We’ve all thought about it, some of us are having it and a lot of us are hoping to have it some time in the near future. The time has come to ask, however, how much is it all costing us? With condoms taxed as ‘luxury items’, emergency contraception pill costing around £26 in most pharmacies and improvements in sexual health services costing the government £300 million, it seems sex has simply become too expensive.
Sexual economics have come to the fore lately as in recent months support has been gathering for the campaign to have the VAT on contraceptives either lowered or removed entirely. Currently taxed as a ‘luxury item’ under EU tax law, the Treasury receives approximately 30p from every £1.99 pack of three condoms. Earlier this year ministers discussed the possibility of reducing the VAT on condoms from 17.5% to 5%. This would still however fall short of the insistence of some that the VAT be removed completely with condoms reclassified as an essential, making them more affordable and therefore accessible to anyone. There seems an inherent contradiction between the continued promotion of safe sex and the refusal of some to acknowledge condoms as a necessity for millions of people. Are condoms and the need for safe sex really any less vital than newspapers or public transport, both (s)exempt from taxation due to their classification as essentials? Earlier in the year 15,000 people signed a petition by the high-street chain Superdrug to have the VAT on condoms removed in acknowledgement of their essentiality. Here in Manchester, the university sexual health organisation Unisex worked alongside the store in their campaign, collecting over one thousand signatures from students feeling the strain of over-priced contraceptives.
Viewed by some as ‘promoting promiscuity’, the emergency pill is currently available for free from sexual health clinics, GUM clinics and most GP surgeries. However, for those who feel nervous about attending a clinic or asking their doctor for the morning after pill for fear of embarrassment, the easiest option may seem to be to buy it from a pharmacy where it costs around £26. Though this high price does reflect the fact that this method of emergency contraceptive should only be relied upon as a last resort, the reality is that accidents do happen, people do and will continue to have unsafe sex. The only measures the government can take to ensure that this does not lead to an increase in the number of unplanned pregnancies as well as sexually transmitted diseases is to ensure that people in such desperate situations are sufficiently well informed and easily able to obtain the necessary facilities. Cost should not be a prohibitive factor.
It seems to be a generally acknowledged truth that everyone has a right to good health. Despite this, according to the EU, condoms are a luxury item. Condoms, vital in the fight against sexually transmitted diseases and the prevention of unplanned pregnancies, play less of an essential role in society than caviar, which thankfully remains tax free. This is the argument put forward by Cliff Shelton, co-ordinator of Peer Manchester, an event that took place this weekend as part of a scheme to educate students in matters of sexual health. The aim is to encourage students to use this information to dispel the myths, misconceptions and misinformation surrounding sex in the student community. As Shelton highlights, over-pricing is not the sole cause for concern when it comes to contraception. After all, it is true that free condoms are distributed from many doctors’ surgeries and sexual health clinics. However, when, according to a recent survey by the Centre for Sexual Health Research at the University of Southampton, only 37% of sexually active young men aged between sixteen and eighteen use condoms whenever they had sex and around a third of the teenagers asked thought STIs could be transmitted via a toilet seat, clearly more needs to be done. The first step, aside from educating people about sexual health issues, must surely be ensuring that everyone in need of contraception can afford it.