This article originally appeared on VICE Mexico
"I don't enjoy sex as much as I used to, now that I can't come inside my girlfriend. It's too much pressure. It really changed my sex life," says Francisco Araujo, a 24-year-old Venezuelan civil engineer. "Late last year, I had to ask a family member in Miami to send me condoms. They have completely disappeared from the shops here."
Venezuela is one of the unsafest countries in the world, with one of the weakest economies. Thanks to a potent mix of hyperinflation, intense price and currency controls, disappointing oil revenue and years of terrible governmental decision making, we're also blessed with the fact that very normal goods are extremely scarce here. You'll have to wait in line for hours or days to get your hands on them – and that's only when they sporadically come in. This obviously has a lot of implications on life in Venezuela – one of them being that some Venezuelans, given the scarcity of contraceptives, are wary to have sex.
"I have used Grindr a lot, since it's the fastest way to find a sexual partner. But I haven't as much over the last couple of years, since there's an enormous lack of condoms. I saved all the condoms I had and only use them if I really can't help myself," says 28-year-old Alejandro Bohorquez. "I'll try to suppress my urges or I don't penetrate. I'm afraid of getting an STI, so I honestly prefer abstinence, just to be safe."
in February 2016, the organisation StopVIH received reports of pressing contraceptive shortages in Venezuelan states like Amazonas, Anzoategui, Aragua, Bolivar, Carabobo, Lara, Miranda, Monagas, Nueva Esparta, Sucre, Tachira and Greater Caracas. That means that almost half of the population in Venezuela has difficulties in getting condoms, which in turn undermines prevention measures taken against HIV and other STIs, carried out by NGO's in the country. To make matters worse, Venezuela already has the third highest number of AIDS infections per resident in South America, and an extremely high teen pregnancy rate.
But if you're really desperate for a condom or a pill and you can afford some crazy prices, you can usually find one. In Venezuela, we have two prices for everything – tires, milk, toothpaste, toilet paper, contraceptive pills, DirecTV and plane tickets – due to the supply never being enough for the demand. There is the official price and the black market price. For example, if you can find a bottle of shampoo in the shop, and you're willing and able to queue for hours for it, the official price will be around 80 Venezuelan Bolívar, which amounts to about £8,50. On the black market, you'll always find something, but it'll be around 2000 Bolívar (£220). If you have a dealer's phone number, that helps. A dealer can help you find almost anything, basically. If you don't have that, you'll find black market options on Facebook, Instagram and sites like MercadoLibre – some accounts even provide 24 hour assistance, like a delivery service.
Below, I've specified some of the difficulties you can have trying to find the products you need as a Venezuelan with active genitalia.
After a day of scouring 12 pharmacies to find condoms, I couldn't find any. The three above, I bummed off a few friends who had some condoms saved – they're the closest thing to protection I could find and afford in Venezuela. The condoms were 500 Bolívar a piece – about £55 – and on the black market, you'd pay ten times more.
Our government has always feared the evil consumerist empire that is the United States of America, so it's great news that the contraceptive that is the easiest to get your hands on in Venezuela (although that's a relative term here) is called SEX USA. I would advise you not to get your nose too close to these things, because they smell horribly. I truly admire the boldness of the people I know who have tasted them – just opening the package makes me nauseous.
The condom on the right is called "Momentos", which means "Moments" and would be a better choice for your money than the condom on the left. I don't know about you, but if I pay that much for a single condom, I don't want a 1990s Shakira on the packaging staring at me, silently judging me, ruining my mood.
The Chavista is also a condom, but it comes with its own special story. It was produced by the Chinese government to give to the people of Venezuela, as a solution to the shortage of imported condoms. The Venezuelan and the Chinese government have many trading deals together (China is Venezuela's second biggest trading partner), but this is, to my knowledge, the only kind of contraceptive the Chinese designed especially for us. The package reads "Bolivarian Government of Venezuela" and specifies that you can only "use it once", which is a helpful instruction on a condom package.
Again, I wasn't able to find any of these in the drugstore – the one in the picture, I borrowed from a friend.
Contraceptive pills are extremely sought after in Venezuela, but you won't find them in any pharmacy. The only way to get your hands on them is through a dealer. That's exactly as shady as it sounds, except that the product you call your dealer for is legal.
According to Daniela Parra, a 29-year-old Venezuelan pharmacist, "the scarcity of medicines in the country is up by 70 percent and it is the same for the pill. Women come to us offering ridiculous amounts of money or begging us to sell them pills, but unfortunately, we have nothing. I often tell people to try the black market, where products are sometimes even safer, but prices are ten to 12 times what you would've paid for it in the pharmacies. I also recommend that they keep an eye on the expiration dates of each product, too."
"If I can't get the pill in a pharmacy I'll wait for my contact at MercadoLibre to resupply, and I buy them with him," said 24-year-old María Betsabé. "It's not ideal but it's my only option, and paying ten times the normal price is better than not having them at all."
Menstrual pads aren't contraceptives, I'm aware of that, but they are one of the most sought after products by Venezuelan women, and they're only available on the black market – as are tampons. Due to their scarcity, the government had the bright idea of hosting workshops to teach women how to make their own pads, with fabric. That's right, instead of improving import conditions of basic goods so more pads can come into the country, the government would rather have Venezuelan women making there own pads, while watching a soap opera.
"Every Tuesday I have to queue up in order to buy regulated products that I can buy with my ID number. I would rather wait in line for six hours than pay what the black market charges," says Gladys Parra, a 56-year-old housewife. "That would save a lot of time, but unfortunately, everything in this country is so expensive, and I'd rather save as much as I can."