Crowdsourcing Condoms: Where They Are and Are Not

Wendy Norris

Condoms prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. But finding them in a store can require the tracking skills of a bloodhound. An investigative report by Wendy Norris on access to condoms in Colorado, including an interactive map.

Wendy Norris is a Denver-based editor and investigative reporter working on assignment for Rewire.

The locked, clear plastic case bolted onto the grocery store shelf resembles a little condom jail. They can’t get out and you can’t get in unless somebody with a uniform and a big set of keys unlocks the door to freedom.

It’s well known that condoms are an inexpensive and effective method for preventing pregnancy and the spread of sexually transmitted infections. But first you have to get them. Finding them in the store can require iron-willed determination and the tracking skills of a bloodhound.

Anecdotal reports began trickling in more than a year ago to members of the Prevention First Colorado Coalition that condoms were either being locked up on store shelves or stocked behind pharmacy counters. But no one from the coalition of reproductive health organizations and women’s community groups knew for sure whether access was truly restricted statewide.

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"Our primary concern is ensuring that all Coloradans regardless of where they live or their income have access to the family planning tools and services that they need," said Toni Panetta speaking on behalf of the coalition. "We also recognize from a public health perspective that there are issues related to condom availability to help prevent the spread of STIs, HIV or AIDS."

So with a little help from 17 men and women I connected with via Twitter, Facebook and email, we scattered across the state in search of condom displays in grocery and drug stores. Our sleuthing took us to 64 chain retailers, convenience stores and organic markets in urban neighborhoods, suburban strip malls and rural towns in all four corners of the state.

Too embarrassed to trudge to the store and buy a box? One of our intrepid researchers found ample condom supplies on that can be mailed in a discrete box to your home or office within one day. The online bazaar even offers discount shipping and customer reviews of its prophylactics to ensure you are completely satisfied with your purchase. Though the ubiquitous "new and used" link for discounted items at Amazon is a bit creepy as well as the recommended purchases of action figures and the "Santa Buddies" video.

But if you need them now, our in-store reconnaissance found: We’ve got condoms. Lots of them. Right on the store shelves — though sometimes in some really strange places.

View Retail access of condoms map in a larger map

Just one of the 64 stores, we surveyed did not carry condoms at all. An employee at Sprouts, a natural food chain grocery in Boulder, said limited shelf space prevented the store from stocking such items.

The Downing Super, a store in a low-income Denver neighborhood that one enters through a metal detector, keeps its condoms behind the cash register so customers must request them. The store manager claims that theft problems forced the store to pull them from shelves. The Food Marketing Institute backs up his worry about sticky-fingered customers. Condoms rank 23rd among the 50 most frequently shoplifted grocery items.

The remaining 62 of 64 stores stocked a fairly wide variety of condoms but the quantity was much more limited in some lower income communities. In one Safeway store in a northwest Denver neighborhood with a high proportion of African-American and Latino residents, just three boxes were left on the empty shelf next to fully stocked displays of light bulbs and school supplies. Panetta expressed concern about the disparities and pledged to investigate.

While other urban retailers weren’t quite so short-handed the differences were stark between the quantity and type of condoms on the shelves in urban and suburban grocery and drug stores.

In decidedly more upscale Boulder, Colo., one can purchase a 12-pack of Naturalamb’s for $41.95 retail at Walgreen’s. Nothing says I love you like a $3.49 prophylactic which the manufacturer does not recommended for STI protection and one Amazon reviewer noted are "slimy, cold and smell strange" but gave it five stars for excellent sensation. Another Boulder store stocked condoms next to the cash register with the impulse buy items, like candy and butane lighters.

Whether the shelves are well-stocked or not, just finding the condoms can be an adventure in shopping.

Need a box of your favorite latex prophylactics? Besides the typical partnering with feminine hygiene products, try checking the bleach aisle where one busy Longmont, Colo., Safeway keeps its condoms. Going from natural to synthetic extremes, organic soap and pantyhose departments also seem to be popular places to stock condoms.

