The Virgin condom : campaigning for access to contraceptives across the decades

Kelly, Laura (2023) The Virgin condom : campaigning for access to contraceptives across the decades. The Irish Times, Dublin. (

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On February 13th, 1988, a small group of young men and women in their early 20s set up a counter in the Virgin Megastore in Dublin where they illegally sold condoms. These activists were members of the Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA) Youth Group. Back then, condoms could only legally be sold in licensed venues such as chemists and to people over the age of 18. This action was therefore a direct challenge to the law and attracted media attention. The condom counter resulted in substantial criticism from conservative campaigners: John O’Reilly, secretary of the Responsible Society, condemned the “sales outlet for contraceptives in the Virgin Megastore where youngsters from eight upwards go to buy their record albums”, while Dick Hogan, chairperson of Family Solidarity, asked: “Will they insist on checking birth certificates or will they just sell them to anyone?” Today, condoms are easily accessible and unremarkable: we are accustomed to seeing them in vending machines in the bathrooms of pubs, on display in chemists, petrol stations and supermarkets, and handed out for free on student campuses across the country. It might be hard then, for many of us, to imagine a time when the humble condom was clouded in such controversy. Yet, for previous generations of Irish men and women, access to contraception was heavily restricted by both the law which banned contraception from 1935 to 1979 and by the teachings of the Catholic Church.