Should condoms be kept under lock and key?

February 19, 2007

Picture this. A man walks into a pharmacy to buy condoms. He hopes he can quickly whisk them from the shelf and pay for them without attracting attention. But ... they are locked up in a case along with the razor blade cartridge replacements. A note on the cabinet states, "Please ask attendant for assistance for items in this case."

Instead of risking embarrassment, he leaves and goes to a supermarket, only to find that the condoms are stocked behind the courtesy counter, which is manned by his neighbor.

If you think this scene is a blast from the past, think again. A number of pharmacies and retailers are locking condoms up or putting them out of the customer's easy reach in order to prevent shoplifters from walking off with their stock of prophylactics.

A pharmacy employee at Fry's pharmacy in Arizona told Drug Topics that condoms are locked up at all Fry's pharmacies, and patrons must ask customer service employees for assistance.

Haley Meyer, corporate communications spokesperson for Supervalu, which owns Jewel-Osco and Albertsons, said, "Supervalu takes reasonable safeguards to prevent theft of product from our stores. Store managers have the ability to make decisions about or changes to placement of products-including condoms-if activity within an individual store warrants such action."

As retailers institute measures to prevent theft of condoms, public health experts are worried that putting condoms under lock and key will discourage people from using contraceptives during sexual intercourse, thereby increasing the risk for sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies.

Howard Mirsky, Pharm.B., publisher of a newsletter called STD Spotlight and director of the Citizens Alliance for V.D. Awareness (CAVDA), expressed surprise by the development. "In the '70s STDs were epidemic in the United States. Where do you think condoms were in the decades preceding the '70s? Bingo-behind the counter. I can't believe there is actually a move to put condoms behind the counter. In this world of sexuality, it is incongruous. I can't believe that shoplifting is the reason."

Mirsky said that making condoms less accessible to consumers may please some pharmacists who want to exert some control over minors. "There are some pharmacists who are reluctant to sell condoms to young people under the age of 18 under the assumption that these young people don't know their own minds and sexuality. They think, 'I'll protect them and won't sell condoms to anyone under 18.' "

Mirsky went on to say that the only thing positive about the decision to lock up condoms is that it may provide an opportunity for pharmacists and technicians to provide young people with education. "Some of these kids don't know how to use condoms. They see them advertised and they joke about them. It opens up communication about how to use them. Whether America is ready for that good education is another question," he said.