reason so many condom companies make condoms in "fun" packages--to make them more appealing. It's not like Proper Attire is the first company to do this. I mean condoms come in various flavors, textures and packaging. And yes, as much as you might want to deny it, celebrity endorsements DO help. I think that many of the young girls I work with might be more inclined to buy a condom if Lady Gaga said they should. She's continuing to use her platform as a mega pop star to deliver a good message--AND she's giving the money to Planned Parenthood. By saying that condoms are something that should be made more fun, Proper Attire and Lady Gaga are in no way insulting women's intelligence. They're just trying to make them a bigger part of women's lives.
This article seems like it's just searching for a reason to criticize the situation, when really, all it is is a good thing.

Where the Wild Things Are(n't)

I love this concept. And I love that it's actualized. And I'm even more glad that it's publicized, and endorsed by a commendable organization and (can't believe I'm writing this) celebrity endorsement from L. Gaga who has a great following of fans.

This article presents a low-win scenario for condoms and power. There are a lot of "could"s and rhetorical questions asked, and implication that because it's for Planned Parenthood, that's one (if not the only) good reason to think it's a good idea. But it's not. There's more to it than that.

It doesn't seem so "silly" that "PROPER ATTIRE condoms are a safe yet fun way to protect yourself and your partner" (from official site link below). And though the official site markets it for women, feminists/womanists/equal-rights campaigners can't forget that condoms go beyond gender--they are used by woman-on-woman and man-on-man sex as well. I think that's an obvious market because [someone like] Gaga has a huge following from the gay community.

Where the "must-have" verbiage is concerned: As a writer, they're setting tone for the product. They're marketing it like haute couture, something iconic and fashionista-sounding. It's obviously not everyday vernacular for how we talk about style (or sex for that matter), but it is easily recognizable jargon. I believe they're playing with the tone and making a play on words.

Keep in mind Jeremy Scott is only one of the designers for this brand. To simplify it, his condoms (which may have only been ENDORSED by Gaga anyway) are linked to his spring 2010 line, if you look at it (linked below). Altogether, I'm interpreting 'We can get wild with sex, but don't be prehistoric about safety.'

And I'll go back to one more point in the article; "The campaign contains strong statements that emphasize women taking control [...] not because women are more likely to be infected, or that they can become pregnant - but because women like their condoms to match their outfit." This contradicts the disclaimers and promotion of Planned Parenthood wrought throughout the official Web site:

- "Not only are you protecting your health..."
- "Reliable and effective, PROPER ATTIRE condoms not only are FDA-tested, but they undergo rigorous quality assurance testing by the manufacturer as well as by independent laboratories."
- "If used properly, latex condoms will help to reduce the risk of transmission of HIV infection (AIDS) and many other sexually transmitted diseases. Also effective in preventing unintended pregnancy."
- "for every woman who wants to protect herself and her partner"
- "If used properly, latex condoms will help to prevent pregnancy and reduce the risk of transmission of HIV infection (AIDS) and many other sexually transmitted diseases."
-" can be used with all other birth control methods (except the female condom) to provide very effective pregnancy prevention and to reduce risk of sexually transmitted diseases"
- "help prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases"
- "The way a woman's internal sex organs are shaped makes them 10 to 20 times more likely than men to get sexually transmitted diseases. And the cervix in pregnant women, young girls, and teens is especially vulnerable to infection."

.........Actually the list goes on and on; there's even a whole page dedicated solely to Health & Wellness and how to effectively use a condom. I disagree that PROPER ATTIRE has oversimplified this issue.

http://properattirecondoms.com/about.asp
http://nymag.com/fashion/fashionshows/2010/spring/main/europe/womenrunwa...

Flavours and Colours make the condoms go round

Wow Holly thanks for this analysis it is really interesting and goes way deeper than my response when I saw the announcement. The only thing is...there might be a benefit to designer condoms that is diminished here. I worked with teens at a place where we gave out condoms gratis. We gave out all sorts (the selection was impressive) but the only two kinds the youth would take were coloured or flavoured. We called it the ipod effect on penises.

So even if there are problematic sides to designer condoms, if a condom endorsed by Lady Gaga leaves in a girl's purse then I say : why not? Ideally we can discuss the ideas about consumerism and marketing in the next workshop with the youth in our programmes and build their critical thinking and capacity to make choices. In the meantime, we would still be providing condoms that they are interested in using.

Thanks

Very interesting - I had been wondering if novelty condoms were particularly popular. I'd always thought they caused a whole bunch of vagina-related problems, so stayed clear, but that is very interesting to hear how they are otherwise received. With this in mind, I do hope other celebrities - Taylor Swift! - decide to start designing condoms too.

In response to other comments - I totally think this is an awesome idea, I just found the language used by the brand intriguing in its assumptions and suggestions.

I wonder if there is something of an 'ownership' issue in here too - by choosing the design and initiating the use of a designer condom are we suggesting women are taking ownership of the male body?

She really is wonderful,

She really is wonderful, that is such a cool thing to do. Hate to be a Debbie Downer, but it totally scares me that some crazy Anti-choicer will try and hurt her or something though. Lady Gaga is among the only things keeping me sane in this world. She is earning a lot of love for me for being famous and actually seeming to care about stuff I care about.
Take care Gaga, the world needs you!