College students are having sex with more partners but using condoms less. Although 80 to 90 percent of college students report being sexually active, only one-third use condoms consistently and almost one-fourth of sexually-active students never use condoms.
These figures stem from a nationwide study released last month by the Archives of Sexual Behavior that studied differences in sexual health practices between homosexual and heterosexual students.
Contrary to the survey, University Health Service interim Director Robert Winfield said students here are practicing safer sex than they were 10 years ago.
Beth Karmeisool, owner of the Safe Sex Store on South University Avenue, said condom sales have gone up 25 percent since last year.
“My findings, just by the increase of our orders, is that we are selling condoms like crazy. I am applauding the students on this campus for taking control of their sexual health,” she said. “Are we as a society protecting ourselves better? I think we are. I think we feel more comfortable purchasing condoms.”
It”s unclear why students nationally are using condoms less, but some health educators are blaming the success of medicine”s ability to treat STDs, specifically AIDS, for the decrease in usage.
“I do know that there has been some kind of decline in general, and I do think that is because people are living longer with AIDS,” said Frederic McDonald-Dennis, director of the Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Affairs at the University. “Of course, no one wants to contract AIDS, but the consequences don”t feel as dark because you know you can still take medications. That can be really difficult to deal with too.”
Some people are concerned that the number of AIDS patients could escalate again if people become too far removed from the consequences of the disease.
“I think that”s the danger,” Winfield said. “I don”t have any way to prove that”s what is going on, but that makes sense to me. As health educators, we have to somehow keep people vigilant and careful.”
The idea that students are not practicing safe sexual behavior has caused University officials to rethink their educational strategies.
A new theater troupe focusing on sexuality and sexual behavior was organized by the University last month. The troupe uses comedy as a method of education to inform students about everything from theft prevention to eating disorders.
“We really wanted to provide educational messages in an entertaining format. A theater format really reaches students,” said Yolanda Campbell, director of health promotion and community relations at the University.
The troupe follows the phase-out of a peer-education program regarding safe sex, which Campbell said was only partially effective.
“(Actors) were actually getting more out of the program than the individuals that they were presenting the programs to,” she said. “How can we best utilize students to help get the message out? Right now we”re in the process of looking for additional ways to utilize the students.”