The Phantom Condom

Until the age of 13, I assumed S-E-X was just two people lying naked in a bed, kissing each other. I didn't know better – it was the only scenario my mind could piece together given the information I knew. The only sexual interaction anyone talked about was on my PG-13 movie screen. It was a one minute clip of a man carrying a woman to the bedroom and the two people looking at each other longingly and emotionally before the scene quickly cut to the morning after. It was the romantic comedy – the only film that I was a) allowed to watch with any "sexual" activity in it, and b) the only one I ever wanted to see: a feel-good, love-induced, 90 minute reel of happiness. Finding out what really happens was a moment I remember as complete enlightenment and disgust, ashamed that it took me so long to figure out the truth. I started to earn a complete distaste for the very movies that I once based all of my "real world" knowledge on. Breaking the cycle of complete unrequited love for the fictional and dream-crushing un-canniness of the rom-com didn't come easy. I was a child reared on them, actually buying into every cliched Meg Ryan-meets-Tom Hanks-overdone script. Literally every movie. You name it.

I've seen almost every "reinvented" Cinderella story that was ever put on the big screen. Every girl-likes-guy-but-he-doesn't-feel-the-same-yet script. Every scene where the "ugly" woman suddenly takes off her glasses and wears a tight black dress instead of her art smock and stained jeans, then magically becomes "irresistible". More importantly, every stark-white sheet, magical, sexual romp, where once they "shut the door" you knew what was going down. It all had an effect on me, lured me and sucked me into a pseudo-fantasy life where I honestly believed my own would play out the same. But now I like to think I'm a little older and wiser to see through the bullshit of a dying genre. And I have a serious bone to pick with it. That is the phantom condom issue. 

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It's the lack of substance both, literally and figuratively, in the movie that makes for a completely un-fulfilling experience that causes incredible social repercussions. For starters, where the fuck are the condoms? Seriously. I would love to see one scene in any stereotypical romantic comedy, or most movies in general, where before a sex scene takes place that the guy stops seconds before to put a rubber on. It sounds so stupid, but to me, this entire lack of any reality in the situation is the perfect summation of how skewed the sexual scope is in cinematic representation. And I'm not a psychologist and cannot obviously vouch for any correlation between rates of unprotected sex with movies, but I can say that if there's anything to blame, it’s the lack of any sexual awareness that these films dish out. And that unintelligent conversation that happens trickles down to people who maybe too young or too lazy to think otherwise. But what would happen if they stopped for a few seconds for the guy to roll over a put one on? The entire illusion would fade and its idealization now gone, would force you to confront real issues. 

When you explore what happens behind the closed doors, everything feels the same. The man and woman strip down, both incredibly in shape and wearing ridiculously good looking underwear. Questions ride: why isn’t this mildly awkward? Am I the only person who does laundry? Why don’t I look like that naked? Then they go under the stark-white sheets, always in missionary, having the most passionate intercourse you've ever seen in your life. There's no mess, no complications and definitely no cum in your hair.

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And that one scene in the entire movie becomes the tipping point – solidifying or ruining the couple, making sex the height of the relationship. But its over-simplification isn't okay. Is missionary the only "pure" version of sex and then everything else has to be considered obscene? And when you don't have the most mind-blowing, emotionally-engaged version of perfect sex, does that mean you're inherently not compatible with the other person? It's a dumb notion that will make you completely submissive and out of touch with all your relationships. And maybe from an outsider's perspective looking in, this seems so simple to avoid, but you wouldn't believe the number of people out there who do believe that their knight in shining armour is waiting around the corner to sweep her up and give her the most passionate fuck of her life. 

And although the genre is now trying to graduate to be more "realistic", with movies like That Awkward Moment showing a bunch of post-grad fratty dudes who to sort out the love in their lives, eventually each falling for the person they were meant to be with all along, it's incredibly recognizable that no matter now you try and spin it, the romantic comedy is utterly flawed. The apparent and unmistakable trend for these movies to forgo any space of reality isn't just something that should be accepted as a willing suspension of disbelief. Because it actually makes people, like my younger self, buy into this story for our own lives. We believe that when we see it on the big screen, it somehow means it can happen to us. You set up unrealistic expectations for your life and instead of being an active participant in the real-time moments of it, you become a bystander waiting for your movie-magic moment to happen. But you want to fall in love? You want to have great sex? Then do something about it. And that the passivity catalyzed by some stupid Hollywood script that was created just to make millions, is something that you chose to buy into – you created the demand. 

Words by Banu Ibrahim