Pandemic sex slump sees world’s largest condom maker switch to latex gloves

Sales are down as much as 40% in the last two years at the company that makes brands such as Durex

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The world’s largest maker of condoms hasn’t been spared from the coronavirus pandemic as the use of its products slumped as much as 40% in the last two years.

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Sexual activity using the contraceptive didn’t increase even as people stayed home amid lockdowns to curb the spread of the virus, said Goh Miah Kiat, the chief executive officer of Karex Bhd.

Karex had previously forecast condom demand to grow at “double digits” as governments around the world imposed lockdowns, forcing people to stay at home.

The closure of hotels and non-essential clinics such as sexual wellness centres during the pandemic, along with various governments suspending condom handout programs, contributed to the decline in Karex’s condoms sales, Goh told Nikkei Asia.

The Malaysia-based company makes one of every five condoms worldwide, which amounts to more than 5.5 billion condoms annually, and operates in 140 countries. It produces condoms for brands such as Durex, as well as its own line of specialty flavored condoms.

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Richard the Durex Condom promotes playing it safe on a streetcar named desire and hands out samples to passers-by in Toronto.
Richard the Durex Condom promotes playing it safe on a streetcar named desire and hands out samples to passers-by in Toronto. Photo by DUREX HANDOUT

Goh explained that in the Third World, hotels and motels play important roles in providing private settings for sex, given the generally crowded homes.

But hotel stays were disrupted during lockdowns, he said, and condom use in the sex industry, a major market, has dropped off in the last two years.

Further, western government agencies promoting family planning have ended condom handouts. “A large portion (of condoms) is distributed by governments around the world, which have reduced (distribution) significantly during COVID-19,” he said.

“For instance, in the United Kingdom, the NHS shut down most nonessential clinics because of COVID and sexual wellness clinics which hand out condoms were also closed.”

But it is now moving into the booming medical glove-making business and plans to kickoff production in Thailand by mid year, Goh said.

Goh said Karex would begin with two production lines at a new latex glove factory and produce 500 million pieces a year, eventually expanding to 10 lines and 2.5 billion pieces annually. Goh said the materials and technology for making condoms and gloves is virtually identical but “the entry barrier to gloves is much lower.”

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