Sexual Health Roundup: Mail-Order Condoms and Viagra, and a Sex Toy Race in Vegas


Sexual Health Roundup is a weekly summary of news and research related to sexual behavior, sexuality education, contraception, STIs, and more.

Mail-Order Condom Program Expands, Draws Support and Criticism

A mail-order condom program for teens in California expanded last week to include San Diego and Fresno counties. The Condom Access Project was launched last year by the California Family Health Council in an effort to reduce teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease (STD) rates across the state. It already operates in parts of San Francisco, as well as Alameda, Sacramento, San Joaquin, and Kern counties. Teenagers in those areas can request up to ten condoms a month by filling out an online form. The program also provides condoms for distribution to 65 organizations that serve young people.

Many citizens and sexual health experts support the program. Dr. Cora Hoover, the assistant health officer in San Joaquin County told ABC News, “Increased availability of condoms through the Condom Access Project is an important strategy to reduce STDs and unintended pregnancies for youth in our county.” Jennifer Coburn, director of communication at Planned Parenthood of Pacific Southwest, also spoke to ABC News and explained why the mail-order option is important: “I think it’s [about] embarrassment, but if you haven’t been to a Planned Parenthood it might be a scary prospect to go to a reproductive health center.”

When the national media heard about the expansion of the program, however, it focused on the fact that condoms can be obtained by individuals as young as 12. CNN ran a story with the headline “Free condoms for your 12-year-old? California health council can help” and Fox’s story on the topic began with the sentence, “Middle-school California kids, now you can be as sexually profligate as you want to be.”

People who are worried that making condoms available to middle school students will encourage sex can calm down.  First, only 6 percent of high school students in San Diego had sex before age 13, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBS). Though 12-year-olds may make headlines, it is likely that most teens using this service, which distributed approximately 30,000 condoms last year, are older. And older teens in San Diego (42.5 percent of all high school students) are having sex. Moreover, research has consistently shown that condom availability programs do not make students any more likely to have sex but do make them more likely to use condoms when are sexually active.

Now Men Can Get Viagra Online Too

Condoms are not the only sex-related product that can be bought on the internet. Pfizer, the manufacturer of the popular erectile-dysfunction drug Viagra, has announced a plan to make the drug available online to men who are too embarrassed to pick up their prescription in a drug store.

Drug manufacturers do not typically offer their products directly to customers—they sell to bulk wholesalers who then sell to drug stores across the country. But Pfizer is starting the new program as an answer to online pharmacies that are making a fortune selling counterfeit Viagra pills without requiring prescriptions. In 2011, Pfizer bought pills from 22 online pharmacies and found that 77 percent of the pills were counterfeit and most of them contained less than half of the active ingredients in the real thing; some contained no active ingredient. Though Viagra is not the only drug that has been counterfeited, it is prone to such unscrupulous practices because it is very expensive ($25 per pill), and some men are embarrassed to buy it in person. There is also no generic version of the drug because Pfizer holds the exclusive patent until 2020.

Prescription drugs for erectile dysfunction (a term Pfizer actually invented when it launched Viagra) are a $5-billion-a-year-business, and Pfizer clearly wants to protect its share, which has steadily dropped since competitors such as Cialis have come on the market.

I have no problem with men being able to buy their Viagra or Cialis online, and I suppose making sure that they get safe drugs is important, as is requiring a prescription, which at least gets them to go to their physician before simply popping the blue pill. I would hope the doctor would spend some time making sure they really needed the drug and there was no other cause or solution to their erectile issues.

That said, this story comes out at a time when we are arguing about the availability and costs associated with condoms, birth control pills, and emergency contraception. Why is it that increased access to Viagra (which serves no other purpose than to facilitate sex) does not cause such controversy?

Sex Toy Races: Whose Vibrator Will Come First?

People apparently race their pet turtles, hamsters, and pigs.  In my town we have an annual event in which you can sponsor rubber duckies as they race down the stream that runs through the park (my duckie has never won). But this one is new: This weekend, German sex toy maker, Fun Factory, held the first ever sex-toy race.

Four hot-pink vibrators squirmed their way down a table in Vegas as gamblers took odds, placed bets, and looked on.  The event was part of the annual International Lingerie Salon, and the manufacturer hopes the race will become a yearly staple as well. Apparently the vibrators, which were placed on a piece of paper (presumably so they could glide more smoothly), traveled the table at a speed of 1.5 miles per hour.

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