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D.C. to begin using more-expensive Trojan condoms in HIV prevention program

D.C. officials are buying Trojan condoms to give away to high school students and college-age adults.
D.C. officials are buying Trojan condoms to give away to high school students and college-age adults. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)
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By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 21, 2010

High school students and college-age adults have been complaining to District officials that the free condoms the city has been offering are not of good enough quality and are too small and that getting them from school nurses is "just like asking grandma or auntie."

So D.C. officials have decided to stock up on Trojan condoms, including the company's super-size Magnum variety, and they have begun to authorize teachers or counselors, preferably male, to distribute condoms to students if the teachers complete a 30-minute online training course called "WrapMC" -- for Master of Condoms.

"If people get what they don't want, they are just going to trash them," said T. Squalls, 30, who attends the University of the District of Columbia. "So why not spend a few extra dollars and get what people want?"

Health officials and consumer advocates say that in terms of preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, there's no difference between Trojans and the less-expensive Durex condoms that the city is offering.

But because Trojans are considered the better-known brand, city officials say, they are willing to spend an extra few thousand dollars a year to try to persuade sexually active teenagers to practice safer sex. The Durex condoms will still be offered.

"We thought making condoms available was a good thing, but we never asked the kids what they wanted," said D.C. Council member David A. Catania (I-At Large), chairman of the health committee.

The addition of the more expensive Trojan condoms is the latest move in an effort by officials to flood city streets with latex to battle HIV/AIDS.

The District, where 3 percent of residents have HIV, studies show, recently received a grant to offer free female condoms. And, in what is thought to be a first for a local government, the city is mailing up to 10 free condoms at a time to residents who request them online. Free condoms are also available at more than 100 locations, including barbershops, liquor stores and youth centers.

"We want to support the regularization of condom use citywide," said Shannon L. Hader, director of the city's HIV/AIDS administration. "We are promoting this idea that using condoms is healthy . . . to try to destigmatize condom use, not only for kids, but for grown-ups."

Scientists and D.C. health officials said the appeal of Trojan condoms can be attributed to the company's marketing strategy, including the packaging of Magnums in a shiny, gold wrapper.

"The gold package certainly has a little bit of the bling quality," said Michael Kharfen, a spokesman for the city's HIV/AIDS administration.

New York model

Hader said the District, which began its publicly funded condom program in 2006, and New York are the only cities in the United States with large-scale, publicly financed condom distribution programs run through health departments. But health officials in both cities have been grappling over how to make government-issued condoms more appealing.


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