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Are Companies Locking Up Condoms To Sell You More Stuff?

Illustration for article titled Are Companies Locking Up Condoms To Sell You More Stuff?

The Sexist's Amanda Hess, long on the trail of the locked-up condom displays, thinks she might know why some companies (like CVS) make condoms harder to access, and it isn't shoplifting. It's to sell you more stuff.


She writes:

* "Thrush creams, tampons and pregnancy tests also made people feel conspicuous. In an attempt to hide their embarrassment over their purchases, well over a third had even bought something they didn't need as a ‘cover-up'."

If the last statement is true, pharmacies may not be too eager to reduce the stigma of condom purchasing in their stores. If purchases of condoms, tampons, and lube are accompanied by a lucrative cover, why tone-down your employees' sex-product gawking?


That doesn't of course, account for those people who walk out without purchasing the condoms they meant to by (or those who then engage in unprotected sex). One thing the survey doesn't document is how many people shoplift condoms out of embarrassment, which is the ostensible reason stores like CVS lock them up.

Hess previously documented the unintended effects of locking up condoms in areas management deemed theft-prone:

In 2006, 22 of about 50 CVS stores in the District of Columbia were guarding their condoms under lock and key. The glass-case treatment was reserved for neighborhoods with the greatest need for contraceptives-the wards with the highest rates of HIV.

Securing a three-pack of Trojans required you to alert an employee who would escort you to the glass condom case, unlock it, wait as you made your selection, then lock the case again behind you. The purchase could be further complicated by wait time, employee attitude toward condoms, and the customer's level of shame-all factors which could deter a potential buyer from preventing the spread of HIV.

Of course, CVS was unable to unwilling to document their shoplifting losses, and more than willing to respond to public pressure about their store policies.

Why the shame — and the extra purchases to "camouflage" one's condom purchases? Buying condoms — and particularly only buying condoms and waiting for ages in order to do so — doesn't just signal that one is having safe sex, but you're in effect telling a total stranger that you're having sex. Condoms, for many people, are still strangely associated with non-monogamy or promiscuity, so people (and, one suspects, especially women) feel judged for engaging in sexual activity despite being in the act of making a responsible choice about it — and that's even when there isn't judgment on the part of the person selling you condoms.


I'll admit, when I first went to buy condoms, after a long discussion about it with my boyfriend, I didn't feel I could go to the local CVS to buy them, as classmates worked there. I drove well out of my way in order to purchase them so that "no one would know." These days, I have a habit of throwing them into my basket at a drugstore with other items, but mostly because I'm stocking up on various things than out and in need of them. And, the one time I was in a situation that required them but they weren't readily available, we strolled arm-in-arm into the convenience store and just asked for them. But one thing I've never done is made a drugstore employee open a locked case for me (even for razor blades, which explains my legs). So those stores with them are likely losing far more in sales than they're gaining in theft-deterrence or multiple purchases, because I can't think I'm alone in that.

Could Condom Shame Be Good For Pharmacies? [The Sexist]
CVS: Where "Freed" Condoms Go To Die [The Sexist]


Related: An Open Letter to CVS "Sensitive Lady Products" Salespeople [The Sexist]

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Grim Reaper of the Forest

The Walgreen's in New Haven had pregnancy tests under lock and key, and I faced some serious snickering and comments from the teen employees who had to get the key and open the case for me. Being in my 30s, and engaged at the time, I was not embarrassed, but I can't imagine what it would be like to be younger and trying to do that.