Buying Condoms at a Pharmacy is Political!
One of last week’s trending topics on Twitter in India had been that ‘95 % of Indians hate condoms’. At least that’s what Durex India had found out and shared under the trending hashtag #HateCondoms. In their (not so scientific) search to get to know the reason behind the aversion, they had started a small Twitter survey. Just to give you the result: “Lack of Feeling” has won! Honestly, in our quest to find the actual cause that doesn’t really matter. Durex India, so it seems, just wanted to land an advertising coup to boost their extra thin condoms.
However, these findings left the social scientist within me unsatisfied. If we really want to get to the root of the drop in the use of condoms (by 52% from 2008-2016) we have to include a couple of crucial explanatory factors other than the material of the condoms. For the contraceptive use shows us the state of society when it comes to sex and the social stigma or taboo that surrounds it – yes, using condoms is a political means of social change!
To start with, let me just share with you my friends’ stories and my own experience of buying condoms at the pharmacy. I think these will draw a more convincing picture. A male friend of mine told me: “I feel uncomfortable buying condoms at the pharmacy, one has to whisper to the vendor if he has condoms ‘Condoms mil jaenge, chacha?’ and the other guys working there stare at you…one is a bit embarrassed”. Two female friends confined to me: “I buy condoms at the supermarket, hoping that there is a female cashier…” or “I buy condoms at the pharmacy but I go to shops outside of my neighborhood and I probably will never go there again… but you can buy condoms online now. You get it double-wrapped in case the package gets damaged…” I myself can understand this embarrassment because living in India for a while now has made me aware of the discourse around sex therefore I also felt a bit inhibited before going to a pharmacy to buy condoms for the research of this blog. The anonymity helps to increase the use of condoms, it seems, at least their purchase. But it also makes sex invisible. We submit ourselves to the social stigma around having sex. I believe that buying condoms is an act of resistance against patriarchal domination and a repressed society.
But let us come back to the question of why “Indians hate condoms”. In my opinion, the embarrassment when buying condoms is not the only reason for the dislike of having protected sex. It’s also the insufficient sex education in most schools of the country. It leads people to believe in myths around sex as I found out when talking to friends about this, like it’s safe to have sex using the withdrawal method. No, it’s not, it’s the least safe method and it doesn’t protect you from any STI or STD.
Nevertheless, the question of contraception is a highly gendered one, deeply rooted in our patriarchal social order. While condom use and other forms of contraception which can be used by men decreased over the last years, means particularly and exclusively for women, like emergency contraceptive pills, have seen a steep rise. Although this form of contraception is not very healthy for women and should only be used in emergencies (as the name suggests) because it affects women’s health and can lead to numerous side effects. Women have to deal with it. It’s again the women’s body that has to suffer or is endangered by STIs or has to deal with an unwanted pregnancy – because men don’t like condoms? Because “Feel nahi aati?” Because if a woman wants to have protected sex means she is promiscuous and therefore not a “good woman”? A perfect example for our patriarchal social order.
Let’s challenge that together! Dear readers, go to your next pharmacy and buy condoms and make this a way to protest social stigma around sex. Everyone! Don’t order online, make sex visible! Because fighting the social taboo on sexuality may help to fight patriarchy. Because buying condoms is highly political!
 Ibid. 12.03.2018.
About the Author
Erik is a graduate student from Berlin, and has engaged in research on masculinity, gender and the urban. He is currently living in Delhi and calls himself a Bombaywala at heart.