Condoms in the trolley

Does anyone remember having to go into a pharmacy and ask for condoms?

30 years ago today saw a massive change in how New Zealanders bought condoms – for the first time they became available on supermarket shelves. Until 1985, condoms were bought mainly from chemist shops. Boxes were either on display or customers had to ask for them, which sometimes led to embarrassment.

Supermarket, Devonport, Auckland, 1977, by John Daley. Gift of John Daley, 2012. © Te Papa (O.038942)

Supermarket, Devonport, Auckland, 1977, by John Daley. Gift of John Daley, 2012. © Te Papa (O.038942)

The dominant brand was British-made Durex, which was well-established in pharmacies. Two new brands entered the marketplace in the mid-1980s – Ansell Lifestyles and Ultimate. Their distributors seized the opportunity to sell in supermarkets and reach the masses.

Box of durex nu-form extra safe condoms.

Durex ‘nu-form’ extra safe condoms, about 1983. Gift of Dame Margaret Sparrow, 2011 (GH022072, Te Papa)

It was also necessary. In the 1980s people became more aware of the dangers of unprotected sex, particularly with the risks of HIV and Aids. Condoms were the only form of protection against infection, but were not very popular. So they had to be made more user-friendly and easier to buy to encourage people to use them.

There were many debates about whether condoms should be easily available in dairies and supermarkets. Some felt that it was a moral issue – that under 16-year-olds might buy them. Some felt that condoms were personal and private and should only be sold in pharmacies. However, the law didn’t restrict the selling of condoms as long as they weren’t sold to people under 16.

Box of Nuda Lifestyles Ultra-thin condoms featuring photograph of a young couple on the front. The woman is holding a bunch of flowers.

Ansell Lifestyles Nuda condoms, late 1980s. Gift of Dame Margaret Sparrow, 2011 (Te Papa, GH022550)

The first products to hit supermarket shelves were Ansell’s Lifestyles range. The packaging featured romantic imagery of couples in love – these products were aimed at women who were often in charge of the supermarket trolley.

Box of Conture Lifestyles form-fitting condoms with photograph of a young happy couple cuddling on the front.

Ansell Lifestyles Conture condoms, about 1988. Gift of Dame Margaret Sparrow, 2011 (Te Papa, GH022581)

Now condoms can be bought at supermarkets, pharmacies, garages, dairies, pubs, clubs, and from vending machines in public toilets. They’re everywhere!

Small packet of condoms, black with image of a dancing sperm in white.

Durex condom, 2004. Gift of Dame Margaret Sparrow, 2011 (Te Papa, GH022097)

See and hear more about condoms and contraception:


Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)