Wound care and diabetic supplies were also frequent neighbors of Trojan and Durex products. As was pairing them with diet supplements, vitamins and weight loss products.

Then, there’s the psychological retail approach with condoms placed next to shelves of baby food and stuffed animals. One store even combined their condom display with pregnancy tests and antacids. How’s that for marketing genius?

Believe it or not, there’s a real consumer science to how and where condoms are placed on shelves.

A 2006 U. of Connecticut study found significant differences in condom purchasing behavior of men and women.

Researchers created a mock drug store and placed condoms next to other grocery items deemed positive (health products like vitamins and nutrition bars), negative (tampons and antacids), sensual (massage oil and sexually suggestive magazines) and neutral (toothpaste, soap and cotton balls).

Men were significantly more likely to acquire condoms when they were in the sensual aisle than any other shelf placement. Though they were pretty immune and decidedly less self-conscious no matter where the condoms were located. On the contrary, women expressed more embarrassment in the sensual aisle and were significantly less likely to take the condoms there and with the negative product groups than any other place in the simulated store.

The researchers found that the conventional retail wisdom that stocking prophylactics near feminine hygiene products for women shopper’s convenience is actually nearly as big a turn off as shelving them near the hemorrhoid cream and adult diapers.

So to the Kmart manager in Loveland, Colo., where the condoms are in the triple-threat area — in front of the pharmacy window and next to the antacids and pregnancy tests — you might want to consider moving them for everyone concerned. The unintended birth rate in Larimer County is 39 percent and STIs are on the rise.

Where are condoms stocked in your neighborhood stores? Add a comment to this story with condom availability (on the shelf, locked in a case or in the pharmacy) and the name and address (street, city, state and zip code) of the store so we can build out our map beyond Colorado. And let us know what other products they’re stocked near too.

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: Republican National Convention Edition

Ally Boguhn

The Trump family's RNC claims about crime and the presidential candidate's record on gender equality have kept fact-checkers busy.

Republicans came together in Cleveland this week to nominate Donald Trump at the Republican National Convention (RNC), generating days of cringe-inducing falsehoods and misleading statements on crime, the nominee’s positions on gender equality, and LGBTQ people.

Trump’s Acceptance Speech Blasted for Making False Claims on Crime

Trump accepted the Republican nomination in a Thursday night speech at the RNC that drew harsh criticism for many of its misleading and outright false talking points.

Numerous fact-checkers took Trump to task, calling out many of his claims for being “wrong,” and “inflated or misleading.”

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 Among the most hotly contested of Trump’s claims was the assertion that crime has exploded across the country.

“Decades of progress made in bringing down crime are now being reversed by this administration’s rollback of criminal enforcement,” Trump claimed, according to his prepared remarks, which were leaked ahead of his address. “Homicides last year increased by 17 percent in America’s 50 largest cities. That’s the largest increase in 25 years. In our nation’s capital, killings have risen by 50 percent. They are up nearly 60 percent in nearby Baltimore.”

Crime rates overall have been steadily declining for years.

“In 2015, there was an uptick in homicides in 36 of the 50 largest cities compared to the previous years. The rate did, indeed, increase nearly 17 percent, and it was the worst annual change since 1990. The homicide rate was up 54.3 percent in Washington, and 58.5 percent in Baltimore,” explained Washington Post fact checkers Glenn Kessler and Michelle Ye Hee Lee. “But in the first months of 2016, homicide trends were about evenly split in the major cities. Out of 63 agencies reporting to the Major Cities Chiefs Association, 32 cities saw a decrease in homicides in first quarter 2016 and 31 saw an increase.”

Ames Grawert, a counsel in the Brennan Center’s Justice Program, said in a statement posted to the organization’s website that 2016 statistics aren’t sufficient in declaring crime rate trends. 

“Overall, crime rates remain at historic lows. Fear-inducing soundbites are counterproductive, and distract from nuanced, data-driven, and solution-oriented conversations on how to build a smarter criminal justice system in America,” Grawert said. “It’s true that some cities saw an increase in murder rates last year, and that can’t be ignored, but it’s too early to say if that’s part of a national trend.” 

When Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign chairman, was confronted with the common Republican falsehoods on crime during a Thursday interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper, he claimed that the FBI’s statistics were not to be trusted given that the organization recently advised against charges in connection with Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server during her tenure as secretary of state.

“According to FBI statistics, crime rates have been going down for decades,” Tapper told Manafort. “How can Republicans make the argument that it’s somehow more dangerous today when the facts don’t back that up?”

“People don’t feel safe in their neighborhoods,” said Manafort, going on to claim that “the FBI is certainly suspect these days after what they did with Hillary Clinton.”

There was at least one notable figure who wholeheartedly embraced Trump’s fearmongering: former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke. “Great Trump Speech,” tweeted Duke on Thursday evening. “Couldn’t have said it better!”

Ben Carson Claims Transgender People Are Proof of “How Absurd We Have Become”

Former Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson criticized the existence of transgender people while speaking at the Florida delegation breakfast on Tuesday in Cleveland.  

“You know, we look at this whole transgender thing, I’ve got to tell you: For thousands of years, mankind has known what a man is and what a woman is. And now, all of a sudden we don’t know anymore,” said Carson, a retired neurosurgeon. “Now, is that the height of absurdity? Because today you feel like a woman, even though everything about you genetically says that you’re a man or vice versa?”

“Wouldn’t that be the same as if you woke up tomorrow morning after seeing a movie about Afghanistan or reading some books and said, ‘You know what? I’m Afghanistan. Look, I know I don’t look that way. My ancestors came from Sweden, or something, I don’t know. But I really am. And if you say I’m not, you’re a racist,’” Carson said. “This is how absurd we have become.”

When confronted with his comments during an interview with Yahoo News’ Katie Couric, Carson doubled down on his claims.“There are biological markers that tell us whether we are a male or a female,” said Carson. “And just because you wake up one day and you say, ‘I think I’m the other one,’ that doesn’t change it. Just, a leopard can’t change its spots.”

“It’s not as if they woke up one day and decided, ‘I’m going to be a male or I’m going to be a female,’” Couric countered, pointing out that transgender people do not suddenly choose to change their gender identities on a whim.

Carson made several similar comments last year while on the campaign trail.

In December, Carson criticized the suggested that allowing transgender people into the military amounted to using the armed services “as a laboratory for social experimentation.”

Carson once suggested that allowing transgender people to use the restroom that aligned with their gender identity amounted to granting them “extra rights.”

Ivanka Trump Claims Her Father Supports Equal Pay, Access to Child Care

Ivanka Trump, the nominee’s daughter, made a pitch during her speech Thursday night at the RNC for why women voters should support her father.

“There have always been men of all background and ethnicities on my father’s job sites. And long before it was commonplace, you also saw women,” Ivanka Trump said. “At my father’s company, there are more female than male executives. Women are paid equally for the work that we do and when a woman becomes a mother, she is supported, not shut out.” 

“As president, my father will change the labor laws that were put into place at a time when women were not a significant portion of the workforce. And he will focus on making quality child care affordable and accessible for all,” she continued before pivoting to address the gender wage gap. 

“Policies that allow women with children to thrive should not be novelties; they should be the norm. Politicians talk about wage equality, but my father has made it a practice at his company throughout his entire career.”

However, Trump’s stated positions on the gender wage gap, pregnancy and mothers in the workplace, and child care don’t quite add up to the picture the Trumps tried to paint at the RNC.

In 2004, Trump called pregnancy an “inconvenience” for employers. When a lawyer asked for a break during a deposition in 2011 to pump breast milk, Trump reportedly called her “disgusting.”

According to a June analysis conducted by the Boston Globe, the Trump campaign found that men who worked on Trump’s campaign “made nearly $6,100, or about 35 percent more [than women during the April payroll]. The disparity is slightly greater than the gender pay gap nationally.”

A former organizer for Trump also filed a discrimination complaint in January, alleging that she was paid less than her male counterparts.

