Condoms: Why are we still embarrassed about buying them?

You have the best intentions—you want to practice safe sex, but the thought of walking up to the shop attendant to ask for a packet of condoms just gives you the willies!Will the woman behind the counter (who looks just like your grandmother) scold you? Will that cute girl in line—who you’ve probably met once or twice —tell all her friends? So the question is why are condoms so hard to buy? Why should a person just trying to be safe be ridiculed? Some bars and restaurants around town have condom vending machines in their restrooms, which has probably made it easier for people to purchase them.

You have the best intentions—you want to practice safe sex, but the thought of walking up to the shop attendant to ask for a packet of condoms just gives you the willies!

Will the woman behind the counter (who looks just like your grandmother) scold you? Will that cute girl in line—who you’ve probably met once or twice —tell all her friends?

So the question is why are condoms so hard to buy? Why should a person just trying to be safe be ridiculed? Some bars and restaurants around town have condom vending machines in their restrooms, which has probably made it easier for people to purchase them.

However, as adults, people should not feel embarrassed about taking measures that are in fact safe, after all, it is better to be safe than sorry. The Society team set out to different outlets to purchase condoms across the counter. Their experiences are astonishing and quite revealing. 

Patrick

Well, I wanted to have protected sex in two days but buying condoms at my local shop was not an option. In my neighbourhood, most of the shop owners know me so the thought of buying condoms from them was simply too embarrassing to handle.

So I got on a motorbike and went to a shop about three kilometres away where no one would recognise me. I walked into the shop and the saleslady seemed occupied; she was talking to a man at the counter, not paying attention to the customers that walked in.

I started looking for condoms but I couldn’t see any. So I bought a bathing sponge because I didn’t want to look idle and then walked to the counter and when the lady turned to another person, I asked the guy she was talking to where the condoms were.

The man shouted, asking an attendant if condoms were still in stock. The lady looked at me; the look reminded me of my grandmother and I felt a sting of guilt. Another hot lady shopping walked past the shelves just to see who wanted condoms. It was just too much for me. They all looked at me like I was a terrorist. I literally run out of the shop and wasn’t brave enough to enter another. I just went back home.

The next morning I woke up at 6am, like I had a long trip. I walked to some shops, still far from home, and waited for them to open just so I could be the first customer and people won’t have to look at me. I wore a hood and shades as a disguise. This boosted my confidence.

I picked the condoms then walked around the shop wondering how to face the vendor. I couldn’t leave the shop empty handed, now could I?

So I ‘grew a pair’ and went over to pay but imagine my shock when three people from nowhere, stood at the counter!

There were two ladies and an old man that looked like my pastor.

I just pocketed the condoms, picked something else from the shelf, went and paid quickly and run out. I had to steal condoms because I couldn’t afford to pay the price of guilt. I later went back to pay for them but almost failed to explain what happened.

So I told the lady, “The last time I was here, I bought a lot of things and I think you miscalculated because I found more things than I had paid for. So here is the balance.”

Rachel

As I strolled through a supermarket in Kisementi, I decided to entertain myself. I picked a pack of condoms from the shelf, and very smoothly, went ahead to examine it, as if to read what is on the box. Since the condoms were right up front, those in line had a clear view. When I looked up, two women had already begun whispering to each other, and the beauty about it is that one of them was pregnant!

I was saddened by the fact that they spoke French because I would have loved to fling a few words at the knocked up one, considering she wasn’t even wearing a ring. I am trying to be responsible and there she is looking at me like I am buying abortion pills? How now? I thought I would be admired for this kind of responsibility but instead, they made me feel like some sort of delinquent. I came to the realisation that it doesn’t matter that your intentions are good. People will always look at you as a sinner! - Rachel

Doreen

Since time immemorial public discussion of sex related matters has always been a taboo in the Rwandan society. It’s even worse if a woman discusses it.  But if we don’t openly break the barriers that limit contraception use, we will have many unwanted pregnancies that will lead to abortion and HIV/AIDS prevalence will continue shooting high.

