Survey finds students wary of condom shelf

by Bruce Mason

Staff writer

A survey of 130 UBC students by Commerce researchers has discovered that 66 per cent of men and 60 per cent of women report some level of embarrassment when buying condoms.

The researchers worry that reluctance to be seen buying condoms is a roadblock to having safe sex. They recommend that the contraceptives be sold in candy, snack and cigarette vending machines to save red faces and lives.

"People who reported being embarrassed when buying condoms, purchased less often and if you don't have condoms, obviously you can't use them," said Commerce Prof. Chuck Weinberg, chair of the marketing division of UBC's Faculty of Commerce and Business Administration.

Weinberg was part of the research team along with UBC marketing Prof. Gerald Gorn and Darren Dahl, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Manitoba and graduate of UBC. Their findings are published in the latest Canadian Journal of Public Health.

Eligible respondents were sexually active, had previously purchased condoms, and were single without a steady sexual partner.

Eighty per cent of those who said they were embarrassed rated being spotted at the cashier as more intimidating than being seen in the display area. The level of embarrassment wasn't correlated with gender, age, number of sexual partners or whether the buyer lived at home.

"Approaching the cashier is the moment of truth," says Weinberg. "There is also the worry that a `price check in Aisle 3 on a 12-pack of Durex condoms' will be announced to the entire store."

Studies show that students take risks -- only half used a condom during their last sexual encounter.

An earlier research project by the UBC marketing team found that less than five per cent of students entering a bar carried condoms, despite the fact that student sex is often decided spontaneously at parties and bars under the influence of alcohol.

While potential barriers to condom use, such as reduced pleasure and the influence of alcohol, have been the subjects of an increasing body of research, barriers to condom purchase are only now being explored.

Embarrassment stems from being seen to be expecting or wanting to have sex says Weinberg.

"That's surprising. Given the amount of sexually transmitted disease, you would expect that purchasing condoms would be viewed as desirable and an important social good."

"Yet it is difficult for students to find non-embarrassing places to buy condoms," he adds. "Because other people wouldn't know what was being purchased, it would be a very effective health strategy if condoms were sold in candy or cigarette machines."

He believes that discussing safe sex in the media and movies would help promote the practice among the young. Lowering embarrassment about buying and using condoms by making them a more openly discussed product would also be useful.

Weinberg thinks it's unfortunate that most vending machines don't sell major brands of condoms.

"If you are buying last-minute, you want to be certain you can trust it," he says.