A condom for every city

Could New York, Thailand and India work together toward a future where every condom had a spokesperson and every city its own prophylactic?

Published July 3, 2007 6:04PM (EDT)

I mean, maybe I'm biased because it's my home, but I really do think that New York is the best city in the world. And now there's another reason to love it: Earlier this year, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene came out with a special NYC Condom, making New York the first American city to brand its own prophylactic.

The condoms -- which are specially packaged premium lubricated LifeStyles -- come in a chic black wrapper with the words "NYC Condom" in colored circles. In other words, it looks like a subway sign. (To see the wrapper, click here.) And there was even a saucy ad campaign, with posters bearing slogans like "New York, we've got you covered," and "New York's hottest new wrapper." Risqué!

The condoms were first launched on Valentine's Day this year with 150,000 distributed free on the streets, and over a million free condoms available through the Health Department's partner network of commercial and community venues. What's more, shoppers visiting Kenneth Cole, MAC and Theory stores also had the opportunity to pick up some for free. (Kenneth Cole was co-chair of the committee behind the condoms.)

I bring this up because I think it's a great example of a city proactively working toward keeping its citizens healthy. It's being done both with humor and efficiency -- any New York City establishment can call 3-1-1 and have the Health Department deliver some free condoms so that they can put them out for customers.

Just imagine the potential ramifications: You finish your Chinese food, and instead of orange slices and peppermints? Condoms. Popcorn coupons at the movie theater? They go better with prophylactics. Buy a hot new dress -- and have a condom tucked in with your receipt.

Since this was launched in February, why bring it up now? Because it turns out that New York might be a good model for India, and can find an ally in Thailand. Hear me out. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, India is trying to find a way to popularize condom use in its population. To be more specific (and to quote the article's headline), "India hopes to unwrap a Mr. Condom."

Mr. Condom? It turns out that a former Thai cabinet minister, Mechai Viravaidya, was behind a successful effort in Thailand to get Thais to talk about sex, condom use and AIDS, reports the Herald. Mr. Mechai -- sometimes known as "Mr. Condom" or "Condom King" -- brought condoms to World Bank talks and, in a truly bizarre move, changed the name of his restaurant in Bangkok to "Cabbage and Condoms," and used condoms as a "major part of the decor." (Unfortunately, the article does not include pictures.)

In Thailand, Viravaidya's organization won the $1 million Gates Award for Public Health from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation -- and India is now eyeing Thailand's Mr. Condom as a figurehead it would like to emulate. But I have a bigger plan in mind. I'd like to propose that New York, Thailand and India get a little condom-swap going on. New York launches its own "Mr. Condom" campaign, taking the place of the Ms. Subway competition. India opens some prophylactic-themed restaurants. And as for Thailand, come on. The question to be asking is not whether Bangkok should have its own city condom, but why it doesn't already.

By Catherine Price

Catherine Price is an award-winning journalist and author of Vitamania: How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food. Her written and multimedia work has appeared in publications including The Best American Science Writing, The New York Times, Popular Science, O: The Oprah Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post Magazine, Salon, Slate, Men’s Journal, Mother Jones, PARADE, Health Magazine, and Outside. Price lives in Philadelphia.

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