Condoms of the Revolution
Like many other aspects of Cuban life, sexual precautions are interrupted by the constant threat of scarcity and moral taboos.
- How do Cubans use contraceptives?
- What is the most popular contraceptive in Cuba?
- What happens when condoms are scarce?
In Cuba it’s not unusual to see used condoms scattered around like birthday balloons or fishermen’s buoys. Being prepared with condoms prevents pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and also helps to ward off scarcity. The contraception available on the island has travelled great distances before it reaches Cuban hands. It comes from China, Malaysia, India and South Korea. The problem is that sometimes it takes too long to “come.”
In 2012 Cuba experienced a real condom crisis. There are different theories about what happened, the most common is simply, “They got lost.” A very large batch would have reached the island with an already short shelf life. The country’s history of scarcity has taught people that it’s better to buy in bulk, taking advantage of the fact that there are no purchase limits.
In Cuba it’s not unusual to see used condoms scattered around like birthday balloons or fishermen’s buoys.
The most popular
Beating the intrauterine device (IUD) and the pill, the condom is the most popular contraceptive in Cuba. Mainly because they are the cheapest, costing one Cuban peso, 0.05 US dollars, each. But they are also popular for practical reasons. For example, there is a rumour that IUDs are very invasive.
Two brands of condoms are sold in Cuban pharmacies: Momentos and Vigor. Momentos does not have a good reputation: it’s tight, it irritates and the lubrication is suspect, while Vigor is usually considered to be more “comfortable” and to not cause irritation. The best condoms are available in pharmacies for tourists, which are often found in large hotels. A box of three costs 1 US dollar (25 Cuban pesos), which is somewhat difficult for the majority of Cubans who cannot afford to spend 5% of their salary on one box of condoms.
Siempre se resuelve
Contraceptives arrive on order and they usually meet the demand. However, “sometimes there aren’t enough” according to a pharmacy worker in the Playa municipality, who requested anonymity because “they can’t talk to the press without prior authorization from the Ministry of Public Health.” The employee was referring to the availability of the contraceptive pill; the most popular brands are Etinor, Trienor and Levoemer or the “morning after pill,” which is supplied in smaller quantities. Prices are affordable; none cost more than three Cuban pesos.
Contraceptives arrive on order and they usually meet the demand. However, “sometimes there aren’t enough.”
Some young people prefer to use the pill to experience more pleasure in sexual relations; condoms can be seen as a limitation and an irritation during sex. Also, the pill provides extra safety, in the case of everyone’s worst nightmare, a broken condom.
The pill is a medication and as such it has side effects, particularly if they are taken incorrectly. These adverse affects result in condoms being more common.
Another risk associated with not using a condom, as well as unwanted pregnancy, is sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), such as AIDS. According to data from the World Health Organization (WHO), in 2016 there were 25,000 people living with AIDS in Cuba, which is only 0.219% of the population.
There are people who refuse to use condoms because they don’t like them, they don’t feel the same sensations with them, or simply because they find them annoying. Many pro-lifers say that young people take advantage of the fact that abortion is legal to have sex without condoms, especially as it’s free. Conditions for abortion are normally safer than in countries where it is illegal. It’s a topic of hot debate. According to statistics from the World Bank seven out of ten women of childbearing age and with a partner use contraceptives.
With the challenges of scarcity in Cuba people must be doubly prepared.
In any case, no one can deny that with the challenges of scarcity in Cuba people must be doubly prepared, not just in the crucial moment but also well in advance. When condoms really do get lost, there are people who can ask family members abroad to send some, or there are others who bring batches to sell. Like all the other little inventions in Cuban life, they always find a solution.