When Trump was questioned about equal pay during a campaign stop last October, he did not outline his support for policies to address the issue. Instead, Trump suggested that, “You’re gonna make the same if you do as good a job.” Though he had previously stated that men and women who do the same job should be paid the same during an August 2015 interview on MSNBC, he also cautioned that determining whether people were doing the same jobs was “tricky.”

Trump has been all but completely silent on child care so far on the campaign trail. In contrast, Clinton released an agenda in May to address the soaring costs of child care in the United States.

Ivanka’s claims were not the only attempt that night by Trump’s inner circle to explain why women voters should turn to the Republican ticket. During an interview with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, Manafort said that women would vote for the Republican nominee because they “can’t afford their lives anymore.”

“Many women in this country feel they can’t afford their lives, their husbands can’t afford to be paying for the family bills,” claimed Manafort. “Hillary Clinton is guilty of being part of the establishment that created that problem. They’re going to hear the message. And as they hear the message, that’s how we are going to appeal to them.”

What Else We’re Reading

Vox’s Dara Lind explained how “Trump’s RNC speech turned his white supporters’ fear into a weapon.”

Now that Mike Pence is the Republican nominee for vice president, Indiana Republicans have faced “an intense, chaotic, awkward week of brazen lobbying at the breakfast buffet, in the hallways and on the elevators” at the convention as they grapple with who will run to replace the state’s governor, according to the New York Times.

“This is a party and a power structure that feels threatened with extinction, willing to do anything for survival,” wrote Rebecca Traister on Trump and the RNC for New York Magazine. “They may not love Trump, but he is leading them precisely because he embodies their grotesque dreams of the restoration of white, patriarchal power.”

Though Trump spent much of the primary season denouncing big money in politics, while at the RNC, he courted billionaires in hopes of having them donate to supporting super PACs.

Michael Kranish reported for the Washington Post that of the 2,472 delegates at the RNC, it is estimated that only 18 were Black.

Cosmopolitan highlighted nine of the most sexist things that could be found at the convention.

Rep. Steve King (R-IA) asked, “Where are these contributions that have been made” by people of color to civilization?

News Abortion

Pennsylvania’s TRAP Law Could Be the Next to Go Down

Teddy Wilson

The Democrats' bill would repeal language from a measure that targets abortion clinics, forcing them to meet the standards of ambulatory surgical facilities.

A Pennsylvania lawmaker on Wednesday introduced a bill that would repeal a state law requiring abortion clinics to meet the standards of ambulatory surgical facilities (ASF). The bill comes in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling striking down a similar provision in Texas’ anti-choice omnibus law known as HB 2.

A similar so-called targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) law was passed in Pennsylvania in 2011 with bipartisan majorities in both the house and state senate, and was signed into law by former Gov. Tom Corbett (R).

SB 1350, sponsored by Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery) would repeal language from Act 122 that requires abortion clinics to meet ASF regulations. The text of the bill has not yet been posted on the state’s legislative website.

The bill is co-sponsored by state Sens. Art Haywood (D-Philadelphia), Larry Farnese (D-Philadelphia), and Judy Schwank (D-Berks).

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Leach said in a statement that there has been a “nationwide attack on patients and their doctors,” but that the Supreme Court’s ruling upholds the constitutionally protected right to terminate a pregnancy.

“Abortion is a legal, Constitutionally-protected right that should be available to all women,” Leach said. “Every member of the Pennsylvania General Assembly swore an oath to support, obey and defend the Constitution of the United States, so we must act swiftly to repeal this unconstitutional requirement.”

TRAP laws, which single out abortion clinics and providers and subject them to regulations that are more stringent than those applied to medical clinics, have been passed in several states in recent years.

However, the Supreme Court’s ruling in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt that struck down two of the provisions in HB 2 has already had ramifications on similar laws passed in other states with GOP-held legislatures.

The Supreme Court blocked similar anti-choice laws in Wisconsin and Mississippi, and Alabama’s attorney general announced he would drop an appeal to a legal challenge of a similar law.