An English-based HIV charity launched an unusual competition in the run up to Christmas, lubricating the channels of sexual communication between itself and a city’s gay scene in the process. Torsten Højer slides in.
Well, that fiiiieeeerce grrl Tyra Banks would be most proud. The show that sporned an unnerving amount of copycat contests in countries around the world, America’s Next Top Model, has now been nodded to by a UK-based HIV organization in a bid to find the best condom for gay men who mean business when it comes to butt sex.
The London-based Terrence Higgins Trust (established as a charity in 1982 and named after Terry Higgins, who was one of the first people in the UK to die with AIDS. A group of his friends wanted to prevent more people having to face the same illness as Terry. So they named the Trust after him, hoping to personalize and humanize AIDS in a very public way.) has launched ‘Brighton’s Next Top Condom’ in—you guessed it—the southern English city of Brighton.
Now, Brighton is a particularly gay city, where one in five men identifies as gay (and there are many more who are MSM—men who have sex with other men but don’t regard themselves as gay), so, it’s a good test ground for condoms being used for penetrative gay sex.
Each year, THT’s offices in Brighton distributes more than 170,000 condoms to men across the city’s gay scene (which, with a quick calculation, is 466 per day!) Now, in a first for the charity, gay and bisexual men are being invited to test-ride four of the UK’s most advanced condoms and report back on which one gives them the best experience. The most popular brand, to be announced in the new year, will then become THT’s condom of choice for distribution in the city.
The campaign is part of THT’s Informed Passions project, funded by the British Big Lottery Fund, which looks to find new and innovative ways to support the sexual health of gay and bisexual men.
Sue Peters, Regional Manager for THT, says, “At THT, we’re serious about condoms. Thirty years on from the beginning of the HIV epidemic, they remain the best way to protect yourself against HIV. However, it’s important that condoms give men pleasure as well as protection. Sex, after all, should be fun. We very much look forward to hearing what the gay community thinks of our finalists, and hope it will encourage men to explore the huge variety of condoms out there.”
And therein lies the problem. There’s too much choice! There are loads of condom manufacturers, and most of them have a good range of condoms of different shapes, sizes and thicknesses, which come with or without lubricant of various types. There are also specialist condoms available which can help with all sorts of problems. For example, 'delay' condoms are designed to delay premature ejaculation, and contain a mild local anesthetic which numbs some of the nerves in the penis, making it temporarily less sensitive.
According to Avert.org, recent research showed that rates of breakage, caused by fault in the condom itself, are less than two condoms out of every 100 condoms. Studies also indicate that condoms slip off the penis in about one to five percent of sexual acts (although this was based on vaginal intercourse) and slip down (but not off) about three to 13 percent of the time.
"Various studies have shown that knowledge and familiarity with the use of condoms reduce the likelihood of condom breakage and slippage during sex," says the Avert website. "A major factor that can lead to a condom breaking or slipping off during sex is its size, as this can affect how easy it is to put on and how likely it is to stay on. Different sizes of condoms are available, and it is important to make sure that the condom being used is the correct fit."
From the start of November, THT staff and volunteers have been hitting Brighton’s gay scene to promote the condom competition, handing out sampler packs containing four brands—Mates Skyn, Mates Aquafusion, Mates Ultrathin and Pasante Sensiva—each offering something new in terms of sensation and aesthetics, from one that comes ready coated with silicon lube, to another cleverly packaged in a round pot so it’s easier to open. All men who feed back their views, either by phone, text or email, will be entered into a prize draw to win £50 (approx. $78).
So, this is Happy Christmas from the south of the UK, where gay men are being paid to use free condoms and practice hot sex as the temperature cools down outside. Well, it is for a good cause, after all. So, if you’ll excuse me...
For more on the Terrence Higgins Trust, visit tht.org.uk
For frank advice on using condoms, visit gmfa.org.uk/sex/hivandaids/condoms-and-lube