By Annie Shapiro
Advocates for Youth
Freshmen year of college, I went to new student activities and took condoms from every group on campus that handed them out for free. I took condoms from fraternities, the HIV and reproductive health student groups, and also from the campus student health clinic. I remember sitting in my room and spreading my collection out on the floor around me. I had over forty condoms!
I knew that as a single freshman girl, I probably would not need all forty of those condoms in the near future, so I decided to share with my roommates.
As news spread about my stash of condoms, I quickly fell into a role I had previously not seen myself filling. I not only supplied condoms to my friends and roommates but also became a safe place for my friends to discuss questions they had about sex, reproductive health, and other similar matters. This is not to say that I knew the answer or always knew how to counsel them; however, my friends trusted me enough to bring their issues to me.
One topic that repeatedly arose was whether condom size actually mattered. Although condom size is extremely important to practicing safe sex, none of us were sure exactly how size impacted efficacy. We researched and found that in a perfect world with perfect use, condoms are about 99% effective; however, with normal use, condoms are about 82% effective. Condom efficacy can decrease for a variety of reasons, such as over-exposure to heat, using oil-based instead of water-based lubricants, or using the wrong size.
Another topic my friends and I have consistently discussed since freshman year was whether condoms always should be used. A lot of people I knew were in serious monogamous relationships, and we always got into pretty intense debates about the necessity of condom use in these circumstances. Some of my friends argued, and still argue to this day, that condoms are unnecessary when in a monogamous relationship if other forms of contraception are used.
I have always advocated for using both condoms and some form of hormonal birth control because birth control does not protect against Sexually Transmitted Infections or HIV/AIDS while condoms do. I also understand though, that each couple needs to make the decision that is best for them, which may not include using multiple methods of contraception.
My role as a sexual and reproductive health activist is no longer that of a condom distributor. But, I am still the person many of my friends come to for advice and support about sexual health issues. I have bought Plan B and other forms of Emergency Contraception, purchased pregnancy tests, and accompanied friends to visit the gynecologist.
What I have found these past four years is that being an activist for sexual and reproductive health can take many different forms. It can be volunteering as an escort at a clinic or simply discussing with your friends safe sex practices. The most important thing to remember is to be open-minded and non-judgmental. People will want to discuss their reproductive choices, all you have to do is open your ears and listen.
Click here to read the story of a teen who was inspired to become a sexual health advocate at a school dance.
Image used under a Creative Commons license via robertelyov.