A Brief History of Free Condoms

Condoms are something most of us are introduced to by age 16, where we’re often told that to have sex without a condom is to invite risk of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and/or pregnancy. Condoms can be quite expensive if you’re purchasing them from a normal shop and many people have come to rely on the availability of free condoms from health centres, schools and bathrooms around both the UK and the US mainly. Not all of them have these provisions but many bathrooms do have dispensers where condoms are free (or at least cheap) in comparison to the tampons and pads that are similarly dispensed. Of course, in an age of period poverty and increasing focus on women’s health and menstruation, this has garnered criticism. Many don’t see why condoms should be free while pads and tampons cost money when sex is a luxury and menstruation products often a necessity. While I understand this reasoning completely, it’s worth taking a look at the history of free condoms and how they came about in the first place. 

Did you know that free condoms are a result of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1980s? 

AIDS first emerged in 1981 seemingly only affecting gay men and people were extremely confused about the disease and why people were dying as a result. In 1983, it was learned that HIV is spread through sexual contact and the U.S Public Health Services spread information about how to prevent the transmission of HIV through sexual contact and blood transfusions. There was one key component to protecting people from the HIV/AIDS epidemic: condoms. 

This led to many organisations around the country to distribute condoms to people for free. In 1983, at San Francisco’s Pride Parade, staff members from the San Francisco AIDS Foundation gave out free condoms to people and spread information about the disease in order to protect people from it. Despite an increase in sexual health information and an abundance of help available, many foundations and governments still aim to hand out free condoms to people, in order to make sure that the HIV/AIDS epidemic never returns. 

It is important not to conflate the issue of free condoms as a result of the HIV/AIDS epidemic with the issue of period poverty and free pads and tampons. They are two different things and can coexist. 

While period poverty is important and should be discussed, there is no reason to disparage the free condoms movement. The Jaded Project will cover period poverty in the future but, for the time being, make sure you understand the history of the HIV/AIDS epidemic and why free condoms exist before using it to further your argument.

By Michele Theil

Michele Theil is a freelance journalist based in London, specialising in investigative journalism and pieces relating to the LGBT+ community, women, race and culture – and their intersections. She is a bisexual woman of colour, and passionate about social justice, diversity, inclusion, writing, reading and swimming. Read her other work at micheletheil.com.

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