New data from Butler’s spring 2012 American College Health Association survey shows surprising information: Less than 50 percent of Butler students used contraception the last time they had sex.
The association surveyed 436 Butler students, all between 18 and 24 years of age, male and female, homosexual and heterosexual.
The actual wording of the question asked if students used any kind of contraception, including birth control and condoms, during the last time they participated in vaginal intercourse.
Only 48 percent of students answered “yes,” that they used a method of contraception. Of that 48 percent, 70 percent said they used a male condom.
In the survey, students could answer the question about contraception by saying that they
had never had vaginal intercourse. Therefore, students who had not had sex did not account for the percent of students who did not use condoms.
Sarah Barnes Diaz, health education and outreach programs coordinator, said Student Health Services and the university have been trying to get this information out to students and find out why condom usage is so low on Butler’s campus.
“I have a hard time believing that access is an issue,” Diaz said. “Butler sells condoms at the convenience store in the Apartment Village, in vending machines in C-Club and we give them out in the (Health and Recreation Complex).”
Diaz has a large bucket of banana-flavored condoms in her office. At Student Health Services, every room—including the waiting room—has a variety of vanilla, chocolate and plain condoms and lubricants.
Dr. Maria Fletcher, physician at Student Health Services, said the new flavored condoms are somewhat of an encouragement.
“It’s a different way of viewing condom use,” Fletcher said. “It makes it seem less awkward and more fun, different and exciting. And people are definitely picking them up.”
Fletcher said over the last few years Student Health Services has made major changes to the way it approaches sexual health and contraception.
“We don’t want to look like we’re endorsing sex,” Fletcher said, “so we aren’t putting condoms in every bathroom or just throwing them out to people. What we are doing is keeping a steady balance between keeping condoms and contraception very available to students with a chance to breach a conversation at the same time.”
Fletcher said in every instance that students obtain free condoms, they will receive some kind of sexual health education or consultation.
“If you approach an issue casually, it will be dealt with casually,” Fletcher said. “We are continuing to make condom use and contraceptive use, STD and STI testing, all of that, an intentional decision for students, not a casual one.”
A common student excuse for not using condoms is that sexually transmitted diseases and infections are not very prevalent at Butler.
One female Butler student found out she contracted a sexually transmitted infection on Butler’s campus. After having sex only once, she contracted genital herpes.
“The threat to contract an STD or STI is very real, even at Butler,” she said. “There are so many different kinds that spread in different ways, and some you don’t even know that you have them until a breakout, like with genital herpes. They’re annoying, uncomfortable and not always treatable. Not only are they physically painful, but they can cause you to feel terrible mentally as well.”
She described the pain and discomfort that resulted from the infection and said an STD or STI is something that she “wouldn’t ever wish upon her worst enemy.”
She said she wanted students, especially females, to know that condoms are just as important to use as birth control.
“It’s not just the risk of getting pregnant that is out there,” she said. “It’s all the infections and diseases that go along with it.”
“Pregnancy can cause you to have to drop out of school, change serious plans and other things. But STDs and STIs can cause physical and mental damage to you and everyone else around you.”
Fletcher said people diagnosed with an STD or STI, especially women, typically feel betrayed and emotionally distraught.
Diaz said the likelihood for sexually transmitted infection is as likely on Butler’s campus as anywhere else.
“We know that today’s college kids live in a hookup culture, and this data supports that,” Diaz said. “But if students are having sex, we want them to know what precautions they can take to protect themselves from exposure to infections and pregnancy and how to go about taking said precautions.”
Fletcher said she has seen a number of cases of sexually transmitted diseases and infections on campus. Gonorrhea, chlamydia, HPV and herpes have all been or still are present on Butler’s campus. Others may have been present but not found or treated on campus.
“Girls will tell me, ‘But I haven’t been with anyone else, and neither has he,’” Fletcher said. “The naiveté is sad, and sometimes, people change a lot as a result of finding out they have an STD. In some cases, it isn’t, but in most, STDs are totally preventable, and that’s the most heartbreaking and angering part.”
The HRC holds “Get Yourself Tested Tuesdays,” where students can receive free, confidential STD testing.
Diaz said one goal of Butler’s health department is to reduce the negative stigma of testing on campus.
“The misconception is that testing is painful, expensive and embarrassing, and that’s certainly not the case,” Diaz said. “It’s not only for dirty people.”
Student groups like Greek Educators, Advocates and Resources and Peers Advocating Wellness for Students hold information sessions and events for students to discuss topics concerning student health and wellness on campus.
PAWS will be pairing with the Butler residence life department for the “That’s What She Said” program on Monday, Feb. 18, at 7:30 p.m. in JH141. Fletcher will be in attendance to answer questions students have submitted about sex and sexual health. Also, students can win “sex swag,” Diaz said.
Diaz said women should be prepared to protect themselves as well.
“It’s typically assumed that men will bring the condoms,” Diaz said, “but it doesn’t hurt for women to have some on hand. Contraceptives are not just for protecting against pregnancy. Women should be sure to actively protect themselves from infections as well.”
Diaz said she believes the discomfort of discussions about protection and contraception between new partners may contribute to low usage figures.
“We know that it’s a difficult conversation to have, especially the first time,” Diaz said. “It’s up to each pair to know when and how to have that conversation. Just go easy on it. It may be a brief moment of awkwardness and anxiety, but it is a much smarter decision in the long run.”