Discouraging condoms to discourage sex is unsafe, misguided

Some people think that eliminating condoms will eliminate sex. Abstinence-only sex education advocates think that teaching about condoms — or worse, providing condoms — is what inspires teens to have sex (not hormones or sex drives or curiosity or anything like that), so removing the condoms from the curriculum will remove the sex as well. It seems some cities are adopting this misguided philosophy when it comes to buckling down on prostitution, too.

In D.C., New York, and San Francisco, having condoms has “been used as evidence contributing to arrest and prosecution for intent to commit prostitution.” In D.C. specifically, carrying three or more condoms can be used as a factor in an arrest for intent to commit prostution, according to the Women’s Rights arm of change.org (though Amanda Hess from Washington City Paper’s The Sexist couldn’t find evidence of a specific “three-condom” rule).

Again, in this instance, the mentality is that discouraging people from using condoms will somehow discourage them from having sex — an argument that is both flawed and dangerous. In fact, Hess references a report (executive summary here, although the website with the full report isn’t working) that found “plenty of evidence of police officers confiscating or destroying sex workers’ contraception,” with 8.6 percent of sex workers saying that police officers had taken “safe sex supplies” from them.

Eventually, people will have to realize that taking away condoms doesn’t take away sex — it does take away the protection from sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy. Especially in a city like D.C., where at least 3 percent of the population has HIV or AIDS (which exceeds the 1 percent criterion for an epidemic and rivals the HIV rates of some West African countries), what purpose does discouraging condom use serve? It’s not a solution to anything — sex workers are still going to have sex, except it will be unprotected.

Also, it creates an unwarranted negative stigma around condoms — condoms are a good thing! They protect against sexually transmitted infections and unplanned pregnancy — associating having multiple condoms with commiting a crime discourages people not from having sex, but from having safe sex. You can take away someone’s seat belt or bike helmet, but most people will still take the risk and try to drive and bike anyway — it will just be exponentially less safe.  

In the end, the change.org article says it best when it adds that criminalizing condom use or even sex work isn’t the right solution:

If you want to criminalize something, stick to pimping — after all, many of these women have been trafficked unwillingly and subjected to violence. If they weren’t so afraid of being arrested for stepping forward to condemn their pimps, we’d have a better chance of finding the true criminals in this situation.

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