Battle Against AIDS : Condom Sales Appear in Women’s Restrooms

Associated Press

The sleazy image of condom vending machines with sexy pictures in men’s restrooms is giving way to plain vendors in women’s rooms as schools, bars and restaurants respond to the AIDS epidemic.

At the University of California, Santa Cruz, 14 condom vendors are being installed next week beside racks of brochures from the school’s AIDS task force.

At least 20 other schools in California, Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico also have decided to install condom vending machines, according to Far West Vending Co. of Del Mar.

At the high school level, too, officials are considering condom vendors to promote “safe sex” and awareness about acquired immune deficiency syndrome.


Protection of Students

Says San Leandro High School Principal John Casey: “We’re not recommending the vending machines yet, but we’re discussing them. The school is trying to stress physical safety. It’s a very sensitive subject, but I think we need to do something for the protection of students.”

Palo Alto businesswomen Pat McGuire and Carolyn Klein are focusing on putting condoms in women’s restrooms with their new company, Pianissimo Inc.

“It occurred to us that no one had ever seen a condom in a women’s restroom,” Klein said. “A lot of women we talked to were saying, ‘I know I should buy some,’ but were kind of embarrassed about the whole thing.


“It’s not a market you’re used to, but maybe if you walked into a restroom you’d want to buy one.”

173 Machines Sold

Craig Andrews, sales manager of National Sanitary Supply Co., said the Los Angeles-based company sold 173 condom vendors in Southern California and the San Francisco Bay Area within a week of introducing the idea.

It’s a new field for National, a $100-million-a-year janitorial and maintenance supply company serving schools, restaurants and hotels.


“This is really not going to make any difference to our overall sales,” Andrews said. “It’s not a commercial venture. We’re doing it for the health benefit.”

Like the machines from Pianissimo, National’s vendors will be plain white machines similar to sanitary napkin vendors. The condoms sell for 50 cents each.

Not Novelty-Type Dispensers

“We’re going to have to live with the old image for a while,” Andrews said. “But this is not a novelty-type dispenser.”


Similarly, the vending machines at Santa Cruz, supplied by Far West, will be low-key.

“We wanted to make sure we didn’t end up with the stereotypical vending machines, with pictures of alluring women beckoning sex,” said Santa Cruz spokesman Steve Reed. “We’re not promoting sex; we’re promoting a safe health policy.”

Far West Manager William Gallagher said the company had proposed installing vending machines on college campuses in California more than 18 months ago, but only recently received a number of responses.

Far West has been distributing condoms in several states and on military bases for 17 years.


Response Positive

The response to condom machines in new places has been mostly positive.

Virginia Tallman, a research nurse at the Stanford University AIDS Treatment Evaluation Unit, likes the idea of offering condoms in women’s restrooms. She said she gets many calls from heterosexuals concerned about AIDS.

“In the schools they are telling women that they are responsible (for protecting themselves),” she said. “If they are wise, they would start thinking about it.”


“I think it’s a great idea,” said Donna Stolarski, promotions director at the Rodeo nightclub in Sunnyvale. “I think it’s a real good, discreet way to promote it (AIDS awareness).”

Others disagree.

“No way,” said Dale Bullota, manager of Chili’s Hamburger Grill & Bar in Menlo Park. “It doesn’t seem like it’s very tasteful.”