CVS pharmacy apparently has a policy, in many places, of locking up condoms. This means that if you go to the store and want to buy condoms, you need to find someone who works there, ask them to unlock the case for you, and have them stand there and watch you while you choose the condoms that you would like to purchase.
This is bad public health policy, period. Condoms are the most effective method, other than abstinence (which “fails” more often), at preventing STDs and HIV/AIDS. They are also the most effective non-hormonal method of preventing pregnancy, and one of the most popular contraceptive methods overall. Condoms are, in fact, a public health imperative.
And while we may wish to live in a world where no one saw openly acknowledging sex or discussing contraceptive use as embarrassing — I certainly do — the fact is that we don’t live in that world. In this world, a lot of people are embarrassed to discuss these things — especially women who are often still made to feel that carrying condoms makes them a “slut” and that condom use isn’t supposed to be their responsibility. And the sentence “can you unlock the condom case?” is just too much for a lot of people in this culture (especially those who are particularly shy or have anxiety disorders) to bear.
All of this would be bad on its own, surely. But it gets a whole lot worse when you add into the mix that CVS is a hell of a lot more likely to use this lock up policy in neighborhoods with high populations of people of color.
Take a look at this chart, which shows that the less white a neighborhood gets, the more likely the condoms are to be behind lock and key. When the population of an area is less than 10% of color, only 0-9% of their stores have the condoms locked. When the population is less than 10% white, those statistics range from 67-100%. The difference is staggering.
The proportion of CVS stores that lock up condoms increases with the percentage of residents of color in the stores’ zip codes as shown in the table. In all six cities, the percentage of stores locking up condoms in zip codes where people of color are the majority was higher than the proportion in zip codes with white majorities. In five of the six cities, the share of CVS stores with locked condoms is more than three times higher in majority people of color areas than in majority white ones.
As Cure CVS Now’s website also notes, HIV/AIDS rates in communities of color, black communities specifically, are much higher than in white communities. So this practice is not only discriminatory — the effects are also disproportionately discriminatory and have a much wider effect than they would on white populations if the situation was (somehow, in a fantasy land that does not exist) reversed.
Not everyone has the option to just “go to another pharmacy.” So while it may be well within CVS’ rights, as a business, to enact these kinds of discriminatory practices — and many others, as you can see — it’s also well within our rights to not shop there, if we do have the option. After all, as Cure CVS Now’s website again notes, the chain’s two largest competitors — Walgreens and Rite Aid — have policies against condom lock up.
For Valentine’s Day, tell CVS to “Have a Heart” and unlock the condoms. And until these policies change, do your best to shop at pharmacies that give a shit about public health and equal access.