all things condoms

Free condoms doesn’t mean unlimited condoms

Posted by Condomologist on April 30, 2009

Twice in the last two weeks, I’ve been made to feel guilty about denying someone from taking an excessive amount of condoms from my organization (which advertises, in so many words, as providing free condoms). Which got me thinking: How many condoms should one reasonably be allowed to take from a free supply? 10? 50? 100? Does it matter if they insist they will make use of them? Or, as it happened last night, is a sex worker entitled to 10 times as many as someone off the street, because they’re ostensibly having more sex? I’m torn. How do we say no to a request for condoms?  But as a colleague unprofessionally explained to her, “Girl, you’re working,” implying that she’s got the money to buy her own. That’s unfair, especially since many sex workers do not choose their profession — though some certainly do — but what about clearly voluntary sex parties? Should we supply endless condoms to gatherings for which participants often pay a fee — assuming some of this fee could go to rubbers — or pony up hundreds of condoms a month since they may otherwise be unavailable? I don’t know. Limited funds plague the non-profit world, and it would be regrettable if we couldn’t serve 10 people because we gave too many condoms to one person. Right, right: Fight for more money and more condoms. Easier said than done and not always feasible. But how do we set a somewhat arbitrary cap on condoms and then stick to it regardless of the condom seeker? Does a sex worker get more condoms because (s)he’s having more sex? How about a sex addict? Should we dole them out based on target populations, giving more to those whom either we specify as groups we’re funded to serve or who we know are at greater risk for contracting HIV or other STDs? I don’t know. The fact is that we condom distributors vary our giving based on a number of factors, amounting to little accountability, probably even less rationality, and a whole lot of bias; I’ve seen it, felt it, done it, observed it time and again. More condoms go to those who ask more nicely, less to the disrespectful repeat customers. More given out at once when outreach workers want to go home sooner, less when word’s come down from above that we’re going through too many too quickly. More to the macho dudes proclaiming multiple sexual encounters a day — and not because we like them, but we worry about their multiple partners. More to the young, less to the old. I don’t even want to get into race and gender of the giver and receiver.

And when it comes time to take stock of our supply, all we know is how many total condoms we’ve distributed in a given period of time. Too often there’s chatter in the non-profit world of just fighting for more funds. Need more of this and that. If only we get such-and-such contract. And yet the evaluation side of the equation — whether the existing jobs are being performed adequately — is a joke. And when, in the case of condom distribution, there are few to no standards or goals, evaluation cannot exist in the first place. I say this not at all as a direct criticism of the agency I work for — which is as good as I’ve seen — but just one of the many obstacles common to non-profits everywhere.

Just my rant for the day.


One Response to “Free condoms doesn’t mean unlimited condoms”

  1. Rachel said

    I guess that’s why we need sustainable solutions to these problems, too. That’s tough, though – no easy solution. I guess ideally we’d make buying condoms easier, less taboo. Get condom access/free condoms in centers where people are most at risk – poor schools? Gay bars?

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