Young men or women worry about many things when they think about having sex but paradoxically, in this conservative Muslim country, they don’t have to worry about the access to condoms and birth control pills.
Both are available at pharmacies and supermarkets in Qatar without a doctor’s prescription or an ID card that lists the buyer’s age.
“Anybody can buy contraceptives,” said Kumar Saravana, who has been working as a pharmacist for Al Jazi Pharmacy in Al Merqab St. for approximately 11 years. “There is no need for prescription or setting an age limit to buy birth control pills or condoms.”
There are at least three pharmacies in Al Merqab St. that sell contraceptives without restrictions and condoms are even sold in supermarkets on the street like Family Food Center. This is not only common in Al Merqab St. pharmacies in Al Merqab St. but also in pharmacies and supermarkets in other areas in Qatar. This unrestricted access exists even though people in Qatar are not expected to be sexually active before marriage because of the religious and cultural beliefs of the country. In other supposedly liberal countries like the United States, there are restrictions. The minimum age to buy a condom is 18 and a doctor’s prescription is required to buy birth control pills.
“I’ve been able to buy condoms with no problems ever since I got here,” said Ray Feliciana, an 18-year-old boy from the Netherlands. “I thought it be awkward.”
“I never even knew teenagers were able to buy condoms here in Qatar,” said Ramy Al Abssi, a 17-year-old Palestinian American.
But the easy availability of contraceptives actually encourages family planning, say doctors and pharmacists. “These products are here for people who want keep a gap from one child to the other,” said Bassam Rasheed, a Muslim who has been working as a pharmacist in Ibn Hayan Pharmacy for approximately two years. “God said that you should keep at least a three-year gap between one child and the other.”
Jennifer Bradtke, the health and wellness advisor in Northwestern University in Qatar, believes that contraceptives are helpful for married couples who aren’t ready to be parents. “People get married at say 18 or 19 and they’re still in school,” she said. “It’s a good way of allowing them to continue the martial relationship without having children just at that time.”
Since the Ministry of Health has not set an age limit for purchasing condoms, the pharmacist set their own age limit. “We can sell condoms to children but personally, I don’t want to encourage them to buy it,” said Saravana. “If they look to young then I will not give it to them.”
Like Saravana, Rasheed also sets his own age limit for purchasing condoms but finds it difficult since people in Qatar get married at a young age. “Some girls get married at the age of 17 and boys at 15 so how can we control it,” said Rasheed.
“How can we control the purchases of such products?” said Rasheed. “What we shall do?” said Rasheed. “How do we solve this problem? It depends on the person.”
Buying birth control pills is easier, according to the pharmacists, because the pills are for monthly use and are purchased mostly by older people. “You don’t need to take a prescription from a doctor because it’s for regular use,” said Rasheed. “You can’t tell the patient every month, you must go to a doctor to bring a prescription. It’s very hard for the patient.”
But if someone is purchasing birth control pills for the first time, Rasheed advises them to get a doctor’s prescription.
There are at least seven types of birth control pills to choose from including Yasmin, Diane, Gynera, Cilest, Gracial, Marvelan and Cerazette. “The choice preference is Yasmin because side effects are less,” said Saravana adding that Yasmin is the most popular birth control pill in the pharmacies and some prefer Diane. “People like Yasmin the most because it doesn’t make you fat,” said Rasheed. “Filipinos like Diane, maybe because in their country this brand is available,” said Saravana.
And there are at least five types of condoms in pharmacies and supermarkets although Ibn Hayan Pharmacy has only one type, which is Durex. Other pharmacies on Al Merqab St. carry more varieties like Masculan, Sico, Coral and Moods. “Durex is the most popular,” said Saravana because it’s the best quality although it’s the most expensive. The prices of condoms range from QR 10 to QR 40 depending on the number of pieces in a packet.
Al Merqab pharmacies each sell 10 to 15 condoms and birth control pills on daily basis. Mostly women purchase birth control pills, which are female products, unless the woman sends someone else to buy them for her. Mostly men purchase condoms, which are designed for males. Most of those who purchase contraceptives are between the ages of 25 to 50 years old.
“Sometimes young boys try to come and buy condoms,” said Qutab Dim Chant, another pharmacist at Al Jazi Pharmacy. “They are just curious about these things.”
The prices of birth control pills are set by the Ministry of Health’s Drug Control Department, which range from QR 20 to QR 40 a box. None of the contraceptive products are made locally. The contraceptives are made in United States, Germany, France and Malaysia.
In this conservative country not many know how to use contraceptives, which are used during sex, a taboo topic. But just a few blocks away from the pharmacies in Al Merqab St., there is 30-year-old bookstore called Dar Al Thaqafa that stocks at least 10 books about sex in Islam and marriage.
“Those who are interested in these books buy them,” said Mohamed Al Mahdi, the owner of the bookstore. “They’re not shy, they even call and ask directly about these books.”
But books on these subjects are not sold frequently, maybe two or three books are sold a month. “Maybe there aren’t many people coming in to buy these books because they’re shy.”