Condoms are one of the most popular forms of birth control. They are relatively inexpensive, easy to find (they’re available in nearly every grocery store and drug store), non-invasive, can be used as needed, and are effective at preventing pregnancy and preventing the spread of sexually transmitted infections. What’s not to love?! A lot of college campuses and health centers will even give them out for free. However, I have noticed in the last year or so, more and more stores are selling locked-up condoms behind glass or putting them inside of a clear plastic box that needs to be unlocked.

Have you noticed locked-up condoms?

Typically, items that are expensive or often stolen are locked away like this. I’ve seen some stores that will lock razors or even expensive skincare at a drug store behind glass that needs a key to open. I’ve noticed at my local grocery store, ALL of the condoms are inside individual plastic boxes that a clerk needs to unlock to release, similar to how some alcohol has a lock on the top that you need help opening. Although I understand that stores don’t want condoms to be stolen, I think this is a harmful solution. 

How locked-up condoms stigmatize sex

People can feel awkward buying condoms at the store, especially young people who are coming into their sexuality and have just begun having partnered sex. If the store you’re buying condoms at doesn’t have a self check out, the idea of looking a stranger in the eyes as they ring up your condoms can be intimidating for some people. Having safe sex is a normal part of life, and buying condoms to do so shouldn’t be intimidating. 

We live in a sex-negative culture where we typically don’t comfortably talk about these topics. Now imagine going to the store to buy condoms only to find they are locked up behind a glass case or need to be specifically unlocked at check out by a clerk. I worry that this extra step of intentionally asking a stranger to unlock the birth control at the store will deter people from buying condoms as frequently, resulting in more instances of unprotected sex. We don’t want that! We don’t want more exposure to STIs! We don’t want young people exploring their sexuality to put themselves at risk of an unwanted pregnancy. We don’t want anyone of any age to be at risk for that either. 

Other options for purchasing condoms?

I understand that perhaps stores don’t want these items to be stolen, but in the grand scheme of things, someone stealing a $5 pack of condoms is worth it to me. This is also coming from someone who believes birth control should be free everywhere for anyone. 

Condoms can be bought discreetly online, but it’s fast and easy to purchase them at a drug store as well. Not all stores have started locking up their contraceptives, but I’ve noticed enough that it worries me. My grocery store for example locks up all of their condoms but doesn’t lock up their razors or razor blades. In terms of items being stolen, I believe stolen razor blades are more hazardous than stolen condoms! And also way more expensive. 

I’m not sure what the solution is, but my hope is that this extra step of unlocking affordable birth control doesn’t deter people from purchasing condoms. If you need a little boost in confidence, I did write about how to confidently buy condoms. You’re welcome.  

Content warning: This article discusses stealthing, a form of sexual assault in which a condom is removed during a sex act without consent. 

Stealthing is the nonconsensual removal of a condom during a sex act. This is sexual assault. Despite being sexual assault, this topic is rarely discussed, even though it happens too often. Thirty-two percent of women who sleep with men, and 19% of men that have sex with men have reported this happening to them. California just became the first state to outlaw this specific act, which I think is great progress in the right direction. 

Is stealthing assault?

Many people don’t discuss stealthing because I think many people don’t realize it is assault. If you consent to having sex with someone under the condition that they use a condom, then in the middle of sex, they remove the condom without you knowing, you are not continuing to consent to what’s happening. That is assault. This is a problem because it is sex without consent, even though it began consensually, but it can also put someone at risk for an STI or an unwanted pregnancy when the sex they agreed to with a condom would not expose that risk at all. Consent is essential for all sex acts. It’s essential in many of our interpersonal interactions in fact. Consent says that everyone involved in whatever is happening says “yes” to all that is happening. If someone removes a condom without the other person’s knowledge, it is impossible for them to consent to that.

How are stealthing cases handled?

California just outlawed stealthing earlier this year, and I hope this brings much-needed attention and discussion to this topic. Many sexual assault cases do not end in favor of the survivor, and the way investigating sexual assault cases in this country is handled is not great. This is a step in the right direction though, allowing survivors of stealthing in California to sue the perpetrators. 

