Young adults have never had a reputation for being the most cautious when it comes to sexual activity. However, recent data has shown a trend in young adults using condoms less and rates of STIs rising.
The most up-to-date Family Planning Annual Report from the Office of Population Affairs shows that while rates of contraceptive use have gone up through the years, rates of male condom use have fallen steadily over the last decade. In 2013, the rate of overall male condom use by family planning users was 75%. In 2018, the rate was 62%. The most recent data from 2021 shows the rate had fallen to 42% for that year.
Rowan University is not an exception to the global decline in condom use. Scott Woodside, the director of the Wellness Center said that according to survey data of students, the university’s student body was close to or below the national average of condom use.
“I think what we’re experiencing now is, those that are engaging in sexual activity are doing it more. And I think there’s more people who are engaging in less sexual activity. So it’s, it’s an interesting dynamic now with the isolationism and everything coming out of the pandemic, where I think you’re seeing, you know, kind of a big gap there, a disparity in those that are engaging in sexual activity,” said Woodside.
In the same time period, the United States has seen an increase in STIs, particularly in individuals 35 years of age and younger. CDC reports from 2021 show that rates of gonorrhea have been rising since 2012, with under 600 cases per 100,000 people aged 20-24 years old in 2012 and about 900 cases per 100,000 in 2021. Both primary and secondary syphilis rates have also increased with women aged 20-24 seeing below 5 cases per 100,000 women in 2012 rise to nearly 20 in 2021. For men in the same age group, rates rose from less than 30 cases per 100,000 to around 50 cases.
Though Rowan University has followed the trend in young adult condom use, there is no data or evidence that shows the university is similarly following the trend in STI rates.
“The experience that we’re seeing in the Wellness Centers, we’re still seeing students with STIs as is our partners with FAMCare but it’s not at an alarming increase or decrease rate,” said Woodside.
Rowan provides a variety of sexual health services to students through the Wellness Center and its partners FAMCare and the Gloucester County Health Department. Amy Hoch is the associate director of the Wellness Center.
“It’s not just about condoms… It’s about a barrier for a lesbian couple… Or a couple that engages in behaviors that aren’t necessarily like penile vaginal penetration. You might have to think about, you know, other kinds of barriers to use and ways to stay safe,” said Hoch.
Every Friday, the Wellness Center provides five Trojan latex condoms, flavored lubricant, and dental dams to students who choose to pick them up from the building. Condoms are also provided through the CAs in the on campus housing, who are given 50 condoms for their safe educational sessions. The Wellness Center lobby and waiting room also often has condoms available to be taken as needed. If free condoms cannot be found, the building has a machine that provides them for 25 cents each.
Every Monday and Wednesday, the Wellness Center also hosts FAMCare, which provides free STI testing and antibiotics to students who call and schedule an appointment. Students can also be provided with other forms of contraception, cancer screenings, and routine testing and exams through FAMCare at no or low cost.
Brittany Auleta is the coordinator of Healthy Campus Initiatives and peer education in the Wellness Center. She said that students who are looking to get tested should wait about one week to 10 days after potential exposure to get accurate results if they are symptom free. If a student was made aware that they may have been exposed to an STI, antibiotics can be provided to aid in prevention.
“A lot of students don’t realize that you know, student health providers and our FAMCare providers are those confidential resources for them. So don’t be scared to go talk to a doctor. There is no shame in that… unfortunate certain circumstances happen and that’s okay,” said Auleta.