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19th April 1998

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Struggle between pleasure and protection

With the increasing fear of AIDS, con doms are back to their original function as a shield against infection. And condoms save us from unwanted lives; their other important role being a barrier against conception.

The condom has seen many ups and downs in the last 50 years. Upon the development of penicillin in the 1940s, condoms lost their primary raison d'etre which has been the prevenion of veneral disease. At that point it became mainly a birth control device. But with the advent of contraceptive pills in the 1960s, even that function began to fade. In countries where the pill was in wide-spread use, the future of the condom looked bleak. But with the on-set of AIDS, condoms have come back to the fore-front.

Brothels are now doling them out, often free. Some eatablishments are even turning down customers, especially suspicious-looking strangers, for their refusal to use them. "Wise girls carry them", exhorts one trendy women's magazine. Anyway smart men always carry some in their wallet. A Frankfurt society journal glued one each to its annual issue. A London confectioner selling chocolate bunnies for Easter went further. They were nestling in the hollow inside. A good Japanese wife the saying goes, packs a packet in her husband's bag when he travels out. Frenchmen, traditionally against this "spoilsport', are getting them from vending machines installed in public places (such machines we should have here too - in the cause of population control). Hotels have started keeping them in bathroom cabinets along with the complimentary toothpaste and shampoo. Till sometime back, USA was operating restrictions on such ads. Now Ramses have a plane flying over beaches trailing the banner Play Safe with Ramses.

Under this renewed demand these have vastly improved in quality. A significant research effort has been mounted to make them standardised. Sub-standard brands are being banned by governments and forced to withdraw from the market - it can be worse with a bad variety. Frequent surprise inspections are made of factories. Normally no more than four out of a thousand (.0025 percent) are allowed to fail the test.

It has however been found out that a good deal of failure is due to improper storage, handling and usage by consumers; the actual failure rate going up to as much as 14 per cent. It indicates that consumers are apparently in need of education for their proper use. But such education isn't easy to manage. When the producers of one instructional film demonstrated its use, the President of International Banana Association threatened to sue them. His letter of protest "found the usage totally unacceptable" and questioned the medium of demonstration as opposed to"some other inanimate prop".

The rubbers are getting thinner, as thin as they could be, and a few promise 'heightened sensation". The varieties are now numberless: The lubricated, the ribbed, the perfumed, even some tasting of fruit and the plain, simple Nirodh. Coloured ones, with a choice of colours to match the mood. Flower decorated ones replacing the flesh-coloured ones. Some Japanese varieties suport a picture of a grinning little man in a top that. A few come packed to look like cigaretttes in a pack.

As in many other things, Japan is in the lead in their research and manufacture. The Japanese themselves are overwhelming users of it, and they ascribe their relative escape from AIDS to this. But then they can't escape a few snide remarks, like the reported rejection by the British Health Ministry of a shipment from Japan on technical grounds. Incidentally, there are two internatioally recognized sizes: the regular American size, and the Oriental size.

Women being more at risk than men (unwanted pregnancy besides infection), contraceptives are now bought by them. Soon the industry expects to market a female brand. These are designed for them and can be used in advance - a major tactical advantage. At least it will remove the leading objection that it interrupts love making.

In fact a good deal of success in bringing down the indcidence of AIDS in USA and Europe is attributed to the emergence of improved varieties. Of course, high-quality exotic brands don't come cheap. A pack of 50 (these are usually dispensed in packs of 50 or 36 or 25, instead of the customary three) could cost 25 dollars.

The history of the condom is several centuries old. Even its name and invention remains shrouded in controversy."Playboy's Book of Forbidden Words" traces its derivation from the word Conundrum, meaning a riddle. Or is it from the Latin word Condus, a cup to conceal or preserve?. Or, for that mattter, from the Persian word Kondu, a long vessel of animal intestines used for storing grain.

Some say, it comes from a French village bearing that name (no wonder, some continue to call them French Letter).

Another amusing explanation; it was invented by a Doctor Condum, the court physician of Charles II. The amorous king was said to be siring too many children.

More authoritatively, the invention is credited to the great Italian anatomist and researcher on syphills, Dr Gabriel Fallopious of the 16th century (best remembered for his description of uterine tubes named Fallopian tubes after him). He recommended a linen sheath as a cover against syphills. Several hundred locals were persuaded to try the contraption, and is seemed sucessful.

Despite its anti-infection use, the sheath remained unpopular. In fact the whole history is a 400 year struggle between pleasure and protection. No one has ever sung praises of it, every one complains about it. Men often chose to risk 'clap' than engage the burden. Boswell in his diary complains that "engagements in armour" provided a dull satisfaction. Incidentally, he was sending his used contraceptives made of linen for a wash to a public laundry.

The first advertisement was possibly in the "Tatler"issue of May 12, 1709" of an Engine for the Prevention of Harms by Love".