I first heard about stealthing several years ago through an article I saw online, but I had never heard of it discussed amongst people I knew or in any discussions of consent. It was also a topic of discussion on the most recent season of “I May Destroy You,” where the main character is raped after being drugged, then several weeks later is assaulted again when her partner removes the condom during sex when she turns around to switch positions. She asks him about it afterward and he says he “assumed” she could feel that he took it off, blaming her for being upset. 

How can I talk about consent?

Hopefully, other states will follow in California’s footsteps and outlaw stealthing as well, furthering this conversation of assault and consent. Sexual consent is ongoing throughout a sex act. If someone agrees to sex with a condom, then that condom needs to stay on the whole time, unless there is consent for it to be removed. This act being outlawed can also act as an opportunity for people to further discuss consent. As I mentioned, consent is ongoing, and it can be changed at any time. It is a discussion. Sex without consent is an assault. Hopefully, this being outlawed can help acts of stealthing to decline, and other states will follow California’s example.

Imagine: It’s a post-pandemic world where it’s safe to go out to bars again. Perhaps you’re heading out on a date or even going out for a night with your girls. You’re feeling frisky and open having a sexual encounter so you decide you need to buy some condoms because you are well informed and understand that your sexual health is a priority! Check out our tips for confidently buying condoms.

Buying condoms can feel intimidating, but I promise you, it is easy peasy. No one will judge you for buying them, and if they do, they’re not worth your time! If you’re a student, most schools and campuses have free condoms available in the health center, and some dorms even pass them out. You can grab a few there. If you do need to purchase some, however, they’re available at every drug store or grocery store, and they are fairly inexpensive. A pack of 12 is usually less than $10, and you don’t need a prescription or need to be a certain age to purchase them.

Tips for Confidently Buying Condoms

All you have to do is waltz into the store of your choice, head to the “family planning” or “feminine hygiene” aisle and take your pick. There are MANY types of condoms and it can be overwhelming knowing which ones to get, especially if you’re feeling timid about perusing the condom aisle in the first place. Take your time! Take up space in that aisle! Pick up the box and read the description on the back! Find what sounds good to you. Although it might feel like it, no one in the store is judging you or staring at you while you shop. They are too busy worrying about what they need to buy. You’ve got smooth condoms, ribbed condoms, lubricated condoms, condoms with lube that is heated, or cooling, or creates different sensations, flavored condoms, thin condoms, extra large condoms, condoms with a reservoir tip…the list goes on and on! If you’ve used condoms before and have vague idea of which ones you like, then go for that. If you’re not sure, the ones with the reservoir tip are nice and lower the chance of breakage just a little. These condoms have a little extra room at the top so the sperm has somewhere to shoot out and be caught without adding any extra pressure to the tip of the condom. I find that those are less likely to break.

Some stores have started putting condoms in plastic containers that need to be unlocked at checkout by the store clerk. Don’t let this interaction with the clerk hold you back from prioritizing your sexual health!!! They probably unlock packages of condoms all the time and they do not care that they have to do it for you. They are not judging you.

Once you’ve selected the kind you want, just take them to the check out. Easy peasy. If there is a self checkout at the store and that makes you feel more comfy purchasing them, go for it. If you do still need someone to unlock the protective packaging for you, don’t fret. Just ask and they will gladly help you. Personally I’m not a fan of the plastic boxes that need to be unlocked because it further discourages people from freely buying them because it can create a sense of anxiety around purchasing them, but I’m here to assure you, no need to feel anxious when purchasing condoms. They’re inexpensive and widely available for a reason – because people buy them all the time!

If you have a consistent sex partner that has a penis and you’d like them to be responsible to buy the condoms, you can certainly discuss that once that dynamic is established. Until you reach that point, it’s always good to be prepared just in case things get spicy! There is no shame in buying condoms, and you deserve to do so with a sense of ease and calm. Remember, no one in the store is judging you!