Condoms: Why Labs participants aren't embarrassed to buy them

November 09, 2012, 11:49 AM GMT+0

A recent survey conducted by Fusion Condoms found that many Britons get red-faced when buying condoms.

Genevieve Edwards, executive director of health improvement at the Terrence Higgins Trust, said: “It's a population-wide issue, something that doesn't really change whatever sex or age. Buying condoms is a public declaration that you want sex and many people still aren't comfortable with that."

Last week in Labs, we wanted to know whether our Labs participants amongst those embarrassed – or those who are not. We also asked them why they think people in the UK are embarrassed to buy condoms, and what could be done to change the situation.

See what we found…

Most of Labs participants were not very embarrassed or not at all embarrassed to buy condoms.

Fewer participants said they did feel embarrassed when purchasing condoms. See participants’ comments below.

Male participants who were not embarrassed to buy condoms

  • A recurring opinion emerged, stating that participants buying condoms is a ‘mark of pride’, not something to be uncomfortable about:

“Why should the cashier care? I see it almost as a mark of prideInverness

“We all know what they are for, so why be embarrassed? We should be proud that we’re having safe sex Robert Portland Dorset

What is there to be embarrassed about? "I'm going to have sex", that's pretty natural. "I'm not going to have kids as a result", that's great! The majority of the population has sex, why be embarrassed to be part of this group?” Anon

  • Many argued that sex is a completely natural part of our lives, and buying condoms should be seen as just as natural.

“Sex is a completely natural part of life, buying condoms is just like buying food Greg, Kent

“It's natural to have sex” Darren, London

“Why would I be? Sex is part of life Anon

  • Many participants thought it was normal to buy condoms, and if you are an adult, you should not be embarrassed:

“I am a confident adult. If they are selling them why should I be embarrassed [to buy them]?” Ealingguy, London

  • Some participants outlined that it was for a good cause – for the good of the health, and the responsible thing to do, not something to be ashamed of:

“Well, it is better to be safe than sorry, not sure why anyone would be embarrassed to buy something they will be using for the good of their health Anon

“Why should one be embarrassed? It is the responsible thing to do, rather than having unprotected sex and nobody should feel the least embarrassed by being seen to do the right thing Liam, Derry

  • Some said that buying condoms is not embarrassing, yet they get embarrassed if people see them browsing or choosing from a variety of options:

“I don't see buying condoms as something to be embarrassed about. But in some places I think you can have people watching you as you browse the range of condoms - and that's embarrassing” Anon

Male participants who were embarrassed to buy condoms

  • However, a small number of male participants said they were embarrassed to buy condoms. One reason was because they have experienced – or felt that people judge them:

“Because people sometimes give you dirty looks’ Anon

  • To some participants buying condoms seemed like a public statement that one is planning to have sex, which is usually hidden:

“You are effectively saying to everyone who can see you, I plan on having sex. We usually hide this statement, or wrap it up with lots of jokes and euphemismsAnon

Female participants who were not embarrassed to buy condoms

  • More female participants said they were not embarrassed to buy condoms, than embarrassed. Many believed that buying condoms is normal and that it doesn’t actually imply that one is sleeping around:

“It's a normal thing, plus it's possible to be in a relationship and buy condoms regularly so it doesn't mean you're sleeping around. Not that the shop assistants care anyway”

  • Similarly to male participants, female Labs participants also said buying condoms should be something we are proud, not ashamed, of:

“If anything, it's kind of showing off to the person at the till. It’s not like you should be ashamed you’re having sex, surely you should be proud of it. It's not like you're buying something more risqué like a sex toy, condoms are very common!” Tamsin, Edinburgh

  • Female participants also outlined the health factor and said that buying condoms is the responsible thing to do. Unlike men participants, they seemed to mention the function of protecting from unplanned pregnancy more:

“I prefer buying condoms to getting pregnant and/or getting a disease Anon

“I don't think people should be embarrassed as sex is just natural and everyone does it. It would be embarrassing if you caught a disease from not wearing one, so better safe than sorry!” Una, Cardiff

“I am not embarrassed as I think it should be looked upon as taking responsibility of unwanted child or risk of infectionSue

“It shows I am being a responsible adult” Annie, Surrey

  • Just like male participants, female participants said sex is a perfectly normal thing, and buying condoms is something everyone needs to do:

“I don't really understand why people are embarrassed by it! I think that sex is a very normal and natural thing that the majority of people do, so why get embarrassed about buying something that pretty much everyone needs to buy?”

