BALLARO: Rutgers needs revolutionary sexual health response

Column: Thoughts from the LX

“Does anyone know where I could get some condoms?”

“I know a guy.”

“Who is he?”

“Tony Condoms.”

I was returning from Rutgers Cinema on a Saturday night when I was handing out free condoms to strangers on the LX bus. I had already given out 1,000 that semester, and now I had 500 to go. How did I get here? 

What was I doing? Why was I the one handing out free condoms, when maybe it could be Rutgers’?

I know, for some people, it is a tough sell: free condoms. Today, I would like to make my case why we ought to demand adequate sexual health care from our University and nothing less.

Two years ago I joined the Condom Collective, formerly the Great American Condom Campaign. Every semester I apply, I receive 500 Trojan brand condoms for which I am responsible to distribute to as many students as possible. 

I have handed out more than 1,000 already, plus 348 this semester that went by in two weeks. 

I am now sitting on 142 left. At this rate, sometimes I think the kids are just eating the condoms. I have become somewhat of a figure in my dorm and have adopted the eponym “Tony Condoms.” 

Unfortunately, with approximately more than 60,000 students enrolled as undergraduates, 500 condoms do not really cut it. While students may be able to grab some free condoms from a resident assistant, health center or the occasional student organization, they can be harder to come by than you think. 

Yes, some vending machines in residence halls are stocked with condoms, but I am wary of those hot lights that could potentially degrade the condoms. I recommend what I call “the chocolate bar test.” 

Buy a chocolate bar before buying a condom. If the chocolate bar is melted and mushy, the condoms are a no-go. 

While you may not be able to make condom water balloons or wear condom socks (yes, I have tested this, they will fit), you do end up with chocolate bar as consolation. Which, to me, is much more preferable than gonorrhea or unintended pregnancy. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported a rise of Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) across the board: gonorrhea, chlamydia, other infections that have hard to spell names and now syphilis. Yes, that same syphilis that killed your favorite French philosopher. Primarily, the numbers are hitting young people — us — the hardest.

I am not here to lecture anyone about their choices in regards to how they protect themselves during sex. People are their own best experts and everyone has reasons for what they do. What I would like to do is provide the facts. 

When Pete Davidson jokes on Saturday Night Live about how people can "just take antibiotics" and not worry so much about their sexual health, he does not have the full picture. What Davidson might not know about is super gonorrhea. 

Yes, you read that right: super gonorrhea. While the name super gonorrhea may be endlessly funny, the reality is not. Otherwise known as antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea, once you get it, that is it. 

It is nigh impossible to treat. The only care you have left is crossing your fingers and hoping for the best. 

To put it into perspective, a sexual health professor once told me a person would be better off testing positive for Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) rather than super gonorrhea, because at least you can manage HIV. 

I am not trying to stir a moral panic, but rather to address that antibiotics are not a solution to a large scale problem. We know condoms work and they work pretty darn well. 

The CDC stated "cuts to STD programs at the state and local level" as a significant contributing factor in the rise of STIs among the public. Maybe, this is the time for a Rutgers revolutionary solution.

I propose free condom dispensers placed in dorms on every campus paid for by the University. They are cheap to install at approximately $75 to $100, and condoms can be obtained virtually for free through local health departments or mass ordered in bulk for condoms by the cent.

Rutgers would not even be the first University to do so. It has already been successful at American University in Washington, D.C. In light of the closure of the pharmacies at student health centers, which provided heavily discounted condoms to students, we need solutions like this now more than ever.

Some might say that it is not the role of the University to dispense in the public health of students. But, were there to be an outbreak of chlamydia or gonorrhea, it would be a public health crisis for which the University would legally be responsible to treat. 

Just look at the meningitis B outbreak. That was only two students. Dispensers and condoms by the penny are a lot cheaper than solving a public health and public relations nightmare. 

When it comes to the well being of students, we need proactive solutions, not reactive ones.

Anthony Ballaro is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in classics and public health. His column, "Thoughts from the LX," runs on alternate Thursdays.


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