"Who puts a condom on when you're giving a blow job? It's like eating a popsicle with the wrapper on."
Before the oral scene in this season's already-infamous episode of "Insecure" (yes, that one) Natasha Rothwell's Kelli poses the above question, which is met with laughter from Issa and the gang as they stroll through a sex toy convention and sign up for a "Blow Job, Good Job" class.
These days, there are coffee condoms, garlic condoms—you can even pork with bacon condoms. You can buy weed-flavored rubbers if you want the smell and taste of pot without any of the high; McCondom gives "whisky dick" a whole new meaning with its scotch-flavored brand. Even the big brands have gotten into the flavored fellatio game; Durex and Trojan both sell rubbers in a handful of fruit flavors.
But Kelli's fully right: Who actually goes to the trouble of using one for a beej? While 85 percent of sexually active adults have had oral sex, according to the CDC, only about 2 percent report using condoms during it. In Tonic's own research—a survey of about 4,000 people 18 to 34—4 percent of respondents told us they use condoms for oral sex. Which, frankly, is on the high side when you consider the popsicle-wrapper point.
All of which raises the question: Why do condom manufacturers bother making flavored ones at all? Well, for one, it turns out that while they might not see a lot of use, they do sell. Since it's tough to track down figures from the big brands—they don't tend to share those—we went straight to the people who decide what goes on shelves.
"We definitely regularly sell them—like, I have to reorder them," says Reign, who works at the leather and lingerie shop Hubba Hubba in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "They don't expire or sit on the shelves and get dusty, stuff like that."
Hubba Hubba stocks two brands of flavored condoms: Trustex and Endurance (the latter of which comes in a stylish plastic container with colorful, eye-catching graphics). Reign estimates that when it comes to flavored condoms, sales are split pretty evenly between those who buy them for the novelty factor—bachelorette parties and such—and people who purchase them for active use. "I definitely have people coming in asking for them for oral sex," she says, adding that those shoppers tend to be younger, typically college-aged women.
The story's similar at Condom World, an adult store situated, somewhat incongruously, among the posh boutiques of Boston's Newbury Street. (Think Chanel, Valentino, etc.) "We certainly sell what you'd think of as your standard condoms more, but we do sell flavored condoms every day," says Mike, a manager at the shop. He estimates that there are close to 1,000 individual kinds of condoms on their shelves, and while the flavors make up only a small percentage of that, it's not an entirely insignificant number.
As for why they tend to be lower sellers—even at a sex shop that has condom in its name, where you might think shoppers would be a little more adventurous—Mike hypothesizes that it could be a matter of either price or predictability.
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"I think people generally go for what they've seen commercially—they know Trojan, so generally speaking, they go with that," he says. "A lot of people come in, they know a name brand, and they grab it, you know what I mean? We try to have a proactive, adult environment where we can give you information and talk about these things, but some people don't want to just because of the nature of the product."
At Condom Kingdom in Philadelphia, boxes of flavored condoms are—again—not a huge hit. But while longtime manager Nicole agrees that people coming in for a box of condoms don't usually reach for the flavored ones, the shop also stocks singles. "And the singles—people grab a handful," she says. "They're like, 'Let me grab one of each.'"
She reasons that there are a few explanations for why the solo sheaths, available in seven or eight different flavors like tropical punch, mint chocolate and banana split (heh), likely fly off the shelves—and yes, one is the price point. "Definitely, they're able to not invest money in something they're not positive they're going to enjoy," she notes. There's also the "souvenir factor." The South Street shop welcomes in a fair share of tourists in addition to locals, and flavored condoms make a small, fun takeaway.
But Nicole says that while for some, it starts out as a goofy, look-what-I-found-at-this-silly-store gimmick, there are shoppers who realize they like using flavored condoms and eventually come back for a full-sized box. And she agrees with Hubba Hubba's Reign: College-aged women tend to be one of the groups shelling out for flavored condoms, which she sees as a sign of a larger—if not yet statistically significant—cultural change.
"There's always been that standard in straight relationships, the men buy the condoms and that's that, but there's this really amazing movement of women taking ownership of sexuality, and with that comes protection," she explains. "The stigma of what it means if a woman carries condoms, and all of those terrible, garbage labels we put on women—they're not gone—but the stigma's changing."
And since sexual education continues to be very heteronormative and penis-in-vagina focused (that is, if you get sex ed at all), something as silly and simple as a flavored condom can even invite a dialogue. "There's people who ask the question: Why is this flavored? What is the purpose of this condom being flavored?" she says. "It kind of opens up a conversation with the staff about protecting yourself during oral sex and how things can be transmitted." You can, after all, catch STIs from oral—everything from gonorrhea to syphilis to herpes. (And for the last time: No, swirling around some post-blowie mouthwash probably isn't enough to protect you.)
That's why her shop will continue stocking flavored condoms, even if they tend to be among their lowest-selling items. "We're really education-based here for being the fun, schticky store that has the funny name," Nicole says with a chuckle. "Anything that opens up the conversation—if it takes a little bit of lightheartedness to get there, then that's totally fine."
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