Condoms for sale

Chinese parents and teachers are not sure they want rubbers sold at colleges.

Published May 11, 2000 4:00PM (EDT)

In America, condoms are readily available. Drugstores display entire walls of them, in every style imaginable: flavored, glow in the dark and ribbed. Bowls of complimentary condoms are available in nightclubs. And public restrooms offer condom machines, where patrons can grab quick 50-cent protection against both disease and impregnation.

But we may take our rubber-happy culture for granted. In China, just one condom vending machine on a university campus has thrown both parents and teachers into a major hissy fit.

The machine in question is located near a student dining hall on the campus of Nankai University in Tianjin. It dispenses two styles of condoms, in 5-yuan (60 cents) and 10-yuan ($1.20) boxes, labeled with the eye-catching Chinese characters for "condom."

This lone rubber-dispensing device is apparently sending the wrong message to the Chinese, for whom purchasing birth control in public is considered an embarrassment.

According to the Xinhua news agency, parents of Nankai students are complaining that their children are too young to have sex; the availability of such a machine, tempting kids with the sheer possibility of purchasing condoms for sex, is just too liberal for their tastes.

The majority of Nankai instructors also believe that such a vending machine has no place in a college. The university does offer sex education classes, but if a student buys a condom on a lunch break -- well, that's just not appropriate, in their view.

Discussion of the issue is also rampant among the students themselves. Those with prudish tendencies don't like to think about buying a condom while they're eating at the dining hall. Others think they're old enough to make their own decisions and resent the university's interference. Still others say the university wouldn't have put the vending machine on campus if there weren't a need for it, right? The machines have appeared at colleges in Beijing, Shanghai, Harbin and Chongqing, all of which have erupted into controversy.

Whatever the future of the Nankai condom caper, one fact cannot be overlooked: Within days of the machine's installation, it was sold out of condoms.

By Jack Boulware

Jack Boulware is a writer in San Francisco and author of "San Francisco Bizarro" and "Sex American Style."

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Birth Control China Sex Education