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Sheik Un Chic

[whitespace] condoms
Robert Scheer

Flights of Fancy: Condom names like Magnum, Ramses and Kimono are created not only to make the unpleasant act of donning those pesky rubbers more enticing but also to stroke the egos of the men who put 'em on.

In spite of clever marketing, condom manufacturers just can't make those rubbers romantic

By Traci Hukill

THE CONDOM JUST might be the single most compelling argument for monogamy. Sure, it prevents pregnancy, but lots of things do that--and all without looking bad, smelling bad and feeling bad. And, yes, it prevents the transmission of disease--but that's what makes the case for healthy monogamy so strong.

The condom's contribution to the complex symphony that is amour, on the other hand, can pretty well be reduced to a note of absurdity: The human penis when sheathed appears dressed for bed in too-tight rubber pajamas. It looks silly and a little sad, the same way dogs in sweaters do.

No matter how incongruous the sight of a hygenically covered pecker, however, it can't compete with the condom's first appearance on the set for sheer awkwardness.

An evening of perfectly orchestrated courtship maneuvers can be humming along, perhaps escalating nicely into a frenzied grope session, when the whole proceeding grinds to a halt, someone paws around in a drawer or a wallet for the prophylactics (or worse, knows exactly where they are) and starts fumbling with the foil packaging.

Pulses slow. Respiration returns to normal.

At this point the only thing the female could do to match the stultifying effect of condom application would be to excuse herself to douche. But while douching calls attention to certain esthetic risks of coupling, rolling that latex sock up the unit is tantamount to saying, "Of course you realize this could get us killed." And the next stop on the paranoid synaptic trail is the realization, "And I hardly even know you/like you/want to do this anymore."

Here's the trouble: Condoms introduce the unsparing spotlight of reason into the steaming primeval jungle of lust. Not that that's all bad--Lord knows that intemperate zone is teeming with creepy-crawlies--but in a sense reason has no business being there. And this crystalline moment before our fearless explorers have committed to a night in the jungle is a bad time for reason to show up, at least from the libidinal point of view.

How many incipient unions have faltered during the time it takes to find the foil packet, open the damn thing, adjust to the unnatural color and smell, decide who's going to put it on and then roll it up the shaft just like Mom used to do when she put on her pantyhose? Too many. There's just too much time to think.

Maybe that's why so many condom manufacturers attempt to endow their products with mystique. The Hellenic Trojan, the Bedouin Sheik, the Roman Magnum and the Oriental Kimono all evoke alluring times and places that have little to do with latex, abortion clinics or nasty cases of syphilis.

Yes, indeed--those brand names sound like the stuff of legend and romance when a would-be Romeo or Juliet surveys them in the aisles of a drugstore.

Taking Names

BUT PERHAPS THOSE dashing names don't just seduce the buyer at point of purchase. Maybe they assist at that critical moment of condom application, when the surge of hormones so often slows to a trickle. Could the sophisticated word "Avanti" (sounds Italian, right?) distract both parties with visions of fashionable Milan or glamorous Florence for a moment, keeping the seven veils of romantic illusion in place while our Fabio prepares himself for love?

Maybe these poetically named products are designed to give a man--or a half-grown pimply-faced version of one--a vote of confidence before he submits to the indignity of the rubber.

And what a vote of confidence. Take the name "Ramses," for example. Ramses II was an Egyptian pharaoh best known in modern times for the colossal monuments he built to himself. The most famous are a group of four 67-foot likenesses seated at the entrance to the temple of Ammon-Ra on the Nile.

Assuming it would stand about 80 feet tall if it got off its throne, even a moderately gifted Ramses colossus would wield a tool 6 1/2 feet long. That's precisely the sort of association a fella wants backing him up.

Or consider the brand name "Trojan." First off, the name identifies the wearer with the stallion, whose prodigious member has made the whole equine family famous (the penises of large draft horses can extend 20 inches).

That's clever marketing--makes a man feel strong.

Second, the Trojan Horse of Iliad fame was large enough to contain an army of Greek soldiers, another good sign for a sweaty-palmed guy putting the moves on.

Big is good. In fact, the Trojan label has so much going for it that it's a shame it all but promises breakage and potential impregnation: If memory serves, the Trojan Horse waited until it got inside Troy's gates before breaking open and disgorging all its contents into the city.

Moving forward in history, we encounter the Roman representative in the condom aisle: Magnum. Latin for "big thing," Magnums measure eight inches long and an awe-inspiring two inches across.

The Romans knew how to make a good thing last: Rome ruled the Western world for 700 years. That's some reassuring history standing behind an amorous man of the 20th century.

Ah, yes, now we arrive in Arthurian times with Excalibur, a super-sensitive condom for the knight who fancies his sword blessed with magical powers. The advantage of whipping out an Excalibur condom is this dual association with thrusting motions and magic spells.

It even has a tinge of Oriental appeal, although nothing like Sheik and Kimono, both of which fairly drip with exoticism. One of these latter two choices certainly adds a touch of savoir faire to a 12th-grade backseat Casanova's routine.

When all is said and done, though, no fancy names, no pretty packaging and no marketing shtick can solve the condom conundrum.

It's going to look funny, smell bad and feel odd when it's on.

And that's just the way it is.

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From the February 12-18, 1998 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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