Thursday, April 13

Condom conundrum

Today I was hanging out in the crotch aisle of Walgreens (where they keep the Monistat and the tampons and the condoms), picking out party supplies for the monthly celebration my uterus is having, and I happened to glance over to the condom area and notice that the rubbers were locked up behind some mean-looking Plexiglass.

And I made a mental note: That's weird.

Then, when I got to work, I read yesterday's Broadsheet item regarding the WaPo story about pharmacies increasingly placing their condom stock behind locked doors, requiring customers to page an associate to retrieve them, much like cigarettes at Wal-Mart or video games anywhere.*

Part of the story is how condoms tend to be locked up in inner-city stores where incidences of theft are more common.

"We're not trying to restrict access -- we're trying to prevent people from stealing," he said.

Lockups are decided on a case-by-case basis, he said. In stores reporting high theft, the company permits managers to lock up not just condoms but other high-theft items like hair-care products, baby formula and pregnancy tests, he said. DeAngelis declined to disclose theft statistics for any CVS pharmacies, or to say when any individual stores began locking up their condoms.

Heather Boonstra, policy analyst for the Alan Guttmacher Institute, a think tank that focuses on sexual health, doesn't buy the theft rationale.

"It's an economic thing," she says. "It goes back to prejudice and fear. In those areas of the city that are poor, stores fear that people are going to steal the product — whether they actually do or not."

DeAngelis takes issue with that, citing shoplifting rings that resell condoms on the street. He declined to identify which stores were affected and how costly these thefts have become.

This rings pretty true with my experience. The Walgreens I was in is on Union, across from the old Baptist Hospital, which I suppose you could consider an "inner-city" store. Their condoms are locked. But the Walgreens I went to when I lived in East Memphis? I don't remember ever seeing those condoms behind a locked door.

It's an interesting dilemma. You have to sympathize with the businesses for doing whatever necessary to protect their products from theft. But of all the things that could be stolen in a drug store (see: everything), condoms are really the one product that, if they're stolen and used, might actually do some good.

These stores aren't locking up condoms to intentionally prevent or discourage sexual activity; these are businesses that want people to screw all the livelong day if it means selling more condoms. It's far more likely that the condom lockup discourages the more squeamish from buying condoms, at least at these stores, and I can't imagine that that's a good thing. But serious question: Should a business be expected or encouraged to take one for the team and eat the losses if it might mean some sort of potential social benefit?

*This seems to me to be a serendipitous example of collective consciousness — that I would notice something and start thinking about it before I realized there was already an ongoing social conversation about it. I prefer "serendipitous example of collective consciousness" to the more likely "I AM OUT OF THE NEWS LOOP."


Blogger Serrabee said...

"Shoplifting rings that sell condoms on the street"---is that for real?!?
Whatever happened to security tags stuck on high-theft items? Seems to me like locking up rubbers actually encourages unsafe sex and discourages sales. People don't want to ask the pharmacist at Walgreens for that or any other potentially embarassing items.

Thu Apr 13, 01:27:00 PM  
Blogger ml said...

I got mad several months ago when I wanted to purchase a pregnancy test and it was locked up at the Walgreens on Union and Mclean. I was humiliated and very angry to have to ask somone to open the case. I felt like I was being punished for being sexually active.

Thu Apr 13, 04:29:00 PM  
Blogger theogeo said...

I thought the black-market condom ring thing sounded bogus, too, but I live a sheltered life, apparently.

I bought deodorant the other day at Walgreens and noticed when I got home that it had one of those big square security stickers on it, and it said "This item is intended for sale at Walgrees. If found anywhere else, immediately call 1-800-xxx-xxxx." And it made me wonder if there were also underground deodorant merchants.

It seems like every time I've ever bought condoms, there's been a security tag inside, where you cound't remove it unless you ripped the box open and took the condoms out. I don't understand why that wouldn't be enough to deter theft, unless that's what people are doing -- taking the condoms out and stuffing them into their pockets.

As for a locked-up pregnancy test, WTF?

Fri Apr 14, 12:20:00 PM  

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