Three years later condoms were available in schools, sparking further controversy

Some people were shocked when condoms first became available in B.C. convenience stores in 1987.

Some people were shocked when condoms first became available in B.C. convenience stores in 1987. (CBC)

Flavoured, coloured, textured — condoms in their various forms are fairly ubiquitous these days.

But in the late 80s, their availability was mostly limited to pharmacies and doctors’ offices — until 30 years ago this week, when convenience stores like 7-Eleven and Mac’s in B.C. began to sell them.

The shift to make condoms more available was driven in large part by the HIV/AIDS epidemic at the time — with B.C. as the epicentre of the disease in Canada.

“People were very worried about the spread of HIV. We didn’t have any treatments for it,” said provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall.

“Evidence-based interventions were clearly what was needed.”

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When convenience stores start selling condoms in B.C., circa 19872:26

Health authorities in countries around the world began to publicly promote condom use, including in large-scale advertisements in magazines and on television, which was also contentious at the time.

But Kendall says tactics like condom and clean needle distribution were well accepted by the B.C. medical community, which he says has long been at the forefront of AIDS prevention.

“It became acceptable because the evidence showed there was an evidence-informed policy that didn’t increase promiscuity or didn’t increase substance use,” he said.

Dr. John Blatherwick was B.C.’s public health officer at the time. His push to prevent the further spread of AIDS partly led him to being awarded the Order of Canada in 1994.

Condoms in schools

Three years after condoms hit convenience store shelves, schools in B.C. began to ponder allowing condom dispensers in high school washrooms.

High Schools in Parksville on Vancouver Island became the first school in the province to allow them in 1990. Parents were outraged.

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B.C. schools start supplying condoms in washroom vending machines4:12

National statistics collected in the late 80s suggested 60 per cent of high school students were sexually active, and of them, 80 per cent didn’t use any form of protection.

Kendall says evidence repeatedly shows that educating teens about safe sex does not increase promiscuity — in fact, it has the opposite effect.

Since then, B.C. also implemented one of the most progressive sex education programs in the country.

A 2015 study of 30,000 youth in B.C. from the McCreary Centre showed that teens were less sexually active than their peers had been five and 10 years previously, and those who were active made safer choices.

Author: Maryse Zeidler