Cappuccino with condoms

Cafes in Vietnam are offering free sex education.

Published July 25, 2000 7:28PM (EDT)

You're walking the streets of Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh City, desperate for a condom. You need one as soon as possible, no questions asked. But you can't find one anywhere. Fortunately, you're in the Binh Tranh district, so all you have to do is drop into a cafe, where free rubbers are dispensed seven days a week.

Since 1996, an unusual government program has transformed four such cafes into headquarters for free sex education. Cosponsored by Vietnam's HIV/AIDS Prevention Committee and Doctors of the World, a French health organization, the cafe project is staffed with volunteers ranging from patients infected with HIV to university students.

At the newest cafe in Binh Tranh, patrons can slurp beverages while enjoying sex education videos played on screens above their heads or admiring the walls covered with AIDS warning posters. Tables display a wide assortment of free condoms. The cafe also offers an in-house beauty salon and consultation and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases. And on weekends the space hosts live educational shows.

According to Huyonh Tho Sang, a representative of Doctors of the World, the location is ideal for the project. "Binh Trainh is a relatively deprived area in which the number of HIV victims is above average," Sang told a local newspaper. "We hope to help the lower social classes as well as students by setting up this cafe here."

The 15 kids on the staff donate their time, working at the cafe and talking with the public. On opening day, youngsters packed into the place from across the city, asking questions about sex and AIDS.

While coffee is also served at the cafe, you do have to pay for it.

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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