Eased Lockdowns Are a Saving Grace for Condom Companies

The sales figures speak for themselves.
April 30, 2021, 6:40am
durex condoms
Durex sales are recovering. Photo: Getty, Jean-Francois DEROUBAIX

Global condom sales are bouncing back as COVID-19 stay-at-home restrictions loosen in countries around the world, according to the company that owns Durex.

Reckitt Benckiser, the British household goods company that bought Durex a little over a decade ago, released its trading figures for the first three months of 2021 on Wednesday. The company flagged a “strong growth in sexual wellbeing” products compared to the same period in 2020, when the virus emerged in central China and entire cities began entering lockdown.

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The double-digit sales increase was primarily boosted by strong growth in countries like China, which has largely recovered from the pandemic and lifted most social and movement restrictions. But Reckitt said that demand in most other markets also grew.

“Over time, we would expect this recovery to be replicated in other markets where lockdowns have led to temporarily reduced demand,” the Reckitt report said.

The condom sales boom was not the result, as certain publications have suggested, of some dam-bursting sex frenzy, whereby citizens are emerging from deep freeze and suddenly buying up an inordinate amount of these products. Rather, it represents a “reversal” of the pandemic’s adverse effects on the industry as a result of stymied sexual activities. As the Reckitt report pointed out, this was simply a recovery from the depressed demand of the first half of 2020.

The early stages of the pandemic dealt a devastating blow to the global sexual wellbeing industry. On this day last year, the Guardian reported that Reckitt had experienced a sharp dive in condom sales as strict physical distancing and lockdown rules led to fewer people having casual sex. Laxman Narasimhan, Reckitt’s chief executive, further suggested that even established couples were having less sex as a result of increased anxiety.

Six months later, Church & Dwight, the company that owns condom brand Trojan, reported a six percent slump in quarterly condom sales, confidently apportioning blame to the fact that people were having “a lot less sex.” And according to a United Nations report, the sale of condoms in South Asia was adversely affected in the first and second quarters of 2020 by the ripple effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, including the closure of over 1,800 clinics and outlets.

Much of that is on the rebound now, as countries like China, Italy, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and parts of North America gradually unshackle themselves from the chastity belt of coronavirus lockdowns and social distancing measures are eased. Reckitt expects that condom sales will continue to rise.

But as far as sales numbers are concerned, it’s not all positive news for the consumer goods company.

While the sale of hygiene products enjoyed a fairly predictable uptick – representing a growth of 21 percent compared to last year’s figures – Reckitt also reported a 16.4 percent decline in sales in the category of health products, which includes cold and flu relief products such as Nurofen and Strepsils.

The company estimated that this was likely a result of flu cases being down by as much as 90 percent – as the same measures that help prevent the spread of the coronavirus also help prevent other respiratory illnesses. It was also possible, the company said, that consumers stocked up on such products last year.

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