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New Store Offers Condom Sense as Key to Safe Sex

November 14, 1991

PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ The newest store in town is Condom Nation, a brightly decorated, trendy shop that specializes in safe sex without treating it like a pharmaceutical product or a sideline to pornography.

″We don’t sell whips and chains. This is not a pornography shop. There’s nothing offensive here,″ said co-owner Ted Oates.

″This is a safe-sex boutique,″ said his partner, Gene Borden. ″We want a store where people feel comfortable.″

The shop, decorated with pastel colors and track lighting, opens Friday about a block from South Street, an area of trendy shops, art galleries and restaurants.

As they put the finishing touches on the place Thursday, Borden and Oates found themselves turning away potential customers.

″There’s a store like this in New York, and it’s jammed with customers,″ Oates said. ″People laugh when they look in the shop window, but they come in and they go out with bags.″

New York’s store, Condomania, opened in July in Greenwich Village and also has a branch in Los Angeles. Oates and Borden plan to expand to Washington, D.C., and to Miami.

″By this time next year, there’ll be a shop like this in every big city in the country,″ Borden said.

Borden estimates Condom Nation will stock some 200 varieties, including the prized Sagami brand from Japan. It also offers lubricants and the spermicide nonoxynol-9, which has also been shown to be effective against the virus that causes AIDS.

There is a selection of colors (including a brand that glows in the dark) and, yes, sizes. Prices range from $1.95 for three to $30 for a dozen.

There are also gag gifts such as rubber Condom Caps, Condomints candies, Sperm Banks and pairs of ″Safe Sox,″ athletic socks which have a little pocket sewn on the side for carrying a you-know-what.

But the store has a serious side. Oates and Borden say they plan to distribute literature about preventing AIDS and advice to teen-agers on protecting themselves.

They also say they will contribute some of their profits to local organizations dealing with AIDS, including a meals program for people who are homebound with the disease. In addition, a large bowl on the counter contains free condoms for those who can’t afford to pay.

″It’s true that we’re in this business to make money, but we’re trying to do something about a human problem,″ Borden said.

Sam LeBlanc, a real estate agent from New Orleans passing by Condom Nation, liked the idea of the new store.

″Its a pretty interesting idea,″ he said. ″From a business point of view, it makes sense, particularly because of the publicity about safe sex and using condoms. People don’t want to talk about these things, but they need to.″

Not all the reaction to the store was positive. Fran Stoffa, executive director of the city’s AIDS task force, pointed out that his organization annually distributes thousands of condoms at no charge.

″But the condom in and of itself is no more the answer to AIDS than the birth control is the answer to teen pregnancy,″ he said. ″The condom is a serious part of a bigger message. I hate it when AIDS education gets reduced to a condom.

″Condoms are part of larger issue - teaching sexually active people how not to get AIDS. You cannot separate the condom from that information.

″Our organization is the first to state that when you abstain from sex, you don’t get AIDS. But reality says that people don’t abstain. So you use a condom,″ Stoffa said.

But Dr. Thomas Coates, director of the Center for AIDS Prevention Studies at the University of California-San Francisco, sees the store as a big step forward.

″People don’t want to talk about AIDS,″ he said. ″Condoms will sell when they are disassociated with the health issue and the more they are associated with pleasure, with erotica.

″Too many condoms now are drab or unattractive. Marketing outlets like this will do more to make condoms more attractive and more normative,″ Coates said. ″It’s more than a health issue, it’s a pleasure issue.″

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