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‘The Condom Challenge’ Is the Latest Warmed-Over Viral Moral Panic

A still from a condom-challenge video.

Back in 2013, a bizarre trend involving people — mostly teens and YouTuber types — snorting condoms through one nostril and pulling them out the other, or out their mouths, became a capital-T Thing online. (This is not to be confused with 2015’s condom challenge, a different stunt that involved dropping a condom full of water over someone’s head to create a giant bubble over their skull.)

The gag was popularized by one particular video of a young woman performing the act while Taylor Swift’s “22” played in the background. That video has since been taken off of YouTube for violating the platform’s terms of service. Still, it didn’t stop the challenge from popping back up again in 2015. If you search YouTube now for “condom challenge” — again, you want the snorting version, anything with a thumbnail of somebody in a bathtub is the wrong one — you’ll find plenty of years-old videos of people attempting the stunt.

Which leads me to this week … where an onslaught of hysterical headlines across the web would have you believe that every teen on earth presently has, or will soon have, a condom wedged somewhere in their sinus cavity. This is wrong.

If you search YouTube for condom-challenge videos and sort chronologically, you won’t find any new videos of people trying it. It’s possible that’s because the videos technically violate YouTube’s terms of service when it comes to dangerous content, but given the platform’s historically poor showing when it comes to moderation — Logan Paul’s dead-body video and top trending video peddling a conspiracy theory about a Parkland survivor as a crisis actor — that seems unlikely. Instead, what you’ll find if you search by date is a string of 2018 news videos panicking about the challenge, dotted by the occasional re-upload of an older challenge video posted by a user clearly looking to seize the traffic moment. So if kids aren’t actually inhaling condoms, or at the very least aren’t inhaling condoms for views on YouTube, why is everybody, to quote the teens and make myself sound very old, freaking TF out? Blame some well-intentioned parents in Texas and state education specialist Stephen Enriquez.

On March 28, Fox San Antonio ran a piece about parents in San Antonio attending a class, taught by Enriquez, to get hip to possible dangerous trends their kids might get into. The biggest concern, according to Fox San Antonio’s headline … the condom challenge. The story was picked up by Newsweek, which claimed that “typing the Condom Challenge into YouTube will leave you with an array of videos of young people snorting condoms up their nose.” (Yes, but not a recent array.) The Washington Post also quoted Enriquez. From there, the condom-challenge mania only continued to spread. The Daily Mail, using stills from a 2015 video from YouTuber ExtraLuck, proclaimed, “Teens are SNORTING entire condoms up their nose.” A Forbes contributor wrote up a handy list of things you can inhale through you nose, “air.” Motherboard ran a “brief history” of the challenge, which, while informative, ends in the year 2013 and doesn’t delve into the challenge’s 2018 reincarnation. A video from Fox News on the “dangerous trend” features a montage of clips of people doing the challenge, the most recent dated to 2017.

Much like the Tide Pod challenge — with a few exceptions — was mostly a performative meme, the 2018 condom challenge also isn’t really happening. Parents, rejoice. Your kids probably aren’t snorting prophylactics. They are probably snorting something else entirely by now.

‘The Condom Challenge’ Is the Latest Viral Moral Panic