The Color Change Condoms Aren’t Real, but the STI Concern-Trolling IS

I spend a few days playing with my shiny new Hitachi and come back to utter chaos in the form of a group of teenagers who apparently did some magical shit with latex, which was nearly cancelled out by the SCOTUS ruling on same sex marriage. Here’s the only thing I’m going to say on the Same-Sex marriage ruling:

#lovewins but remember how many we lost to get here, and don’t forget how much more progress is left to go.

— Rebecca Hiles (@TheFriskyFairy) June 26, 2015


 

If you haven’t heard about the condom thing, here’s a basic rundown. A group of teens in the UK created a concept for a condom that changes color when exposed to STIs. They’re calling it S.T.EYE. This is JUST a conceptual design. The actual technology doesn’t exist, but people are losing their shit over it just the same.

There are a number of problems with this concept. First, the scientific issue. This has been covered pretty thoroughly by Peter Yeh over at Hopes and Fears. Notably, the technology doesn’t exist, and there’s a fucking reason that STI tests take a bit of time to process.

First things first though, let’s look at this from a practical perspective. The STI condoms would test for syphilis, chlamydia, herpes, and genital warts. The testing would happen AFTER someone has been exposed to the STI in question. Evidently, the creators want to lessen the shame of STI testing… [SPOILER ALERT: It won’t.]

90% of the population has herpes, which means that approximately 90% of the population will have these condoms change colors. That’s not going to help anyone. This magical condom doesn’t even test for a difference in HSV-1 and HSV-2. HSV-1 and 2 can be found in the genital area, and despite HSV-1 being the “cold sore virus”, researchers estimate that it’s responsible for up to HALF of all new cases of genital herpes. The big difference between the two is that HSV-2 is almost exclusively transmitted through sexual contact. The thing to note here is that HSV-2 can be transmitted from skin to skin contact, though using condoms cuts the risk down by half. I could keep going, but I’m going to let y’all process. If you want to hear more, Ella Dawson has a lot of amazing things to say in regards to how herpes has affected her.

Ok, everybody take some rubbers.
Ok, everybody take some rubbers.

Chlamydia and Gonorrhea (often the same test), are treated with an antibiotic shot, and then a run of antibiotics (usually azithromycin). Syphilis is often treated with penicillin. Herpes is often treated with antiviral medication. Most cases of HPV clear up on their own. It’s good that this doesn’t test for HIV, considering we still live in a society where you can be MURDERED for telling a partner you have HIV.

Beyond that, the color changing is a ridiculous concept. What is that going to tell you about your partner? At the point that your condom *is* changing colors, you’ve already had sex which means that the exposure has already happened. If you’re having sex, you *probably* should’ve had a conversation first about who else they’re having sex with. Similarly, you should probably have a conversation about your STI testing status BEFORE YOU FUCK SOMEONE. Reid Mihalko has an excellent post on how to give the “elevator speech”. From a practical standpoint, testing is better when you’re tested before the act, not after you’ve been exposed.

Not quite what I mean by "elevator speech"...
Not quite what I mean by “elevator speech”…

Which brings us to the concern trolling point. More than once, I saw someone praising these kids for creating something that would allow people to know if they were infected (after the fact). They talked about how it was so great that people who were irresponsible would be held accountable for their ways. In reality, it is more likely that people would be less likely to use condoms if they haven’t been tested and are concerned about their status. The “we’re so concerned that people are passing on STIs knowingly” bullshit is just that. Bullshit.

BUT BECCA, PEOPLE ARE HAVING SEX. SLUTTY IRRESPONSIBLE PEOPLE ARE HAVING SEX. People still believe this shit. The concept that all people who have STIs are irresponsible or promiscuous is gross. There are many people who contracted an STI without knowing and some who contracted herpes or other viruses through their parents. There are a lot of reasons why someone might have an STI, and a lot of reasons why someone might not know about it. On the other hand, plenty of irresponsible people go their entire lives without getting an STI. Hell, they might not ever be exposed to one. (I’m not even going to go into the slut shaming that accompanies STI stigma, because that’s a post in and of itself.)

But this kind of thinking is dangerous. This kind of thinking leads people to avoid seeking medical treatment, because they’re ashamed if their tests come back positive. This sort of thinking helps people to believe that all STIs have noticeable symptoms when that is not the case. This sort of thinking leads us to saying things like our STI panel comes back “clean”. By that logic, if you don’t have a “clean” STI panel, you have a “dirty” one.

not cute

You want to know what keeps the people who have STIs from telling their partners? You want to know how the infections spread through sexual activity? Shame. Shame spreads the infection. Being ashamed to tell a partner because people will believe that you’re “irresponsible”. Being ashamed to tell a partner because your sex life will be completely ruined, because instead of being “risk aware” with sexual partners, we ostracize people with STIs. It’s the same reason why people are ashamed to get tested to begin with, because we as a culture have created a stigma around testing and STIs. Rather than an unfortunate accident much like sharing a cold, or a flu [which is viral like herpes or HPV or HIV] we tell people that have STI tests done that they are “clean”, and that people who have positive STI results are “dirty” or “dangerous” or “slutty” or “irresponsible”.

When discussing this topic, a friend of mine raised an interesting point. What are the potential ramifications in terms of partner violence. How many people might use this technology (and what exactly are the false-positive rates of said tech) and then be beaten when their partner learns that they have an STI. Other questions I have: How will this condom let you know if it’s the person penetrating or the person being penetrated who has the STI. How will this address people who are having oral sex and don’t have a penis? Or are we just pretending that oral sex on vagina-havers isn’t a thing?

In short (1000 words later haha), I’m so fucking glad that this technology doesn’t exist. The fact that people are praising the color change condoms, without thinking of the consequences, means we have so much further to go in terms of lessening STI stigma.

Until Next Time

-The Frisky Fairy

Rebecca
I am the Frisky Fairy, also known as Rebecca Hiles! I have been passionate about sex education for as long as I can remember. I have been working in the sex toy industry since 2009, and I hail from Pittsburgh originally. I am the Sexual Health and Wellness Education coordinator for Lotus Blooms in Alexandria, VA. I am certified as a sex educator through the Planned Parenthood of Massachusetts Sexuality Education Certification Series. I am a polyamorous cancer survivor, and I enjoy talking about my experiences. You can read some of my writing on xoJane.com. I started this blog because of my passion for sex and sex education. I work as a sex educator, teaching workshops on a variety of topics, but sometimes I really want to go in depth on a specific topic that I really enjoy. Thus, the Frisky Fairy blog was born! From reviews of my favorite toys, books, blogs, conferences, and more to discussions on my favorite sex and sex education topics, this will give you a look at what I base my workshops on! This is an education based blog after all and I hope that every time you leave, you feel like ’you've learned something new! I welcome feedback. If you enjoyed something, or disagree with something, please feel free to leave a comment! You can also email me at Contact@friskyfairy.com, or follow me on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, or my Tumblr! Please note that harassment, threats, intimidation, repeated annoying and unwanted contact or attention, and repeated personal attacks are not allowed. Please be polite!

3 Comments

  1. Thanks for this! I saw the headlines circulating, was skeptical, but didn’t look into it, so I’m glad you did.

    One question: 90% of the population has herpes? I thought it was more like 70%. I’m always looking for accurate stats so if you could point me to your source on that I’d be grateful!

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