Unlike many universities, USF doesn’t provide free condoms, due to Catholic traditions surrounding contraception. But that didn’t stop a secret group of students from taking it upon themselves to initiative a free condom service. The students call themselves Condom Distributors.
Since the program began on Oct. 29, condoms, female condoms and tampons can be found in glass cups and baskets in the bathrooms of the cafeteria, the first and fourth floors of the University Center and Gleeson Library. The condoms will be limited to these locations. The locations are displayed on a map on the fourth floor of the UC, which is accompanied by an explanation of the group and their intentions.
“We, as a hereby collective, focused on advocating for the resources and education of all students who may choose to be sexually active, have decided to take action and distribute condoms and other contraceptives anonymously across the university campus,” reads the groups slogan.
The student organizers of the condom service hope to encourage condom use not only to prevent pregnancy, but also to “spread sexual health to students in a city facing high STI levels,” the creator of the service said, who requested anonymity. They described the service as a “super informal group of six [students].”
The student group acquires condoms from health clinics around the city, which are some of the only locations where students can obtain free contraceptives around USF.
The Condom Distributors’ poster reads, “[we] will not stand by and watch members of our community not have accessible resources on campus to help support students who may be having sexual relationships.”
USF’s Health Promotion Service’s (HPS) National College Health Assessment Survey conducted in 2015 found that 29.1 percent of USF freshmen were sexually active with one partner. 46.9 percent of freshmen were not sexually active.
Rates of STIs in San Francisco are higher than the state average and any other region in the California, a 2016 STD surveillance data shows. Rates across California for sexually transmitted infections hit record highs in 2016 and 2017, according to the California Department of Public Health.
Senior Director of HPS Kamal Harb explained that his department does offer education on health topics including sexual health, though it does not offer condoms.
“I believe, if a student is sexually active, open communication between partners is much more important than giving free condoms,” Harb said.
For STI prevention, Harb said it is important to regularly get tested.
“There is a misunderstanding that we can’t talk about sex,” Harb said. “We talk about the risks and how students can protect themselves. We support people who want to abstain. It is all about the values, we respect each and every person. We do not push one agenda over another.”
Per California law, USF health insurance policy pays for birth control. Students can also go to Dignity Health Clinic and get a prescription for birth control. This is because the Affordable Care Act requires that private health plans cover birth control and other contraceptives for women with no patient out-of-pocket costs.
Additionally, a California law enacted in April 2016 allows women to obtain birth control directly from a pharmacist without having to obtain a prescription from a doctor.
The issue of school-led condom distribution is a growing one in response to increasing STI rates across the nation. Some universities have been more responsive than others.
According to Scott Butler, assistant director of the School of Health and Human Performance at Georgia College, found that 85 percent of colleges in the U.S. offer free condoms somewhere on campus. Of those, 96 percent do so at their college health center.
In February, Boston College, another Jesuit institution which does not provide free condoms on campus, issued a statement that they would not change their policy after students on campus voted largely in favor of the Students for Sexual Health (SSH) referendum. This would have permitted SSH to distribute contraceptives on campus without the school’s funding.
“We take this position out of respect for our commitments as a Jesuit, Catholic university, and we ask our students to be respectful of these commitments and the code of conduct that governs all BC students,” Boston College’s spokesperson said.
But student initiatives continue, and the USF Condom Distributors are not alone. The Great American Condom Campaign (GACC) is a national, youth-led distribution service. According to their website, they distribute over one million condoms to college campuses each year.
“Every day almost 25,000 young people aged 15-24 get an STD,” the GACC’s website says. “Condoms are the most effective way to prevent STDs for people who are sexually active.”
Mardy Harding contributed to the reporting of this story.