It appears that in the late 17th centuary, linen gave way to animal gut or membrane. A slaughter-house worker had hit upon the idea, so the story goes.

Mostly sheep gut - the blind sac which opens into a small intestine at its junction with the large instestine - was used. Washed, scraped, cleaned, dried; and a 20-25 cm length finally tied with a Silk ribbon. Several qualities were even then on offer; ordinary, fine,superfine and superfine-double - the last variety for the overcautious.

One Mrs Phillips in London was famous for their manufacture. The best ones were said to be fashioned on glass moulds, and then oiled and scented. Some African tribes, initially introduced them by enlightened medical missionaries, are known to have boiled the gut-made things and eaten them up for virility.

Till came Mr Goodyear and his revolutionary process for vulcanising rubber. The concerned products, including the golf ball, improved, immeasurably.

It is primarily an instrumet of birth-control, with its simplicity of use and easy availability. The Government has substantially funded indigenous manufacture. And it is one of the few items enjoying liberal import. They are busily distributed, sometimes free, and their use promoted through family planning programmes.

Targets are officially set for their distribution and achievements in this field are publicised (how many of these are actually used has to be guessed). The onset of AIDS in the country is bound to add another dimension to their use. All in all, it is set to have a crucial presence for years to come.

(Courtsey Day After)

'A plague on plastic shopping bags'

By Damian Ganegoda

Various environ mental systems are in force around us. Plastic (shopping) bags which can have an effect on these environmental systems have appeared on the scene. These plastic bags which are not bio-degradable affect the environmental balance in various ways. Today this situation underlies, over and over again, the need for sustainable development.

Horton Plains, Sinharaja, Yala Sanctuary, Uda Walawe National Park and Attidiya Bird Sanctuary are a few places of Sri Lanka's national heritage. Plastic (shopping) bags have become a plague that indirectly affects every one of these national environmental resources. Visitors to these places bring various items wrapped in plastic (shopping) bags and leave them behind after use without any concern for the environment. The damage caused to the environment because of plastic bags is amply demonstrated by the fact that certain people are said to have observed the presence of undergraded plastic (shopping) bags in the bellies of some dead wild animals. Furthermore, it is on record that rare turtles have died in the sea after consuming plastic (shopping) bags having assumed them to be jelly fish.

This is indeed another sad aspect. From 1979, the destruction of forests has received the attention of the Community Educational Centre, Malabe. Later its attention was directed to the damage of polythene and plastics. Women's societies of eight districts which participate in the work of this Centre emphasized this problem in their monthly meetings as well as in their training sessions for women leaders.

In 1992, some 376 members of 20 societies in the six districts of Matale, Moneragala, Colombo, Gampaha, Anuradhapura and Galle were subjected to a survey. As much as 368, ie. 98% of them were found to be using plastic (shopping) bags over and over again. Out of them 24% used a plastic only once and 12% used more than twice. Those who used plastic (shopping) bags for other purposes amounted to only 4%. The remaining 96% threw them into garbage dumps or left them on the wayside after use or even burnt them. Before adopting the use of plastic (shopping) bags, they used bags made of cloth, leather, paper or other synthetic materials.

In connection with this programme, ideas and suggestions started to pour in through women's societies. Minimal use of plastic (shopping) bags, using them for an optimum period and burning them after use in one place instead of throwing them all over, were some of the main suggestions. However, it was the primary objective of the Community Environmental Centre to find a suitable alternative for use. Accordingly during the Sinhala and Tamil New Year, in 1992, a bag made of reeds was introduced. A women's society located at Waturuwela in Galle distributed hundreds of bags made of reeds, produced with the help of rural women, with the message "an alternative to polythene and plastics which destroy the fertility of the earth". These bags were distributed among 80 women's societies in eight districts.

While certain women's societies started to use cloth bags as an alternative, certain other societies began to produce bags using discarded old clothes. In this manner an educational message spreads among the communities across the length and breadth of the country through rural women's societies. Similarly, the introduction of bags made of reeds with various environmental themes takes place every year at the time of the Sinhala and Tamil New Year. In addition, at the request of teachers of nursery schools, 100 cloth bags with an environmental message printed on them were sold to the teachers by the Centre for use by the nursery students in 1996. Some parents of nursery students also produced new cloth bags for their children. At the moment, women of all districts are involved in a practical educational programme against plastic (shopping) bags.

The demand for bags made of reeds increased daily as a consequence of the Community Environmental Centre spreading its message. In the competition meant for the selection of the best environmental project, organised by Sri Lanka Environmental Journalists' Forum (SLEJF) in 1997, these activities of the Community Educational Centre, which spread through women's societies, won an award as a commendable programme. The Norwegian Embassy in Sri Lanka accorded patronage for this event. Undoubtedly everybody would be pleased to hear that the Community Educational Centre is making arrangements to spread this environment-friendly programme, step by step, throughout Sri Lanka. (SLEJF) Environmental News Service.

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