Confusion reigned last night at the National University of Singapore – over the mysterious case of the disappearing condom.

Students were left puzzled after a pharmacy began selling the contraceptives on campus, only to suddenly remove them from its shelves – apparently at the university’s request. But the plot thickened after NUS told The Straits Times that it had no problem with condoms being sold on its premises and blamed the whole thing on a “misunderstanding”.

Last night, the episode sparked a debate about whether it was ethical to allow contraceptives to be sold on campus.

Riddle of the vanishing condoms
Shaving razors, toothpaste, facial wash and other goods are seen at the “Family Planning” section of the Guardian Pharmacy at UTown. The pharmacy had started selling condoms but the contraceptives were suddenly removed, ostensibly at the university’s request, igniting a debate among students. — ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

Meanwhile, NUS came under the spotlight for being the only university in Singapore that appears to restrict their sale.

The kerfuffle broke out on Monday when a comment appeared on the NUS Confessions Facebook page for students announcing that the contraceptives were available at the campus’ newly opened Guardian Pharmacy.

That night, another anonymous post appeared alerting users that they had disappeared from the shelves.

The Dairy Farm Group, which operates the pharmacy, told The Straits Times it removed them at the request of the university. It said it understood from discussions with NUS that family planning products were prohibited on campus and had been negotiating with the school about whether they could be reinstated.

In an e-mail to The Straits Times at 6pm yesterday, a spokesman said the pharmacy had “just been informed” that it was allowed to return the items to the shelves.
She added that Dairy Farm’s 7-Eleven store on campus had never sold condoms – also at the request of the university’s management. Meanwhile, FairPrice, which runs both the Cheers convenience store and the FairPrice Xpress minimart at NUS, confirmed that it had never stocked condoms due to school policy.

However this was flatly contradicted by the university, which said it “does not restrict the sale of condoms on campus”, and that the decision to do so lay with the vendors themselves.

Its spokesman added that the contraceptives had been removed due to a “misunderstanding” that had since been resolved. She said students and staff were “expected to be responsible for decisions regarding all aspects of their personal health and well-being”.

The issue has ignited a Facebook debate among students at the university, with more than 100 users sharing a post by undergraduate Zoey Low.
Ms Annabelle Wong felt the school should not regulate the sale of condoms on campus.

“What students do in their private time is their own business,” said the 22-year-old, who is in her fourth year of a political science course. “It is a private matter that should not fall within the school’s jurisdiction.”

But economics major Tan Jia Yi, 20, felt that it was acceptable to restrict condom sales. The first-year student said: “Implicit in the message is that the school does not encourage such behaviour in school.”

Mr Edward Ong, vice-president of the Singapore Planned Parenthood Association, said each institution has reasons for its stance on the issue, which depend on its policy objectives and culture.

Selling condoms may spark concern from parents if it is misconstrued as condoning sex on campus, he added. On the other hand, university students are already young adults and allowing them to access contraception easily could help to avoid unwanted pregnancies. “Therefore, it’s best left to each university to consider the pros and cons and the situations they each face or experience on their campus,” he said.

Action for Aids president Roy Chan told The Straits Times: “If the ruling of no condoms for sale on campus is true, then we find this surprising and ill-informed, especially considering that NUS is generally thought of as a progressive university.” He added that it would be interesting to understand the rationale behind this rule – which would probably mean sexually active students were either buying their condoms off campus or having unsafe sex.

This article was first run in The Straits Times newspaper on February 7, 2013. For similar stories, go to You will not be able to access the Premium section of The Straits Times website unless you are already a subscriber.

UPDATE (13/2/13):
Condoms have reappeared on the shelves of a pharmacy at the National University of Singapore (NUS). 

A spokesman for The Dairy Farm Group, which runs the pharmacy, told The Straits Times that it removed them at NUS’ request.

It said it then negotiated with the university about whether it could have the items restocked.

NTUC FairPrice, which runs the Cheers and FairPrice Xpress outlets on campus, said they had never stocked condoms due to school policy but would start doing so soon.