Call me a pervert (no, really, go ahead) but I couldn’t think of a better way to spend a dreary rain-drenched Tuesday than wandering around Manhattan’s own Museum of Sex. It is one of my favorite places to visit, and especially handy when you have visitors in town and want to give them that “only in New York” experience. This time around I was excited to view the newest exhibition – Rubbers: The life, history, and struggle of the condom. (Sponsored by Trojan, of course). “How interesting could a condom be?” I think to myself. “What could they possibly display?” I ponder.
Well let me tell you my lovely readers, I got latex bitch slapped with a whole world of information and visuals that I will lovingly share with you now. So relax, take a calming breath, and I will slowly walk you through your sexual awakening of the condom.
Being the responsible sexual philanthropist I am, let me lay some knowledge on you. There is a whole sexual evolution of the condom that I never knew existed. So before we have an eye orgasm over the art and installations, lets be responsible and learn the sexual history of our new partner, The Condom:
~Ancient times: Men used a linen sheath and tied it securely at the base of their junk…eew.
~18th Century: Animal skins and membranes were used in place of the linen sheath. They were best worn wet and smelled “of fish and felt like slime.” Poet William Pattison spoke of the condom in his work “The Tale” stating they are “dirty yellow and bound with blue.”… eew.
~Charles Goodyear (1800-1860 yes, the famous tires): Creates Vulcanization, which is a chemical process for converting rubber into more durable material by adding sulfur. Therefore the condoms he made smelled of sulfur, were meant to be reused, and had a large thick seam on the outside (not ribbed for her pleasure). This is where we get the term “rubbers”…ouch!
~Julius Schmid (1882-1955):Immigrant who came to NYC to invent “skins” out of sausage casing and sold them out of his apartment on 46th street. Can you imagine having to buy your condoms out of some creepy guys studio apartment? …eew.
~Julius Fromm (1912): My hero created the first seamless latex condom in Germany. F.Y.I. Fromm is slang in German for a condom. Unfortunately Fromm was forced to give up his factory to the Nazi’s during WWII. Nazi’s ruin everything…boo hiss.
~Merle Yeland Young (1916): Young took all the technology he learned of creating seamless latex condoms and started Young’s Rubber Corp. Or as we know it today, Trojan Condoms. Young revolutionized the condom industry and took it from an underground taboo to a legitimate business. Trojans make up 75% of the condoms sold today. So next time you are having safe sex with a questionable stranger, give a big thanks to Merle Yeland Young for keeping your junk protected.
I learned all of that within the first 5 feet of the exhibit, talk about over stimulated. The next area of condom history tackled was condoms and war. Sounds odd, but not if you think about it. Get a group of guys in a new place, many of them off on their own for the first time, and what do they want to do? Get fucked up and bang something. And what usually happened if they didn’t use a condom…SYPHILIS. Oh yes, if you want to see many many large pictures of syphilis ravaged genitals, then this is the place to go. GOD HELP ME THIS IS FUCKING DISGUSTING. I don’t know if it’s art, but it moved me…to dry heave.
On a positive note there was a display of Army-issued condoms from the WWII era. The Japanese condom was dainty and wrapped to look like a tea bag. On the other hand, the USA Doughboy Prophylactic (that’s what it was called, I swear) was red, white, and blue looking very similar to a pack of bazooka Joe gum. I guess if you make it look like something familiar, the boys will use it…or get syphilis.
One of my favorite pieces in this exhibit wasn’t actually a “piece” at all. It was an alphabetical run-down of slang words for condoms written on the wall. Here is a sampling of some of my personal favorites:
Anti-baby bag, balloon, battle helmet, bulletproof vest, cock sock, condomus maximus, DNA lounge, English riding coat, glove, hazmat suit, jimmy hat, rubber magic, wet suit, and wet-willy-wally-whopper.
For a small piece of latex it has certainly generated a large range of opinions. But the condom was never more in the spotlight until the 1980’s. The free love of the 60’s and experimental sub-cultures on the 70’s came to a screeching halt with the outbreak of AIDS/HIV. Many artists were affected by this disease and chose to use their art as a way to spread awareness. Gran Fury’s Silence=Death 1987 is a very well recognized stoic AIDS awareness poster promoting safe sex, condoms, and education in the gay community.
If I may paraphrase I believe the church was all like “you are gay and deserve AIDS” and everyone else was like “oh no he didn’t”.
Keith Haring pieces were also on display because not only was he an amazing artist whose works brought light and love to the fight for AIDS awareness (Haring himself passed away in 1990 due to AIDS), but he is also a beloved NYC staple. His piece Safe Sex 1987 is a great of example of his whimsy and playful nature in response to a message so dire. And I just like cartoon penises.
Let us unwrap and carefully roll down our latex guide into the 90’s. Condoms are no longer aimed only to male consumption and the lady perspective comes into the picture. Brunell Levinson’s Baby Blanket 1996 has a clear message. It is a 2ftx3ft baby blanket carefully constructed out of aluminum wrapped condom coins. Use a condom=no babies. excellent!…moving on!
Another artist using the physical condom in their work is Adriana Bertini. At first glance I thought purple garment on display was a strange taffeta cocktail dress. As I crept closer I realized the dress was not made out of bad bridesmaid material, but condoms. Yes, it is true! After her mission work overseas in disease stricken, overpopulated, ailing countries, Bertini wanted educate the masses with her art. Bertini uses thousands of quality-rejected condoms; cuts, dyes, and sews into clothing to break the taboos of condom use and to inspire safer sex practices.
So if you see Lady Gaga prancing around in a reject condom dress you now know it was Bertini who came up with it first.
My favorite artist of the exhibit had to be Masami Teraoka. Using watercolor techniques and traditional ukiyo-e style elements of Japanese art, Teraoka brings a fresh perspective on contemporary issues such as AIDS and safe sex. The lovely geisha featured in Geisha in a Bath 2008 (first image) looks like any traditional Japanese composition one would find in an art history book, until you realize that she is breaking open a condom wrapper with her mouth. At quick glance I thought Kanzashi Pond 2001 (below) was a tumultuous lovers quarrel, soon realizing it was an allegory of AIDS related death. East meets west, old meets new. I think Masami Teraoka has it right. The old is sex, it has been around forever and will continue to be. The new is mother of invention, in this case the condom, which is ever evolving.
Who knows what the future holds for the condom. I have seen where they have been and got a glimpse of where they are going. But at the end of the day, when Merle Young invented Trojans almost 100 years ago he would never have guessed I would have bought an Apple flavored condom on a lollypop stick at the gift shop.
Happy Safe Sex to all, and to all a goodnight.