Argentina’s Health Ministry has raised attention after it authorised the purchase of 10,000 six-inch wooden phalluses and other items for sex education purposes, at an estimated cost of 13 million pesos (US$135,000 at the official exchange rate).
Through a resolution published in the Official Gazette, the portfolio, led by Minister Carla Vizzotti, approved the purchase of 10,000 170-millimetre-tall polished wooden phalluses, as well as the same number of polystyrene condom dispensers and turquoise briefcases. The request was approved by Health Access Secretary Sandra Marcela Tirado on June 24, reported La Nación.
The items will be used in public health centres across the country to promote an initiative aimed at preventing the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. The request for the purchase came directly from a department dedicated to HIV/AIDS, hepatitis and tuberculosis, according to reports.
"The requested supplies will ensure a wide availability of promotional materials, whose purpose is to raise awareness and prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV and other STIs within the framework of Law No. 23,798," reads the notice.
According to the original public tender for the purchase, authorities said that the items would be used at primary healthcare centres across the country, for use by the general population and health personnel.
The news unsurprisingly stood out, with the phallic proclamation generating quite a stir on social networks. Some in particular questioned the cost of the tender at a time where the Covid-19 pandemic is still raging.
“There are no vaccines but there are… wooden penises! ” quipped Laura Alonso, former head of the Anti-Corruption Office during the Mauricio Macri administration, in a post on Twitter.
Others came out to defend the spending, with many underlining the importance of "comprehensive sexual education" for young Argentines.
Leandro Cahn, the Executive Director of the Fundación Huésped HIV/AIDS NGO, responded by saying that "the correct use of condoms is essential to prevent both sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, and unintended pregnancies. A tool [that can be used] to explain this is wooden penises. Don't break (wooden) balls.”
Responding to the news, the Health Ministry told La Nación in a statement that preliminary studies had shown a "deterioration in indicators related to sexually transmitted diseases during the pandemic," citing as an example a decrease in the use of condoms.
"The educational kits for promotion and prevention contain condoms, a dispenser for accessibility of condoms and briefcases where the elements for training are transported, including wooden penises, lubricating gel and communication materials," it said. "The materials are intended for teams working in the field, whether in health, education or community institutions."
“More than 98 percent of [sexually transmitted] infections are caused by unprotected sex," said the Health Ministry.