  • Some female participants said that buying condoms sends out a positive message of being desirable and sensible:

“I certainly don't feel embarrassed buying condoms. It makes me feel the message is that I'm desirable (it is indicating that I'm in a relationship and having regular sex). It also shows that I'm being sensible and practicing safe sexAnon

Female participants who said they were embarrassed to buy condoms

  • Only a small number of female Labs participants said they were embarrassed to buy condoms. The main reason was feeling judged:

“As a female from an Asian background, I feel I will be judged by the sales person, the cashier and also the people around me” Anon

  • Some participants said they were too ashamed to buy them, so they got them from the family planning clinics:

“It’s shameful because the person you’re buying them from knows what they’re going to be used for. I never buy condoms for this reason; it’s easier to go to family planning and get them” Anon

Why are people embarrassed to buy condoms, and how could we solve the issue?

Our Labs participants were also asked why they think people are embarrassed to buy condoms in general. Our debaters came up with a variety of reasons for this widespread embarrassment, starting with puricatinacal ideas to thinking that one may feel like it is exposing private business:

  • Many participants thought people were feeling judged as well as thinking that buying condoms implies sleeping around were the main issues causing people to be embarrassed. This is just part of a wider problem of sex being a taboo, they believed:

“They think the shop assistant is going to judge them and/or that buying condoms automatically means you want to or are sleeping around. I think it is part of a wider problem of not being able to talk about sex and being ashamed of wanting and having sex” Anon

  • Some participants believed people are embarrassed as they feel they are exposing their private business:

People knowing your business, it seems a private business” Anon

“Because it defines something intimate in a person’s life. Maybe change the packaging?” Anon

  • Other participants said that it is a cultural issue, as the British are more narrow-minded when it comes to sex-related topics. A change of attitude and more decent sex education could improve the situation, many participants said:

“Too much prudery in the UK - this nation is even embarrassed by nudity, unlike our more enlightened continental cousins” R, Scotland

Out dated puritanical attitudes about sex. We need to grow up and be more like Denmark or Holland” Honeycat, London

“Britons are notoriously prudish; a more relaxed attitude would resolve this!” Tamsin, Edinburgh

“We've been indoctrinated into thinking sex is shameful somehow and that anything to do with it is pervertedDee D, Yorkshire

“People are embarrassed because of the association between condoms and sex. Sex is still considered something of a "taboo" subject. It is a private thing, so not talking about your sex lives is perfectly understandable. However, talking about sex in general, sexual health, etc. should be encouraged. I think that it's the "taboo" around sex that in part leads to problems such as the prevalence of STIs and teenage pregnancies. Therefore, to resolve the issue we simply need to talk about sex more!” Anon

“Children should be taught sex education. Then when they get older it would not be an issue to buy condomsSue

“We haven't had decent, no-nonsense sex education. If sex was treated as 'normal', then this wouldn't be a problem” Anon

  • Some listed a few reasons, from implications that women who buy condoms may be considered not serious in terms of sexual activity, to religious barriers:

Buying condoms can sometimes be deemed as being easy, for women especially. Sex is still not talked about that openly, so people can find it embarrassing. Religion is also a barrier to many happy purchases” Una, Cardiff

• Small number of participants thought the reason people were embarrassed to buy condoms was because they are having sex out of marriage, and feel like they are doing something wrong:

“I feel the ones who use condoms mostly are people having sex out of marriage- illegitimate or too young. So the guilt they have in them because they are doing something wrong makes them feel embarrassed. Also, we live in a world where everyone constantly judges one another. Of course there are couples who want safe sex and they buy condoms. What can be done? Online selling of condoms perhaps?”

Other proposed ways to make people less embarrassed to buy condoms

  • Labs participants suggested a number of ways to solve the issue of embarrassment when purchasing condoms. Many mentioned having more vending machines would help solve the situation:

“More vending machines, with complete packs of condoms could be beneficial. That way women can just go into toilets to buy them, and this would limit the people who see them Una, Cardiff

“More condom vending machines in toilets - with condoms at the same rates, if not lower than the supermarkets/pharmacies” Anon

  • Some participants believed that the problem could be solved by more public health adverts, emphasizing what an important part sex plays in our lives, as well as suggesting that having sex is something to be proud of, rather than uncomfortable:

“Maybe the problem can be resolved by more advertising (public health advertisements) to emphasise how important safe sex is. Also perhaps try to emphasise that buying condoms should be a matter of pride rather than shame since it suggests that you (the purchaser) are desirable and attractive (having a sexual partner)” Anon

“We usually hide the statement that we are going to have sex. It's not a public declaration. So to show it in the shops and tell others is hugely embarrassing. Advertising campaign, showing people buying condoms in shops. Make it a normal thing to buy” Andrew S, Leeds

What are your views on the subject? Share your thoughts below.