With stealth and caution, Hisham walked into a downtown pharmacy and, blushingly, whispered some words, which the pharmacist did not make out immediately.
The key word in Hisham’s hushed speech was “condom . Yes, Hisham came to the pharmacy in search of a condom and because he requested it red-faced, the pharmacist, who happened to understand the young man’s plight, inquired if his client had used the device before.
Obviously, Hisham was a first timer, but the problem is that the young buyer is not an exception but the norm in this country. Many others like him are intimidated by the embarrassment of asking for an item which is so bluntly associated with sexual intercourse.
It is still a conundrum, however, why many people here are reluctant to buy it.
Although widely known even to well-informed satellite-cultured teens, condoms continue to keep a relatively low profile in Egypt at a time one can grab them in Europe and elsewhere at metro station dispenser. Why?
Is it because of Egypt’s glaring conservatism where sexual relations traditionally are expected to begin only after wedlock?
Or is due to the absence of awareness and sexual education?
Perhaps, it could be argued that condoms are too expensive with the consumer having to shell out LE 13 for a box of latex that contains just three prophylactics.
“It is actually a combination of all these factors, revealed pharmacist Essam Mohammed who asked that his downtown pharmacy not to be named.
“The stock we get is enough for the moderate demand for the item, but I assure you that sales increase in downtown pharmacies every weekend, he added.
Wagih Gergis who works for a pharmacy in Maadi said: “In a suburb like Maadi you usually get mostly middle-class married couples buying the condoms with the aim of using it for birth control purposes.
Added Gergis: “In small neighborhoods where people know each other rarely would you find a single man dropping by and asking to buy a condom. He is doing it far away from his social surroundings. But generally it is not part of ordinary people’s culture. They don’t get them like they get aspirins.
Compared to those located in suburban districts, the downtown pharmacies deal in a wide range of brands including the high-priced and tested European-made Latex as well as Egyptian, Indonesian and Thai makes.
At some pharmacies in small neighborhoods, the assistants did not know that there are Egypt-made condoms.
Some of the non-European brands are sold for as cheap as LE 2. “Yes, some do get them, said Mahmud Zaher, a pharmacist who also asked his workplace not to be identified.
“They are good, especially the Thai brand that is joint-ventured produced in Egypt. But unless the customer is highly educated, he is not particular about the brand’s quality and which of the types is best provided with safety measures.
The use of condoms as a safety measure started seriously in Egypt following an anti-AIDS campaign launched as part of the UN program to spread awareness about the epidemic in the 1990s.
Because some AIDS cases had been spotted, the campaign focused on unprotected sex as one of the major causes of the disease.
The only means of protection that figured here was definitely condoms.
Before the spread of AIDS some couples used it for birth control. But today that use is still limited among the large majority of ordinary people.
Selim Hamed, a gateman from Upper Egypt, who works in Maadi said:
“Whenever we intend to have birth control we opt for contraceptives, not condoms. We get one strip of contraceptives for LE 5. The rubber shields are expensive and I don’t know how to use them.
Specialists here have been cited as saying that when advising couples to exert birth control, condoms could figure last in popularity.
Some might not be experienced with using it. It could burst or get torn if not used properly and this is why many couples prefer the traditional methods of resorting to contraceptives or the most difficult option of timing their intercourses according to ovulation.
According to the Epigee Women s Health website, on average, condoms are effective at preventing pregnancy 85% of the time every year.
If condoms are used consistently only two out of 100 women will become pregnant per year, said the site. However, with typical use, 15 out of 100 women will become pregnant each year.
Ironically, Egyptians moderately use condoms today when the first use of them had been traced back to ancient Egypt.
Over the years, condoms have been made out of everything from linen to animal intestines and even tortoise shells. In the 1840s rubber condoms began to be produced and it wasn’t long before condoms took on the moniker rubbers .
The syphilis epidemic that spread across Europe in the 1500s gave rise to the first published account of the condom. Because the linen sheaths were effective in preventing the infection, their use was recognized later as a birth control agent.
The name of the shield is believed to have been driven from Condom , a doctor who lived during the time of Charles II.
The physician was the one who invented the device to help the king avoid the birth of more illegitimate children.
Even the most famous lover of all, Casanova, was using the condom as a birth control device as well as against infection.