CONDOMS_BC

BEN CLASSON/Herald photo

It?s a Friday night date. Movie, check. Snacks, check. Condoms, check?

Throughout March, Four Star Video Heaven is a one-stop shop for all three items. The local Madison video rental store, located at 314 N. Henry St., is celebrating the coming of a much-anticipated spring thaw with its every-other-year free condom promotion.

?Reproductive rights lie in education,? said Shawn Steen, general manager at Four Star Video since December 2004. ?We believe if people are going to be having sex, we want to give them the tools to make the right decisions.?

Steen said the previous owner started the giveaway in 1990 to bring awareness to the AIDS epidemic. Now the free condoms and sexual health information have extended their purpose to include education on reproductive rights as well as commemorate Women?s History Month.

Steen said Four Star has already purchased 4,000 condoms and anticipates going through at least 6,000. Four Star collaborates with Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin and the AIDS network who help donate and put together the condom and informational brochure giveaways.

Planned Parenthood public affairs organizer Shelle Michalak said she thinks the event will be particularly successful because it is so close to the University of Wisconsin campus. It is consistent with the mission of Planned Parenthood to provide sexual health information, reproductive health care and family planning.

The free packets, available in a glass jar wishing customers a ?safe summer? on the front counter, include a ?how to use a condom? flyer in English and Spanish, condoms and lubrication.

Adia Davis, a two-year Four Star employee, said sometimes parents with small children will get offended, but generally people are pretty receptive.

?People with kids will shield their answers about what those [condoms] are,? Davis said.

The packets anger others. Pro-Life Wisconsin director Peggy Hamill, who said her organization promotes purity and chastity and emphasizes abstinence until marriage, is quite offended.

?Pro-Life Wisconsin feels this type of publicity stunt is an affront to the dignity of women,? Hamill said. ?It is disgraceful and disgusting and cannot be looked at in any positive way.?

Some say, however, that they cannot understand how a promotion like this could be controversial.

According to Mariamne Whatley, associate dean of the UW School of Education and professor of women?s studies and curriculum and instruction, there is no evidence that availability of condoms promotes sexual activity.

?People who are going to have intercourse might be more likely to use a condom,? Whatley said. ?It?s not that they are that expensive, but if people see they are for free or have them around, that might just increase the likelihood that they?ll be used.?

Four Star workers said they do not generally experience problems with customers during the promotion except for the occasional hoarding of condoms.

Amber Cohen, inventory manager at Four Star, said she remembers someone during the event two years ago coming into the store without making a purchase and filling his plastic bag with handfuls of free condoms. Four Star fittingly discourages people from ?bogarting? the condoms.

Cohen also received an obscene phone call two years ago from people asking lewd questions.

?The general idea of giving them to students I think is great,? Cohen said. ?It?s the people who want to make a joke of it that I?m less thrilled by.?

Davis emphasizes customers should not feel shy about taking the condoms.

?They are here for people, and people shouldn?t feel like they have to make a purchase,? Davis said.  ?It?s something that?s for their health and safety.?

She said generally 60 to 70 percent of the students take a free condom.

Some Four Star patrons are attracted to the openness of the video store, which has a large selection of erotica, anime and LGBT films, Steen said.

?We don?t want to demonize sexuality at all; we want to have a very sex-positive attitude,? Steen said. ?People who I think would feel really uncomfortable with having a jar of condoms ? I doubt those people would generally be in here anyway.?