Using condoms is a good thing. Using used condoms, well, not so much. In a 2009 article published in Sexually Transmitted Infections, the British medical author Vincent Tremayne explains the fetish for prophylatics. Now, not all manifestations are particularly problematic. “For someone with a condom fetish,” Tremayne explains, “this might mean gaining pleasure from [merely] looking at pictures or videos portraying people ingesting or masturbating with used condoms. Others,” however:
… might [actively] search for discarded condoms to masturbate in or to ingest the contents. Some men “condom hunt” in areas where people have public sex, such as car parks or wooded areas. Used condoms are also purchased online.
And that’s where the dangers begin to mount. Although many fetishists believe these practices are risk-free—assuming that any microorganisms responsible for STIs cannot possibly survive outside of the human body—that’s not entirely true. Tremayne points out, in fact, that several nasty disease specimens can remain virulent for an extended period without a warm-blooded, living host.
For example, here’s a good reason to use those disposable sanitary toilet-rim barriers in public bathrooms. In 1999, a researcher discovered that, out of a random sample of 50 public toilets, 5 of them (10 percent) tested positive for at least one very much alive, and very much unwelcome, genital immigrant. These included ambassadors from several diverse species, from the relatively innocuous Ureaplasma urealyticum and Mycoplasma hominis (both of which are thought to be largely harmless and present in most sexually active people) to the downright unpleasant Chlamydia trachomatis.
And in his efforts to raise awareness about the STI-related dangers of “masturbating, ingesting, or inserting [the contents of used condoms] into the anus,” Tremayne also relates to us the following tale about a sailor’s gonorrhea and the unlikely culprit that infected him with this dreadful affliction:
A fishing vessel skipper presented with urethral discharge having been at sea for two months before the symptoms. There were no women onboard and he had no sexual contact with the crew … Hesitantly, [he] told that he went to his engineer’s cabin and, on finding an inflatable doll, he had sexual intercourse with it. The engineer was found to have gonorrhea.
Although only artificial laboratory studies involving heavy concentrations of the virus have demonstrated this effect, a 1986 experiment by Lionel Resnick and his colleagues showed that HIV could survive for up to three days in a room-temperature aqueous environment. Such a hospitable climate for this agent of despair, of course, is not altogether dissimilar to those it would encounter in a recently used condom that’s been left to bathe in the sun on the side of a road, or while doing time in a knotted Trojan as it jets off to a fetishist’s doorstep, courtesy of the U.S. Postal Service.
So just how common is this desire for used condoms? Well, Tremayne’s exceedingly brief article on the subject is the only published report I could find on this interesting paraphilia, so it’s hard to say. There’s at least one NSFW website—www.condomswappers.com—devoted to aficionados, helping arrange for members to exchange their used condoms. And a quick Google perusal shows that the subject pops up frequently enough on adult discussion forums regarding turn-ons and kinks.
Some women covet their male partner’s seminal fluid for sexual gratification purposes (or pharmacological ones). But a used condom fetish may be a distinctively male phenomenon. For obvious reasons, it’s also a gay male fetish. In any event, bringing awareness to the health-related risks of this practice outweighs any negative attention or awkwardness entailed by discussing it so openly. Whether you view a used condom fetish as hot or vile—and it’s all the same to me, really, since any opinions grounded in disgust are irrelevant—finding yourself with an STI because you “used” a condom rather defeats the purpose of protection.
Follow me on Twitter @jessebering to keep up with my Daily Deviant posts here at Scientific American Mind(#DailyDeviant), or you can try adding me on Facebook. My new book, Perv: The Sexual Deviant in All of Us, will be released October 8, 2013 (Farrar, Straus, & Giroux/Scientific American). For more details, visit www.jessebering.com.
About the Author: Jesse Bering is the author of The Belief Instinct (2011), Why Is the Penis Shaped Like That? (2012) and Perv (October, 2013). He began his career as a psychology professor at the University of Arkansas and is the former director of the Institute of Cognition and Culture at Queen’s University Belfast. In 2011, Bering left his academic post in N. Ireland and returned to the U.S. to write full time, settling in Ithaca, New York with his partner, a very big cat, and two pathologically friendly border terriers. In addition to his books, Bering is also a regular contributor to many popular magazines, including Scientific American, Slate, New York Magazine, The Guardian, The New Republic, Discover, and more. Follow on Twitter @JesseBering.
The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.
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