To UI Student Health: We want better condoms


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If the University of Iowa Student Health campaigns are so dead-set on making a case for safe sex and providing students with the accessible means to practice it, why then does it pass out subpar products?

Condoms, condoms, condoms. Whether it's the stork passing them out or a lady in a lab coat, the importance of safe sex for a student body of sexually active young adults is undeniable.

The "Avoid the Stork campaign" has come to an end, and Student Health will focus its efforts on STD awareness in the future.

Yet, while the focus of sex education on campus seems to have taken a turn in a different direction, Student Health officials are still faced with the same task: protecting students from the negative consequences of sexual activity.

Whether the goal of campus health campaigns is to prevent unwanted pregnancies or quell the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, condoms won't become any less prevalent.

As freshmen living in the dorms, many students witness the widespread availability of condoms; a basket here, a handoff there. There's no shortage of free latex on campus. But studies suggest that it may not be mere availability that matters but also what, exactly, is available.

Health officials have passed out LifeStyle-brand condoms for years. Sure, they're free, but are they preferable?

A BMC Public Health study found that patrons are much more likely to make use of free condomswhen there are a variety of brands and styles available.

"The provision of assorted brand-name condoms, over a single brand name, can serve to increase condom acquisition," the study contends.

It's simple marketing — certain brands are flashier, more colorful, and sometimes even, well, more flavorful than their counterparts. Students will be more likely to choose — and actually use — higher-quality brands with more attractive packaging.

According to Mintel surveys, the purchase of contraceptives by men and women has been increasing steadily each year, and it is projected to continue to increase in years to come. There clearly isn't an issue with people catching on to safe-sex education. There seems to be a general awareness of the positive health effects of buying and using condoms. But if sales suggest that awareness and use is increasing, Student Heals should be focused on getting not only more condoms but better condoms into the hands of more students.

In 2010, the top-selling condom models were all manufactured by Trojan, which has a lead in general market share of male contraceptives and by a reasonable margin — a whopping 74.5 percent.

Clearly, there's a trend. Sexually active individuals prefer certain brands over others. Yet the tendency of student-preferences aren't necessarily merely a matter of taste or the result of successful marketing.

Mintel's data just don't suggest a predisposed preference to one brand or another; its studies spell it out. In an evaluation of young consumers, studies showed that when it comes to quality and reliability, the majority of Americans trust the Trojan brand over any and all other condom brands.

So if there's a existing preference when it comes to which condoms to purchase and which to pass up, it seems strange that any organization would act in opposition to such a trend. Yet, year after year, week after week, health service and residence-life coordinators toss out cheap condoms made by less popular brands.

It seems that if curbing unsafe sex is the goal, actively pursuing a strategy that harnesses market data and popularity would only further the success of the initiative.

The widespread availability and subsequent distribution of higher-quality, higher-variation name-brand condoms such as Trojan would only further the endeavors of safe-sex initiatives. Having the condoms that young adults prefer available — and free — would increase safe sex on campus.

For Student Health, cost should be negligible when compared with potential effectiveness, and safe-sex initiatives should be embracing the preferential tendencies of young consumers for the benefit of their own cause, not ignoring it.

The facts and figures stand for themselves.

Please, Student Health, pay a little more and get us the good stuff. We'll promise to practice safer sex at higher rates — we swear.

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