Safe sex sometimes starts with shoplifting, and Valley drugstores and supermarkets are fighting back.
Many stores that used to sell condoms and other contraceptives on open shelves now keep the items under lock and key in response to a nationwide shoplifting trend.
“Condoms have a tendency to walk out of the store without being paid for,” said Kermit Thompson, an employee at a CVS drugstore in south Phoenix.
The locked cases solve the shoplifting problem. But some family planning experts say the security measure creates another problem in the Valley: an increase in unprotected sex.
At least one national pharmacy chain agrees.
Carol Hively, a corporate spokeswoman for Walgreens, said her company does not lock up contraceptives in any of its stores.
“We don’t want to discourage people from buying them,” Hively said. “They do get stolen, but we believe it’s more important to keep them readily available on the sales floor.”
Melissa Carrion, a sexuality educator at Planned Parenthood in Tempe, said she understands both sides of the situation.
“People like to steal condoms,” Carrion said. “There were also some isolated cases of people tampering with them. In that sense, it’s good to keep them secured.”
However, as a professional educator about the importance of condoms to prevent sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies, Carrion said she sees where a problem might arise for youth.
“I think for some students that will be one more barrier for them, one more obstacle,” Carrion said.
Advocates for keeping the condoms unlocked say that teenagers who are too embarrassed to ask for condoms could forgo the protective measure altogether, and end up contributing to the state’s teen pregnancy rates.
“It’s not going to increase abstinence,” said P.J. Magdziarz, a 21-year-old Tempe resident. “People just will go without them.”
The locked cases first appeared in Washington, D.C., more than one year ago when CVS pharmacies began keeping their supply of condoms under lock and key. The lockboxes have now spread to other chains in Arizona.
Fry’s stores in Arizona now keep their contraceptives locked up, according to Fry’s employees. Rick Aberilla, manager of the Fry’s at 3255 S. Rural Road in Tempe, said he does not think the theft prevention boxes will discourage people from buying condoms.
“I think people will just ask for them anyway,” Aberilla said. “It won’t stop them.”
According to a study done by the Guttmacher Institute, Arizona had the second-highest pregnancy rate among females aged 15 to 19 in the United States in 2000.
The Guttmacher Institute is a nonprofit organization that works to advance sexual health through research and public education, according to the group’s Web site.
In Tempe, a city overflowing with college students, many young adults said they appreciate Walgreens’ stance on keeping contraceptives unlocked.
“I don’t think you should have to go find someone to get condoms out of a lockbox for you,” said 20-year-old Andy Othick of Tempe.
However, Planned Parenthood said it is too early to tell whether the new security measures will have an impact on the rates of sexually transmitted diseases and teen pregnancies in the state.
“Who knows at this point,” Carrion said. “Maybe this will spur people to face up to what may be an uncomfortable situation.”