Lovers in the town with no condoms denied sex shop's emergency supply

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The Independent Online

The tiny Australian town of Merriwa is situated in an area of rural New South Wales that has one of the state's highest teenage pregnancy rates. That may be connected with the fact that Merriwa's lone pharmacist, a staunch Roman Catholic, refuses to stock condoms.

The tiny Australian town of Merriwa is situated in an area of rural New South Wales that has one of the state's highest teenage pregnancy rates. That may be connected with the fact that Merriwa's lone pharmacist, a staunch Roman Catholic, refuses to stock condoms.

When a US sex store heard about Merriwa's plight, it dispatched 6,000 free condoms to be distributed among the town's residents.

But the parcel never reached Merriwa's young people. The Mayor, Barry Rose, insisted it be returned. "We didn't like the thought of a sleazy American sex shop operator getting involved in local affairs," he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Playtime Boutique, based in New Jersey, embarked on the errand of mercy after reading a newspaper cutting about the contraceptive drought in the town. The nearest pharmacy that sells condoms is an hour's drive away.

Playtime's merchandise manager, Michael Drake, said a customer brought in the clip: "When we saw that, we said 'hey, we need to send them some condoms'," he said. He added: "Merriwa is clearly in trouble. Their remote location, combined with their unsupportive pharmacist, is a recipe for a reproductive disaster and sexual crisis."

The Upper Hunter Valley region, where Merriwa (population 1,100) is located, has a 6 per cent teenage pregnancy rate, four times the rate in Sydney. Mark Smith, proprietor of Merriwa Pharmacy, has said that he does not stock condoms "for ethical personal reasons". He does not sell diaphragms or the morning-after pill either, although he does offer the oral contraceptive. Mr Smith, married with five children, yesterday declined to discuss his stance further.

Mayor Rose was first quoted as saying he was prepared to dole out the donated condoms to residents. But yesterday he had gone to ground, letting it be known that he was fed up with the whole business. His secretary said the condoms were sent back because they weren't needed. "They're stocked in about two or three places, including a local store and the RSL (Returned and Services League) Club."

However, it seems there are genuine concerns in the region about the social trend. Merriwa has requested emergency government funding to improve healthcare and sex education.

Playtimehas an eye for self-promotion. In 2003 it reportedly sent sex aids to women in Iraq in a move it dubbed "Operation Vibrator".

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