…tremendous time in the sack and a stack of positions,
We almost used a box of condoms.
Historically, Cuban men have been quite reluctant to use condoms for allegations such as lack of lubrication, discomfort and interference in sexual pleasure. But also for a sexist component that made and still makes the task of contraception fall on women, and which implies a visceral rejection of the word “vasectomy” due to an alleged effect on their virility.
The picture is completed if it is considered that in several generations of sexually active men before 1985, the most that could be expected from an unprotected “hitch” were STDs treated with antibiotics such as penicillin.
But the emergence of HIV-AIDS in Cuba began to change the picture, and since then its use has gone up, although not without contradictions, paradoxes, resistance and zigzags. For example, in 2006 a survey applied in a polyclinic in the Centro Habana municipality to teenagers from 10 to 19 years and to young people from 20 to 24, found that 61% had an active sex life; that the onset of sexual intercourse had occurred at 44% in the ages between 15 and 19; and in 55% before 20.
Out of the respondents 30% had never used condoms, and 49% only occasionally. That same year, a study carried out in 10 provinces among people aged 15 to 35 (subdivided into 15 to 29 and 25 to 35) yielded a similar result: only 35.7% had used them in their first sexual relationship, despite having information about their use and benefits. The investigation concluded by identifying a problem: “The attitude towards the use of condoms…is being affected by the inadequate relationship between supply and demand, and by the instability in the market of all the marketed brands.”
The work of several Cuban health institutions, often assisted by international organizations, as well as the use of marketing techniques, the dissemination of TV spots, graphic propaganda in family doctor’s offices, polyclinics and hospitals, plus the sale at very reasonable prices of condoms not only in pharmacies but also in cafes, bars, nightclubs, etc., seem to have had an effect in that fight against what specialists call “psychological and cultural barriers” against the use of condoms.
Already in 2011, according to the Survey on HIV Infection Prevention Indicators of the National Bureau of Statistics, 62.9% of men and 65.9% of women under 20 had protected themselves with the condom during their first sexual contact. More recent data indicate that in 72% of the population aged 15 to 49 their use is reported, and that in recent years their sales levels have increased significantly.
However, it is not just about accepting the use of this prevention method. In Cuba, problems with condom supply are not a new or extraordinary phenomenon, but recurring; a kind of Sisyphus stone that can only be resolved after a crisis and then it falls into another.
Let’s take a brief look.
Seven years ago, in the newspaper Juventud Rebelde’s January 1, 2013 “Acuse de recibo” section, journalist José Alejandro Rodríguez reported a shortage and irregularities with condoms in Santa Clara and Holguín due to the exhaustion of the Twin Lotus and Love Guard brands, which were sold at a price of 15 centavos, and their replacement “for others of higher quality, at a one peso.” A previously unpublished figure appeared here: the “labeling syndrome.”
According to Dr. Manuel Santín Peña, national director of epidemiology, the product was “in a process of rectification of its expiration date, through its labeling in the workshops of the National Union of Light Industries (UNIL). This labeling process,” he continued, “did not develop at the rate expected; the quantities delivered were insufficient to meet the demand. And the enterprise did not look for alternatives in the re-labeling, nor were steps taken as quickly as required.”
A year later, on March 30, 2014, the newspaper Trabajadores reported another crisis, this time in Santiago de Cuba, a situation that according to Dr. Ramón Suárez Ramírez, director of the provincial establishment of medical supplies, should stabilize as of the second quarter of that year with the arrival of a new lot from abroad. Here the labeling syndrome emerged again. Apparently, changing the expiration date of the product, due to a manufacturer’s error in the distant Taijing, China, was much more complicated than controlling an accident at an atomic power plant after a tsunami.
It was, in fact, an appeal for the people of Santiago to hibernate their libidos or go downhill. They say that a Cuban woman gave her partner an ultimatum: “No way, you have to wait till they come in!”
According to official data, in Santiago de Cuba the consumption of condoms amounts to 1,440 strips of 3 units per month, that is, 4,320 condoms every 30 days. According to the last Census (2010), the city has a population of 226,092 males (vs. 238,087 females), which would mean 52 condoms per month for each person in Santiago, despite the perception that Chinese condoms are very small, which is also heard, sometimes rightly, in other regions of the country.
The following month, on April 3, Villa Clara’s Vanguardia published “Ausencias peligrosas” (Dangerous absences), a text about the condom stampede in a territory that, according to health authorities, had experienced a certain rise in syphilis.
Some testimonies from young people went further: “They say that the Egyptians invented it, who by the year 1000 BC already used an animal gut knotted at one end to undermine the spirit of fertility. Casanova, the legendary Don Juan of the 19th century, used it regularly in his countless adventures, and throughout history you can find interesting anecdotes about this contraceptive method.”
Adding: “It would be good if the youth from Villa Clara reviewed the millenary history of the condom, so they could more easily choose between the Egyptian gut of the past millennium or the turtle shell devised by the Japanese. Given the shortage, all initiatives are worthwhile.”
The people of Villa Clara are not far behind in the consumption of the so-called “English hood.” According to official figures, in that province with a population of 397,253 males (vs. 386,455 females), 5,000 condoms are bought daily, yielding the very interesting figure of 150,000 condoms per month.
The same story was reported in Bayamo in November 2017, with the inevitable correlation: the emergence of a condom black market, at five pesos the package of three, which the State sells at one. A kind 75-year-old woman from Bayamo then said with all the reason in the world: “I worry that my grandchildren, now at an age for sex, don’t have the means to protect themselves or prevent an unwanted pregnancy. I think that the bad work of the people in charge of the people’s health is being justified, with answers that can bring greater evils.”
In March 2019, problems with the condom supply were reported in Havana and other areas of the country. Several sources indicated that pharmacies had none. A young woman from Centro Habana confirmed it to me on Facebook: “I have gone to three pharmacies and there are no condoms.” Adding: “According to what I investigated, they give equal numbers per area to family doctors and they are responsible for distributing them, especially to young people without a stable partner and sexually active or who will ask for them. The groups that carry out advertising campaigns against AIDS do have them, but there are none in the market.”
At the end of January 2020 a new crisis is being reported, again in Havana and also in other provinces. “We don’t have them,” users are told when they go to pharmacies or call. A recent article in the Juventud Rebelde newspaper called attention to the fact: “As regards the trademarks already registered in Cuba, Vigor and Momentos,” writes the journalist, “all [respondents] agreed to mention the first as their favorite because the product is stronger and better lubricated, but they cannot choose because both brands are scarce in pharmacies and other alternative points, such as cafes and bars, a concern from other provinces that also reaches our writing staff.”
And then: “Some lucky people had experiences with foreign condoms and those of the Climax brand (which the Prosalud volunteers currently give out during their prevention actions), designed to increase pleasure by incorporating flavors and irregular textures. Is it not possible to have an alternative sale of these products in the stores that sell in convertible pesos? They ask us.”
A certain European media once said that it was an official operation to increase the birth rate. One of the many nonsenses one has to read about Cuba, and certainly not only occasionally. The problem, however, is much more common: a lethal mixture of lack of foresight and inefficiency, which does not cease. Some tourist guides say―and in this they do not lie―that in Cuba sex is a national pastime, increased in times of crisis.
Those responsible for the problem then have the floor about excessive abortions and a possible pandemic―that word that in Greek means “sickness of the people”―, this time of STDs and AIDS.