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Condom sales have plummeted in the UK – but in China they offer a tiny ray of hope | Zoe Williams | Opinion


Condom sales have taken a savage hit, as the opportunities for “intimate occasions” (in the delicate phrasing of the manufacturers) dwindle thanks to the lockdown. You don’t need an MBA for this stuff. Casual sex does not fit into any category of “essential activity”, whichever way you slice it. I think this is quite unfair, and signals a tendency to attach a negative moral judgment to sex that is so deep-seated that people don’t even realise they’re doing it.

Say, for instance, that you have two single nurses, who daily put themselves at risk of catching the virus, for no other reason than professionalism and humanity; those two people should, in my view, be allowed to have sex in a store cupboard, provided it is with each other. But I don’t make the rules. And maybe they already are having sex.

If the demand from casual encounters has collapsed, so too has the demand from couples who didn’t live together and are now self-isolating in separate households. As a final hammer blow to the industry, even cohabiting couples have stopped buying condoms, seemingly because they are not having sex either – although, equally, they could think this is a terrific time to have a baby.

People respond to a crisis differently; in one of the more memorable problem pages of the corona era, a guy wrote in to this paper to say that he thought lockdown was a great opportunity to explore a nascent interest in BDSM, while his girlfriend … well, she didn’t think that.

These conversations are quite difficult to have, especially when nobody can huff off for a walk (at least, not more than once a day). Condom purchase might be a way to signal preference without having to get into a confrontation: “Yes, I would love to transform the shed into a dungeon but wait … I forgot to buy condoms, and we only have these cherry-flavoured ones from last year that you don’t like.”

You want light at the end of the tunnel? You want the first green shoots of recovery? Condom sales in China are back to pre-crisis levels. This drought, too, shall pass.

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