Guess What Else We’re Running Out Of? Condoms - OZY | A Modern Media Company
For producers and purveyors of condoms and sex toys, business is booming.

WHY YOU SHOULD CARE

Masks aren’t the only wearable item in short supply.

By Guy Chazan

The coronavirus shutdown has brought swaths of the global economy to a standstill, but for producers and purveyors of condoms and sex toys, business is booming

Ritex, Germany’s largest domestic producer of prophylactics, saw sales nearly double in March. The company, which is based in the north-western town of Bielefeld and is still operating, says its sales of condoms last month doubled compared with the same period a year ago, to 12.7 million.

The same trend is happening in other countries. Ann Summers, the British lingerie chain, said sex toy sales in the last week of March were up 27 percent over 2019. Its best-selling item was the Whisper Rabbit, which is marketed as its quietest vibrator. “Customers are placing increasing importance on noise while they have a full household,” the company said in a statement. 

Across the world, the coronavirus pandemic has halted social life. Stores have closed, soccer matches been postponed, and bars and clubs shut. Strict social distancing rules in Germany and elsewhere mean gatherings of more than two people are banned.

We are going to be facing a global shortage of condoms.

Goh Miah Kiat, CEO, Karex

Dr. Axel-Jürg Potempa, a German sexual health specialist, predicts a coronavirus-related baby boom by Christmas.

“The crisis creates new, additional bonds,” Potempa says. Fear of COVID-19 is prompting a flood of adrenaline and a subsequent “dopamine rush” in many, which “increases desire and libido,” he told the Berliner Kurier. 

Robert Richter, Ritex’s managing director, says the rise in condom sales is partly explained by panic buying after restrictions on social contact were introduced last month, with Germans hoarding essentials such as toilet paper and hand sanitizer as well as prophylactics.

But there is also an emotional component. “In a crisis, when you’re isolated, you seek more emotional intimacy with your partner, and sex is part of that,” Richter says. “And that might well lead to more condom use.”

Dildo King, a Berlin accessory supplier, says it has seen an 87 percent increase in sales of sex toys year-over-year since the restrictions were announced. Sales for fetish items were up 94 percent, with sales of one particular product increased by more than eightfold compared with last year. “We are doing incredibly well out of this crisis, but I’m not exactly jumping for joy,” says Raiko Spörck, managing director of Dildo King. “People are dying, and no one’s happy.”

The company is now having trouble procuring stock, he says: “The producers weren’t prepared for such an onslaught.”

Eis.de, another leading German online retailer of sex accessories, says orders have doubled since Germany introduced social restrictions. On March 23, the company saw the biggest sales volume in its history.

There has been a 300 percent increase in sales of aids for men and women in the southern state of Bavaria, and a 3,000 percent increase in demand for “fantasy nurse” costumes, the company says. Sales of jumbo packs of condoms, each containing 100, have risen fivefold.

However, as in all areas of business, COVID-19 has interrupted supply chains.

Karex, which makes 1 in 5 condoms globally, had to shut down its three factories in Malaysia for 10 days last month as authorities imposed strict restrictions on large gatherings to slow the spread of the coronavirus. 

The company was eventually able to win an exemption from the lockdown rule, arguing that it was a producer of essential medical goods, and restarted its plants March 27. But the plants are still only running at 50 percent capacity.

“We are going to be facing a global shortage of condoms,” says Goh Miah Kiat, Karex’s CEO. “Karex alone has produced 200 million fewer units as a result of the restrictions — it’s really impacting our production.”

He says that other big condom manufacturers in China and India are also experiencing shutdowns, which would have additional repercussions for global supply. 

Karex provides large numbers of condoms to international organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Population Fund, which use them as part of a campaign against HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases in places such as sub-Saharan Africa.

“The WHO has said that condoms are the best way to prevent the spread of HIV, so any shortage is going to be painful,” Kiat says. 

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By Guy Chazan

OZY partners with the U.K.'s Financial Times to bring you premium analysis and features. © The Financial Times Limited 2020.

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