South: Contraception – Why isn’t it free?

By Cian Prendiville, Limerick Socialist Youth

In January’s Finance Bill VAT on condoms was lowered from 21% to 13.5%. Any reduction should be welcomed, the crucial question is why, given the problems with sexually transmitted infections (STIs), is there VAT on condoms, or indeed why are they not free?

The VAT cut got some mixed reactions. As could be expected the Catholic Church was up in arms against it. The Union of Students in Ireland simply welcomed the reduction and called for the VAT to be reduced to 5%, unfortunately accepting the logic that there must be VAT and a price tag on safer sex.

This is at a time when according to one survey, 40% of students didn’t use a condom the last time they had sex. This is particularly worrying given the growing problems of STIs such as Chlamydia, gonorrhea  and HIV. Between 1998 and 2003 the reported number of STIs increased by almost 400%.

Yet despite this condoms are more expensive in Ireland than most other parts of the EU, with companies such as Durex and Mates making billions. It is the height of hypocrisy that the government can claim to be trying to tackle the spread of STIs and yet allow this profiteering to take place.

As well as this there is a shocking lack of decent, non-judgmental sex education for young people. In report after report there are stories of teenagers not using condoms correctly or following myths such as “you can’t get pregnant if its her first time”. In order to tackle STIs and unplanned pregnancies, sex education, free contraception, STI tests and treatment must be provided without stigma or judgment to all.

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