What the Condom Teaches Us About American Culture

The condom is a product of the American industrial revolution. Rubber condoms were mass-produced in the United States after 1844 when Charles Goodyear patented the vulcanization of rubber. The industrial revolution in the United States gave birth to a consumer culture. Americans currently consume more than any other people on earth. As a result of their tremendous consumption, Americans also produce more waste than any other people on earth. Although condoms were reused in the United States as recently as the 1940s-1950s, condoms are now individually packaged and intended for one-time use only. Sustainability is a low priority. Americans believe strongly in product salvation, the idea that problems are solved through consumption. Ironically, the solutions to individual American’s problems are mass-produced.

The United States is a pleasure seeking society, willing to stifle or ignore the consequences of its actions whenever possible. Americans want all the pleasure without the baggage. Americans enjoy the luxury of their automobiles, but they rarely examine the environmental costs of their driving habits. They love their suburban homes, but rarely wonder what natural habitats were obliterated to make their neighborhoods possible. They eat for pleasure, but don’t ask whether the agricultural practices used in the production of their food were sustainable. Similarly, Americans enjoy sex for pleasure, but they rarely pause to consider that sex should have natural consequences. Sex is no longer closely tied to reproduction. Condoms are only one of many effective forms of birth control frequently used in the United States. Condoms allow trust to be less of an issue with sex; worries about pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases are discarded with the used condom.

The condom is small and portable. It fits easily in a wallet, purse, or pocket. Men and women often have condoms on hand whether they intend to engage in sexual intercourse or not. Sex in the United States is not necessarily planned; condoms are often kept in bedside drawer “just in case.” Condoms are usually sold to individuals; rarely do couples discuss sexual intercourse and make a collaborative decision to purchase condoms together.

The condom is marketed far less than other popular products in the United States. This is especially interesting considering that sex is the most widely used strategy in advertising popular products. Americans are sold sex constantly, but condoms are advertised carefully and consumed conspicuously. Sex is used to sell beer during a football game on Sunday afternoon, but condom advertisements appear on only a few cable stations late at night. It is acceptable to depict careless sexuality, but when it comes to dealing with the reality of sex in a time of AIDS and other dangerous sexually transmitted diseases, Americans opt out.

Americans are a wasteful, pleasure-seeking people failing to realize that their actions and lifestyle have consequences, whether they choose to ignore these consequences or not.

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