By Shawna Leader/The AS Review
Free condoms: you see them on tables in Red Square, in jars at the Student Health Center and in packets at the Wellness Outreach Center. And whether you take them or not, you may wonder what kinds are available, where they come from and if it is a resource that has been affected by budget cuts.
Free condoms are available at several campus locations, including the Student Health Center, the Wellness and Outreach Center (located in Viking Union 432) and the AS Resource and Outreach Programs’ (ROP) Sexual Awareness Center (located in VU 518).
Catharine Vader, coordinator of the Wellness Outreach Center (WOC), chooses and orders condoms for the WOC. She tries to order a variety of shapes and sizes because people have different preferences. Which types and brands of condoms she chooses depends on quality and price and student input also has an effect on what she orders, Vader said.
“One time we ordered some condoms called Mr. Happy Hat. They were a great price … [but] I got complaints from students [that they were breaking], so I quit ordering them,” Vader said. According to Vader, condoms are tested by manufacturers by filling them with water; if one condom breaks, the entire batch is thrown out.
Vader orders condoms that are lubricated but do not contain nonoxynol-9, otherwise known as spermicide. This is because some people are allergic to nonoxynol-9, she said.
“If people want to add a spermicide to the condoms, they can,” Vader said. “But this way, if somebody is allergic to that, they don’t have to worry.”
Nonlatex condoms are available in the Wellness Outreach Center and the Health Center, by request. People can also request nonlatex condoms in one-on-one sessions with a peer sexual health adviser (these sessions are required for students who are beginning birth control or getting tested for STIs), Vader said. Female condoms and Kiss of Mint condoms (which are mint-flavored and used for oral sex) are also available upon request.
The free condoms are intended to promote thoughtful sexual decisions and minimization of risk, Elva Giddings, director of Prevention and Wellness Services, said. They are always available during the peer sexual health sessions. Campus-wide programs such as “cookies and condoms,” which teaches students about condoms, dental dams and other latex options, are held in the dorms, Giddings said. Sessions will be held on Oct. 14, Nov. 4 and Nov. 18 (visit www.wwu.edu/chw/preventionandwellness/events for locations and times).
Free condoms are provided on campus because Prevention and Wellness Services does a survey every two years through the National College Health Association, Vader said. Schools across the country take the survey. Western’s results are comparable to that of other state universities, Vader said. The most recent survey, administered in 2008, showed that 70 percent of Western students are sexually active, she said.
Condom purchasing is funded by student fees. The Student Health Center and Prevention and Wellness Services receive funding for condoms from the Student Health Fee, said Giddings. Funds from the fee are earmarked for sexual health programs, which includes condoms, she said. In addition, there are grant programs that promote sexual health at the college level, but these are unreliable sources because they do not always have condoms available, Giddings said.
The AS ROP Sexual Awareness Center’s (SAC) condoms are funded by the Services and Activities Fee, which all students pay as part of their tuition, SAC Coordinator Jennifer Veliz said. The funds are allocated by the board of directors and advisers, and the SAC receives money based on the SAC’s recommendations and evaluation of the resource’s accessibility to students, Veliz said. According to ROP Director Casey D. Hall, the SAC has approximately $2500 of its $6721 budget to spend on condoms and other barrier methods, with negligible amounts of that money going toward office supplies.
According to Giddings, budget cuts have already affected the availability of free condoms on campus. Comparing prices and looking for deals on shipping are added criteria in addition to ensuring the condoms are of good quality, she said.
“These days we’re buying less and being as judicious as possible about how many we provide where,” Giddings said. “We want to encourage students who can afford them to buy their own condoms, but we also know that sometimes having them available is the really important thing.”
While budget cuts affect the free condoms, it’s a very cost-effective prevention method, Vader said.
“You think about the number of people that could be passing STIs or the number of people that could get pregnant and the price of that is huge,” she said.
If budget cuts affect anything in the SAC, it will be programming before sex supplies, Veliz said.
“Because safe sex materials are the most essential part of the SAC, that will be least effected by budget cuts. … The whole purpose of having this office is to promote safe sex on campus,” she said.
Vader and Giddings said that no one has ever protested the free condoms. Veliz said that Assistant Director of Student Activities Lisa Rosenberg informed her that no one has objected. However, Veliz said that at some events, such as Summerstart, parents have been upset.
“If there was a problem with the condoms, and there were considerable protests, the board [of directors] would meet and decide if the condoms were in the best interest of the student population and make a decision,” Veliz said.
Condoms remain a popular resource: Vader said the WOC puts together a large number of condom packs and Veliz said that students frequently visit the SAC to pick them up.
According to Vader, students say that the main reason they do not use condoms is because they don’t have one. Making them available for free on campus increases condom use, she said. While condoms don’t completely guarantee against pregnancy or STIs (some can be spread skin-to-skin, Vader said), they decrease the chance.
“We recommend that if a student is sexually active, having vaginal, anal or oral sex, that they do use condoms,” Vader said. “And even if someone is on birth control, we recommend they use condoms, because two methods are better than one.”