Why you should care
Because this is how economic changes ripple into the love lives of an entire nation.
Bushwhacked: A series on surprising sex trends in unlikely places.
It’s a scenario that can happen to anyone: You’re having sex, the condom breaks and the next morning you make an important stop at the pharmacy before breakfast to find the morning-after pill. For most of us, that’s where the misadventure ends. But for Brahyam Meneses, a 25-year-old software engineer in Caracas, that’s where it all began. “It was an odyssey,” he says of his daylong search across the city. “I felt so relieved when I found it. I think I turned Christian again.”
With its oil revenues down and economy a mess, Venezuela has recently been engulfed by unprecedented scarcity, inflation and insecurity, making everything from buying coffee to fixing a car part a mad, complicated and lengthy process. Last year the world got a taste of this dysfunction when a story about a $750 box of condoms went viral. Although sexual protection here is still pricey — though not that pricey — and reliable brands are hard to find, there are other, lesser-known ways the country’s economic turmoil is spilling into personal relationships.
A Land of Strangers?
Venezuela’s nightlife was once alive with salsa and live merengue music that brought people together both on and off the dance floor. But soaring drink prices and rampant insecurity have led many venues to close, while others have become increasingly more synonymous with violence than pleasure. “People are more tense, more aggressive,” explains Luis Cortizo, a waiter at a small bar in Caracas. Before, they would mingle, he adds. “Now people keep to themselves, and if you talk to the wrong girl, you can get into a lot of trouble.”
This growing uneasiness, says university student Estefaniha Domínguez, is gradually creating a more indifferent and distrustful society. She used to go out, frequently talking to strangers in the streets, shopping centers and plazas — but now she tries to avoid such encounters. “Anyone can be dangerous,” she says. Some young people have turned to social media and house parties as safer social alternatives, yet for most, dating is not at the forefront of their minds. “The only thing I want is to finish my career and get out of the country,” says Domínguez. “Nobody is thinking about relationships. People here are just trying to survive.”
The Kid Problem
It’s hard to find a Venezuelan these days eager to have a child. “I wouldn’t have a child here in my wildest dreams,” says Norah Elena, a 37-year-old marketing manager in Caracas. Both Elena and her boyfriend want children, but are aware that it’s unlikely under the circumstances. Housing in a decent neighborhood is too expensive, and “it’s been four months since I’ve been able to find chow for my cat,” quips Elena. “The only Venezuelans I know that are having babies live outside the country.”
Inside the country, scarce baby goods are forcing some parents to take desperate measures. Jessica, a 28-year-old mother of one, says she and her husband pay 20 to 30 times the going rate for milk, diapers and baby wipes on the black market. “Before, we could take trips, go to the cinema,” she laments. “Now we can’t do anything but work.” Less wealthy parents, meanwhile, have no choice but to wait in line for hours to access government-distributed goods. And with hungry children waiting at home, the scene often turns confrontational, even violent. If you see police guarding the line, it’s been said, you know the milk has arrived.
The Consequences of Cumbersome Contraception
A severe shortage of condoms and contraceptive pills could create an even bigger problem for a country with already alarming rates of HIV infection as well as teenage pregnancies. Yonailin Chacon, 18, knows all too well about the latter issue. From an airy hospital waiting room, Chacon shares how she delivered her first child at 16 and is now waiting for a free contraceptive implant to ensure she doesn’t have another. “I’m one of the lucky ones,” she acknowledges, noting that “without pills, many of my friends are getting pregnant.” Before a hospital worker and friend alerted her to the rare distribution, Chacon had been unable to find pills for six months.
Venezuelan women are trying to overcome the shortages by using social media and commercial trading sites such as MercadoLibre, and by checking every pharmacy they pass. But the supply, either way, is rarely enough. Some have consequently resorted to taking whatever birth control they can find, regardless of their doctor’s prescription. Others have gone back to old-fashioned bartering. At the Universidad Católica Andrés Bello in Caracas, nurse Marjori Martinez says students have begun offering her special food items for medication. “But it’s been five months since I’ve received anything,” she exclaims from her office. “I want to offer encouraging words, but how? How do you say something comfortable when there’s nothing to say?”