Coy Vietnamese youths support plan for condoms in hotel rooms

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A flower shop in Ho Chi Minh City built a fake Christmas tree out of thousands of condoms last December in an effort to raise public awareness of safe sex. Photo courtesy of Tuoi Tre

A Ho Chi Minh City plan to put condoms in all city hotel rooms has been applauded by young people who say they are looked down upon whenever they buy prophylactics.

Psychologists say the plan will solve the common problem that people are too embarrased to buy condoms due to the judgemental attitudes of condom shop employees, other shoppers, and any one else who might know that they buy or carry condoms.

Though awareness of safe sex is on the rise in Vietnam and the government has coordinated several pro-condom campaigns, societal prejudice holds that men and women who buy and carry condoms are promiscuous, bad people.

Experts say the plan could help "normalize" Vietnamese perspectives on the condom.

Many girls aged 17-25 years said they would never carry a condom for fear of being labeled as non-virtuous, according to a Tuoi Tre (Youth) report March 10.

"People would think I am the spoiled, slutty kind," said Ha Xuyen, 23, from the northern province of Thanh Hoa.

Many were hesitant to answer the question or avoided it.

Others reported that their sexual partners judged them as "dirty" for carrying condoms and many men have reported the same thing: the women they sleep with don't want them carrying condoms because that means they are sexually promiscuous and have other lovers.

"That [the prejudice and judgement] is why girls often leave themselves completely passive in this, pushing the responsibility of bringing a condom to their boyfriend, though they want to protect themselves too, from sexually transmitted diseases and unexpected pregnancy," said Ta Kim Tuyen, 21, from the Mekong Delta's Dong Thap Province.

But boys haven't fared any better, saying they can have a modern mind about condoms, but their good will is trampled by the "unfriendly" attitudes of other people, including "meaningful" smiles from condom sellers.

Phuong Quang, 24, from Ho Chi Minh City, said he rarely has the guts to go to the condom shop and buy a condom. "Surely people will make bad judgments about me."

Another city resident, Minh Dung, 24, said all sellers hand condoms to customers in black plastic bags. "Isn't it evidence that they equate condoms with evil things that need to be hidden?"

Young people said they agree with the city's condom plan as it will make protecting themselves much easier and more convenient.

Psychologist Dao Le Hoa An said the plan will build into young people the habit of using condoms.

An said young people have been more open and have better knowledge about sex and protection measures, but the problem is that public perception still discourages them to use one.

"We really need progressive action like this condoms in hotels plan to protect young people and help them build the habit.

"And besides, we need education programs to normalize the image of condoms. It's time we consider using condoms like using helmets, for the same purpose of preventing young people from getting injured," he said.

The expert said it is "silly" for some people to think that encouraging condoms is promoting a sexually deviant lifestyle, as condoms are one of the only ways to ensure that any sexual lifestyle is a safe one.

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