Illinois Health Department Program Providing Free Flavored Condoms Draws Criticism From State Officials
An Illinois Department of Public Health program that provides flavored condoms at no cost to the public in order to curb the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases has "sparked surprise and criticism" from some state officials who say "exotic" condoms "undercut efforts to promote abstinence among young people," the Chicago Sun-Times reports. The health department since January has spent $115,000 in federal funding on condoms and plans to purchase a total of about 2.4 million condoms -- the majority of which are "basic, lubricated condoms," according to the Sun-Times. However, as part of its order, the agency has purchased 360,000 condoms that come in orange, lemon, grape and cherry flavors. An additional 910,000 condoms are orange, green, red and blue in color. The condoms are provided at no cost to patrons of public health clinics throughout the state and are seen by health department officials as an "effective tool" to curb the spread of HIV, syphilis and other STDs, particularly through oral sex, according to the Sun-Times. "We based our decision on what clients were telling individuals at the various clinics, that if we want them to use a condom when engaging in oral sex, we should get them flavored condoms," health department spokesperson Tom Schafer said, adding, "The taste of lubricated condoms is such they wouldn't encourage use." According to Schafer, "[b]ecause of the high rates of oral sex reported in clinics and because of disease statistics -- Chicago has one of the highest rates in the country for syphilis -- we were looking at any way possible to prevent additional cases." The Chicago Department of Public Health also contracts for the distribution of condoms at no cost independent of the state health department, according to the Sun-Times. According to Chicago health department spokesperson Mike Jackson, the program is "very popular among the younger people. If it gets them to use [condoms], then I think that's a positive."
Some state officials say that "government dollars should [not] be used for flavored or brightly colored condoms," the Sun-Times reports. "It bothers me when we're contracting for flavored condoms," state Sen. Steve Rauschenberger (R), who did not know of the practice, said. He added, "The concept of providing readily available condoms to prevent transmission of disease is one thing. But when you're talking about French ticklers and attractive colors, it seems to border on enticement. If we're buying condoms, I'd expect us to buy army green, utilitarian, low-priced condoms for people who, for whatever reason, don't feel comfortable buying them on their own." Rauschenberger, one of the ranking Republicans on the Senate's budget committee, said he plans to "press" the state health department to show data indicating that flavored condoms reduce STD rates, adding that he believes "no such studies currently exist," according to the Sun-Times. State Rep. Mary Flowers (D), chair of the House Health Care Availability and Access Committee, said that although she was "surprised" to learn that the state purchased flavored condoms, she was not "sure it mattered," the Sun-Times reports. "It's not costing any more or less. But I did not know we provided that," she said (McKinney, Chicago Sun-Times, 11/1).