And this could mark a change for younger generations.
With widespread vaccinations making hookups finally safe again, condom sales are up (and they certainly won’t be the only thing rising this summer). From late February through mid-April of 2021, sales of these contraceptives increased 23.4% compared to the previous year, according to the market research firm IRI. As CNN reported, condoms had dropped in sales by 4.4% in all of 2020—but even in recent non-pandemic years, sales weren’t what they used to be. In both 2017 and 2018, sales trended downwards, before increasing just 1.2% in 2019. So what makes now so different?
Sure, the straightforward argument can be made that the pandemic has made us—especially those who were single throughout the past year or are newly single—exceptionally horny. But what about those years when we couldn’t blame COVID-19 for lower-than-average condom sales?
There is research that suggests that Millennials and Gen Z are less likely to use condoms when compared to older generations. Between 2013 to 2017, the CDC reported an increase in the rate of STIs, breaking the downward trend of the previous decade. In a 2019 survey, Cosmopolitan interviewed 18 to 34-year-olds about their condom usage and found that only 22% of respondents “always” use condoms, 45% use one when hooking up with a new partner, 35% use one if they knew if they or their partner had an STI or HIV, and 35% use one if they’re trying to avoid pregnancy. But 72% of them say they would respect their partner if they insisted on using a condom.
Some data points to Millennials and Gen Z having less sex than previous generations as the reasoning behind decreased condom sales, but this seems to be just one small part of a larger equation.
There is hope, potentially, that the experience of a pandemic, masking, and increased safety precautions may change the way that people approach safe sex—though not everyone is convinced. According to reporting by Scientific American, a researcher at Tulane University found that college students gave the “strikingly consistent” answer of “no” when asked if COVID-19 changed the way they think about sex and STIs. With this, Scientific American anticipates an increase of STIs to come this summer.
But the current trajectory of condom sales may still prove otherwise. With the first considerable increase in condom sales in several years, it may just be that Millennials and Gen Z are starting to come around to this means of protection against STIs. Masking, we now know, does work.