When I was in Brazil in 2007, there were billboards and posters throughout Rio de Janeiro advocating safe sex and the use of condoms in the weeks leading up to Carnaval. It was part of the government’s initiative to combat the spread of AIDS and other venereal diseases, playing off the heightened sexuality and festive spirit of Carnaval to promote safe sex. Nor did the government limit itself to posters; during Carnaval that year, it handed out millions of condoms to Brazilians throughout the country, much to the consternation of the Catholic church. Since then the tradition of condom distribution during the season has continued (as has the Catholic Church’s outrage).
Continuing this trend, this year the Brazilian government is again giving out condoms for free during Carnaval, which begins tomorrow (with several posts on the annual celebration coming here in the next few days). Interestingly, though, the number has been scaled back significantly; where the government provided 35 million condoms throughout Brazil in 2007, this year it is only distributing 3 million condoms to those who attend the massive parades of the samba schools in Rio’s Sambódromo. Consequently, the distribution is inevitably going to favor the elites and foreign tourists, as the cheapest tickets to attend the parades in the Sambódromo are over US$100, making the event available in person only to those who have the money. While 90,000 people do fit in the Sambódromo, Brazil does have over 190 million people, so while a decent number (including tourists) watch the event live on site, the rest of the country watches on television at home or in bars. Thus, the program to distribute condoms this year will reach a smaller and more limited group of people than in years past.
Still, the distribution program is an excellent idea; even if the condoms only went to tourists, that would not be terrible, given that sexual tourism in Rio de Janeiro is not uncommon (to put it mildly). That said, even at “only” 3 million condoms, the program is a great idea in raising public awareness of sexual health and in combating the spread of AIDS in Brazil.