October 24, 2008

Student group targets community health with new condom machines

[img id="76889" align="alignleft"] It looks like U of C students prefer their condoms lubricated.

Condom machines in bathrooms around campus, installed in time for fall quarter by the Student Global AIDS Campaign (SGAC), are selling far more lubricated than non-lubricated Durex condoms. And students seem to be happy about the selection, even when the new machines catch them off guard.

“I never really understood why they would put them in places like that,” third-year Rick Grenis said. “I don’t know anyone who needed a condom [and stopped] by Reynold’s Club to get one. I appreciate the selection of lubricated and un-lubricated, though.”

Although lubricated condoms are outselling non-lubricated ones in both the men’s and women’s restrooms, sales have been slow on all sides. Kevin Feeney, the SGAC member responsible for restocking the machines, has only had to do so once.

“I check them when I’m around, every couple of days,” he said of the new machines, located in Bartlett Dining Hall, Ida Noyes, and the Reynolds Club. So far each machine has sold about 15 lubricated condoms and few, if any, non-lubricated ones. Both types cost a quarter each.

But slow sales don’t necessarily affirm the U of C’s reputation for meager sexual activity. Few people even know about the new machines, which appeared unannounced in late summer. The machines—nondescript beige boxes with a glass window revealing four rows of blue wrappers—are simply labeled “Li’l-Medic II Center.”

Paul Johnson, a graduate student, noted why many students might not have noticed the machines.

“It needs paint; it’s a little bland,” he said. He also questioned the larger impact the machines will have on safe sex practices.

“Either you practice safe sex or you don’t,” he said. “Though it is convenient if you need a condom.”

That’s not the mentality SGAC had when they began their efforts last spring to bring the machines to campus. The group investigated condom programs at other universities and convinced the Student Care Center (SCC) to support the initiative. Working together, they purchased and installed the machines late in the summer.

SGAC emphasized safe sex when they publicized their initiative with a study break and music in the Reynold’s Club last week.

The University already had programs in place for condom distribution. Students can pick up free condoms and lubricants at the SCC. The housing system also distributes condoms from the SCC after a peer-health presentation in the house about safe-sex practices. But SGAC didn’t think that was enough and wanted to make condoms more accessible and convenient.

Feeney said the new machines help solve logistical issues.

“The machines give the students another option. The SCC is far away, and they’re closed at five. The machines are not free, but they’re a quarter of the price that they would get elsewhere,” he said.

According to Feeney, the group chose popular locations spread across campus to reach a large number of students.

“We wanted places that are easy to get to, open late, and Ida is close to the Midway. We chose men’s and women’s bathrooms so both genders could have access,” he said.

According to Feeney, SGAC may expand the project by placing two machines in the Social Service Administration building on East 60th Street to target more graduate students and by adding additional brand choices. Currently, the machines only sell Durex condoms, the type found at the SCC.

“It’s good to hear what brands people like,” Feeney said, adding that students can send suggestions to “The consensus was [Durex] was trustworthy and a good place to start. We did not want to use unbranded condoms.”

As for U of C students preferring their condoms with lube?

“It comes down to personal preference,” Feeney said.

Additional reporting by Mimi Yang