A study on condom merchandising and their availability in Ho Chi Minh City has highlighted the barriers and facilitators towards condom use from a social marketing perspective.
Study findings indicate the topic of condoms remains largely taboo, with many people as uncomfortable talking about condoms as much as they are about sex.
Condoms are amongst the most effective methods for contraception as well as for the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases.
With condoms an unmentionable topic for many people, the study revealed the potential for troubling impacts on social health.
RMIT Vietnam academics Ms Dang Nguyen, Assistant Professor Lukas Parker and RMIT Professor Linda Brennan worked with a strategic partner from Plan International, Ms Alice Clements, to investigate the distribution and merchandising of condoms from a retail perspective.
The team developed a model of barriers and facilitators for condom purchasing to assist social marketers and social workers within the sexual and reproductive health field in Vietnam as well as the broader Southeast Asia region.
The model can be applied to promote condom use as well as increase availability of condoms for purchasing.
RMIT Vietnam researcher Ms Dang Nguyen said the results indicated condoms are generally not readily available in expected retailers around Ho Chi Minh City, which can be linked to the embarrassment retailers may experience in selling such a product.
"The majority of retailers were against an open display of condoms inside their store because they feared it would drive their customers away," Ms Nguyen said.
"It makes sense from a sociological perspective, because social taboos are contagious.
"This means that the people associated with a taboo product, which in this case are condoms, can be turned into taboos themselves.
"It is common knowledge people buying condoms may feel embarrassed," Ms Nguyen said.
"It is also noteworthy that people selling the product also experience great discomfort, and they tend to put up barriers around the product to alleviate the embarrassment.
"This is not desirable because any obstacles against condom purchasing would potentially discourage safe sex practice.
"Our study showed there are a number of risks associated with in-store open displays of condoms, including embarrassment, quality loss, theft and cost of space.
Ms Nguyen said tackling these risks would require an all-round approach.
"As the perceived risks are multi-faceted, no single top-down or bottom-up approach would entirely solve the problem," Ms Nguyen said.
"In addition to cooperative advertising, health education and promotion, and social marketing, we also believe authorities have a critical role to play in enforcing standard policy and regulation on condom merchandising, as well as subsidising the costs for potential theft or quality loss associated with open display.
"Earlier this year, a study conducted by Crown Agents, a British international development company, indicated more than a quarter of the 170 million condoms sold in Vietnam each year are of substandard quality, which raises serious concerns over sexual and reproductive health standards across the country," Ms Nguyen said.
The study by Ms Nguyen and Dr Lukas Parker was recently named a winner of RMIT Vietnam's Research Poster Competition.