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Condom Use, And Condom Confiscation

New York may become the first state to prohibit police from confiscating condoms. Currently, possession of a condom or multiple condoms can be used as evidence in prostitution cases, as well as to justify police questioning.

Health advocates are concerned that condom confiscation undermines public health goals (the state distributed more than 12.2 million male condoms in the year beginning July 1, 2011). A report by Human Rights Watch said the practice means that police are incorrectly profiling individuals as sex workers, citing examples of people being “being stopped, searched, or arrested while engaging in legal activity.”

How common is it for police in New York to confiscate condoms? When the Sex Workers Project conducted a survey in New York City in 2010, 36 of the 63 people it asked had condoms taken from them by police. More worryingly, 45 of those individuals said they had not carried condoms in the past “because of fear of police trouble.”

Of course, 63 people is a small sample size. Indeed, data on adult condom use more generally — even outside the underground economy of prostitution — is scant. We know that 93 percent of U.S. women age 15 to 44 who have sexual experience have used a condom, but we don’t know how that differs by state. There is, however, information on the contraception habits of high school students who are sexually active, and the data, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), allows us to make comparisons among 35 states.


Among the states the CDC had data for, a median of almost 60 percent of high schoolers said they had used a condom the last time they had sex. But there were big regional differences. In Hawaii, it was 44 percent; in Colorado, it was 71 percent.

In every state the CDC looked at, girls were less likely than boys to say that they had used a condom.

In New York, 63 percent of students reported using a condom the last time they had sex — 67 percent of boys and 58 percent of girls.

Mona Chalabi is data editor at the Guardian US, and a columnist at New York Magazine. She was previously a lead news writer for FiveThirtyEight.