The Covid pandemic hasn’t been kind to condom makers. Hotels and bars have been closed, app-based hook-ups have dried up and lengthy lockdowns have proved to be passion-killers for many couples.
The world’s largest condom producer, Malaysia-based Karex, says demand for its products dropped as much as 40% over the last two years. And something similar has happened to the Chinese condom makers, which like Karex, have switched some of their production to surgical gloves to make up for the shortfall in usage.
According to the Southern Weekend, more than 1,000 condom-related companies in China have gone out of business in the last two and a half years. “In the past, all our production lines were in use, but now we only operate three of the 10 machines,” the newspaper quoted a manager at a Guilin-based manufacturer as complaining.
Of course, condom sales are running into non-pandemic-related headwinds in China as well, including an aging population and an increasing number of young people who say they prefer to remain single. Some also suggest that China is becoming a “low desire” society – a label that is more often used to describe the Japanese.
Prior to the pandemic Chinese companies were churning out about 10 billion condoms a year – many of which were bought by the government for distribution to the public or exported to markets in Africa.
China boasts many of its own condom brands, the most popular of which is Jissbon – which has a 10% market share. However, many customers prefer foreign rivals like Durex, owned by Anglo-Dutch firm Reckitt Benckiser, or Okamoto from Japan.
There are plenty of predictions that condom usage will bounce back once Covid restrictions are lifted but others think the safer money in the short term is in keeping the factories focused on medical gloves. “Growth in our condom sales is slow, while sales of medical gloves have basically doubled year on year,” the general manager of another medical goods maker in Guilin told Southern Weekend.
The boss of the Elephant condom brand told the same newspaper that seven of the 30 factories he works with have stopped condom production and switched to gloves. He also predicts that demand for contraception is unlikely to recover until Covid restrictions come to an end – particularly for hotels – as “half of the condom usage scenarios in China happen outside the home”.
The assumption here seems to be that lockdowns are eliminating extra-marital sex, where condom usage is more prevalent. Covid has probably been the biggest setback (in decades) for China’s mistress culture, it seems.
In Guilin, where many of the condom producers are based, the downturn has had a palpable impact on the local economy, despite the efforts to shift some of the focus to other types of rubber goods. The situation is a major reversal from 2013 when local manufacturers celebrated World Population Day by trying to pull a custom-made condom over an 80-metre high building. Yet while the industry has lost much of its vim, condom bosses will be hoping that human nature (adulterous or otherwise) returns to trend once lockdowns are no longer imposed and China’s ‘zero-Covid’ policy (eventually) ends.
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