I walked into a super market in Kimironko and looked at the shelves to find where to pick a specific brand of condoms. I picked two boxes Plaisir condoms, although there were other brands like Prudence, Rough Rider, Life Guard and O’ condoms.

It was around 6pm in the evening and many people were shopping. I joined the queue with my two packets of condoms. I could not see the reaction of the person behind me when I placed the condoms at the cash counter and checked my wallet for Rwf 1,000. But the speed in which the cashier grabbed the condoms and dropped them in the paper bag like I was purchasing something illegal was quite amusing.

But the cashier‘s reaction did not surprise me because this is the same reaction I get when I buy sanitary pads. The security guard at the supermarket looked at me as if I had committed a crime. I believe if he had the power, he would have grabbed the paper bag from me and thrown it in the dustbin. He was quite disgusted!

That said, I want to inform Rwandans that prevention is better than cure. When a young sexually active woman purchases condoms, she is preventing herself from unwanted pregnancy as well as protecting herself from HIV/AIDS. There should never be shame in that!

Collins

It’s a quarter past eight in the evening, the hustle in Kisimenti is still alive and the lights are out in a few establishments. I walk into a pharmacy that sits facing the highway to get myself a pack of condoms.

Behind the counter are three attendants in white dust coats, two middle aged ladies and a man who appears to be the proprietor of the chemist, (he doubles up as the cashier).

There are two other clients in the pharmacy , a white man looking to buy cough syrup for his daughter who is standing at the entrance and a lady in a flowing African print dress.

The first lady attendant who I will refer to as Miss X henceforth comes to me.

“What condom brands do you have?” I ask.

Miss X: Pardon?

Me: What condom brands do you have?

By now she is blushing; a mixture of embarrassment and confusion. She points at the display below the counter and looks away.

By now the lady in the flowing African print dress has over heard our conversation and is looking at me in astonishment.

Just for kicks I ask that Miss X hands them to me for closer inspection but she requests that I wait a minute or two for lady to leave.

“Please give me a minute.”

I oblige.

Two minutes later she places three brands of condoms on the counter and steps back. The white chap smiles and whispers in my ear, “Cold night it is, right?” We laugh.

The two other attendants turn and look at me with the older guy looking without wavering his eyes.

I select a brand and hand over the money. Before she wraps them I request that she hands them over without necessarily packing them. It is then that the gentleman behind the counter, clearly unable to contain himself, speaks up. “My friend, how are you? I admire your boldness in walking into a pharmacy and ordering for condoms like it is just any other product.” I thank him, pick up my change and leave.

Of course, I look back and find all eyes directed  towards me.

It is strange that buying condoms is frowned upon causing most young people to do it in secrecy, afraid that a finger will be pointed at them. Protecting yourself from unwanted pregnancy and STD’s should be praised and not ridiculed.

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Your Views

It’s not like the people who are selling them don’t use them. Sometimes it’s just in the mind of the people who are buying them that others care, but in actual sense, these days it’s a common thing. I enter the shop, buy them and walk out.

Kelvin Charles Muvunyi, Professional artist

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It’s a very tough time especially when I’m in Rwanda. I find it very weird because when I ask for a condom, the cashier and other people look at me like I am an alien. So I usually purchase them from a pharmacy.

Timothy Turyatemba, graduate

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Till today, I have failed to get the guts to enter a shop and ask for condoms. I usually get them from a friend who has the courage and doesn’t care about anyone’s thought.

Gilbert Birakomera, Motorist

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Well even though I’ve done it a couple of times, I must say it’s a tough time. The trick it to go to the shops in the late evening or early morning just to be the only one in the shop at the time, otherwise the eyes that stare at you do leave a lot of guilt.

Rosemary Kirabo, Sales agent

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Well, it’s a very tricky moment because people easily judge you. When I go to buy condoms, I buy them with other items to reduce the attention on them.

Amani Ikomezekudufasha
, Student

Compiled  by Patrick Buchana

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