Condom, a universally recommended contraceptive sheath for safe sex, is the most illegibly scribbled item on an average Indian couple's shopping list. Even among the most liberated couples, it is normally left to the man to pick up the pack from the chemist or the grocery store.
Although condom use has increased in India, the attitude of men to contraception is no different than what it was earlier, if one goes by the 2005-06 National Family Health Survey-3. The Survey reported that 22 per cent of Indian men think that contraception is the woman's responsibility and that a man needn't have to worry about it. Such attitudes are one of the factors behind the unmet need for family planning in India.
Brought up by a generation denied enlightened sex education, young adults feel shy and awkward when it comes to buying condoms or contraceptive pills. To answer this need, a Delhi based couple, Vishwalok and Ritu Nath, has started a website that promises doorstep delivery of condoms, contraceptive pills, pregnancy kits and sanitary napkins. The products are delivered beyond Delhi and the National Capital Region for an additional Rs 30 (US$1=Rs 44.6).
' deals with the tools of contraception and sells everything people want to buy but feel too awkward to walk into a store and purchase over the counter. Anybody can place an order through an e-mail or by making a phone call. Another way is to select the product online, mention the mobile number and the price of the product. Once this is done, the user receives an IVR (Interactive Voice Response System) call from the mobile payment gateway of the company and all the customer has to do is to punch in his or her credit card details. Data security of the user is fully ensured, as it involves a direct transaction between the bank and the user. The product is delivered in a sealed envelope by a courier boy provided it is worth Rs 150 or more.
To gauge the response of prospective customers during the pre-launch stage, Vishwalok followed the boy entrusted with the task of distributing handbills publicising the site. He was happy to notice how a middle-aged man slipped the handbill into his pocket but shared the information with his friends.
Vishwalok is concerned about the manner in which users buy condoms and contraceptive pills. He can't resist a reference to the social message about condom buying behaviour in the film 'Cheeni Kum
'. In the film, Amitabh Bachchan projects the awkwardness of the average Indian male when he comes face to face with a chemist and has to mention the unutterable word, 'condom'. Says Vishwalok, "This is actually the case. Most persons check the price and expiry date on a pack of tablets, medicated cream, soap, lotion or any consumer goods. But consumers behave in a different manner when they are buying condoms. Try and observe a person buying a condom. He is in such a rush and so embarrassed about his purchase that he will skip the usual exercise of checking the price or the expiry date. Most persons imagine that a condom lasts forever!"
Vishwalok and Ritu Nath claim that all the products on sale on their site are related to love and romance. Presently, the website is selling condoms, contraceptive pills, pregnancy test kits and herbal power capsules. In days to come, the entrepreneur couple plans to add other products such as flowers, chocolates, musical cards, CDs of romantic music and films, jewellery and lingerie. "Once this picks up, we would like to facilitate romantic experiences such as candle light dinners, visits to exotic locations, spa treatment, the hiring of luxury cars as limousines, and even the hiring of hot air balloons and choppers for rides to Agra!" reveals Ritu.
Besides buying products and seeking services online, viewers have the option of consulting experts to address questions and clear doubts related to sexuality and sexually transmitted diseases. The answers to the question will be mailed within 24 to 48 hours to the personal ID. At the same time, the questions and answers will be posted online under the section 'Ask the doctor', but the identity of the person will be protected.
Vishwalok explains, "We have empanelled three doctors comprising a physician, a gynaecologist and a venereologist, who is also a skin specialist. They will respond to questions free of cost but in case a person requires clinical examination and treatment, the services would involve a fee."
Within a few weeks of the launch of the website, the response has been encouraging. Anju, a media professional, says that she would not mind placing an order from such a website. "It is just a click away. This is not about anonymity. It is a matter of convenience because my job involves a lot of net surfing," she says.
At present, the couple is managing the business with their own limited resources but are on the look out for angel investors who are willing to pump in money at the start of the venture.
Experts have hailed this initiative as it serves to fill, to some extent, the unmet need for contraception. Observes Dr Rajeev Sood, Consultant Andrologist at Delhi's Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital, "This is a commercial venture. It would help persons who are hesitant about buying condoms from chemist shops. People are so embarrassed about operating condom vending machines in government hospitals and family planning centres that they don't avail of the free condoms. Condoms are better than morning-after pills, which have side effects. The means is not important. The end is important. A working couple with a hectic schedule may have long hours at work. At the end of the day, they are so exhausted that they may find that condoms and other aids are missing. In such cases, this online service may be a quick solution for busy couples who have no time for shopping but could access the net to get a quick delivery of condoms and contraceptives right at their doorstep."
The service will also, no doubt, prove a great blessing for persons with inhibitions, people who are sometimes even embarrassed to be caught listening to a radio jingle on condoms in a public space.