For sex workers, condom usage is extremely important to protect themselves against HIV and STIs, but in reality, this doesn’t always happen. A customer might pay much more for sex without a condom then sex with a condom, and depending on the day a sex worker has, the decision to not wear a condom may be one of necessity, then one of safety. Wearing a condom might be more risky in the short term if a sex worker is threatened with violence, or a sex worker has had something to drink. Based on these barriers, for sex workers to exclusively use the male condom during sexual contact might be unrealistic, unsafe, and a question of survival.
This is why the reality condom (or known as the female condom at first) is essential to safer sex work. The reality condom first came on the market in 1993, and was an alternative to the ‘male condom’ in many ways. First, the reality condom’s biggest difference is its internal usage. The reality condom can be used internally in the vagina or in the anus up to 8 hours before vaginal or anal sex. The reality condom is also polyurethane, so for those with latex allergies, it’s also a healthy and safe alternative to use during sex. The reality condom is also pre-lubricated and loose-fitting, and whether a sex worker is engaging in vaginal or anal sex, it can be inserted 8 hours prior to sexual intercourse. This is important because sex work and drug use might coincide for some engaging in sex work.
It’s advisable not to drink or use drugs during sex work, but it’s also unrealistic to understand that it’s never going to happen. For a sex worker, using the reality condom literally might save their life. If a sex worker isn’t completely sober, having the reality condom inserted in their vagina or anus lessens the chance of HIV and STIs during sexual encounters, but it also leaves still leaves the sex worker with the agency to make decisions and puts the sex worker in charge. In situations where a customer or john prefers sex without a condom, having the reality condom inserted in your vagina or anus already doesn’t complicate the situation, and often times sex without a male condom will result in increased revenue for the sex worker.
There are also a whole host of other advantages to using the reality condom during sex work. As stated before, if you or your john has a latex allergy, then the reality condom provides a safe alternative to using the male condom. The reality condom is also less susceptible to tears, providing added safety during sexual contact. The reality condom also tends to cover more area than the male condom (which only covers the penis), so you are more protected against STIs like herpes and genital warts which can be transmitted through skin to skin to contact. One of the biggest advantages to the reality condom besides its safety protections for sex workers is that it can be provide stimulation for the sex worker as well, particularly when it comes to clitoral stimulation, and the reality condom preserves heat well, so sensation for both partners is preserved during sexual contact.
Access to reality condoms isn’t as pervasive as male condom, but if you are engaging in sex work, reality condoms can be a safe and healthy alternative to relying on the male condom. The reality condom provides sex workers the agency to make safer sex decision and helps sex workers put their safety first in all situations. For more information about the reality condom, the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition provides safer sex tips, including how to use the reality condom vaginally and anally and helps sex workers gain access to the reality condom.
Samantha Korb is a health advocacy intern with the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition and is graduating with her master's in public health from the University of North Carolina Greensboro this May. She has interned and volunteered with various community health organizations and non-profits across North Carolina focusing on HIV/STI education, prevention, and advocacy.
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