Effect Measure

Back-to-school sex

Back-to-school season, time to learn good habits. It’s also high season for the condom industry:

“If you look at condom sales, there are different peaks,” said Jim Daniels, the vice president for marketing at Trojan, which dominates the United States condom market. He cited New Year’s Eve, Valentine’s Day and even the Fourth of July, but said the back-to-school season is a particularly good opportunity for recruiting young customers.

“A third of condoms are purchased by college-age students,” Mr. Daniels said. “Therefore it’s a very important target. Very often people become sexually active during those years.”

While some colleges prefer, for religious or other reasons, not to have condoms on campus, college administrators who endorse condom use agree that this is a significant time of year for getting students started on new habits. (New York Times, subscription)

I read this with the usual dismay I feel when I hear about the free and easy sex of today’s youth. Why was I born too early? In my college days (late 50s, early 60s) getting laid was like the Quest for the Holy Grail for horny college boys. Unfortunately, for the most part, I seemed to be insufficiently devout and my prayers usually went unanswered. The condom I carried around religiously only functioned to make that famous ring-shaped imprint on the outside of my wallet.

Now, apparently, all that is a thing of the past. All you have to do is stop in at freshman orientation:

So with condom manufacturers eager to mine a ready market, and with administrators happy to receive free or discounted products that will keep students healthy, condom distribution at many colleges around the country has become as fundamental to freshman orientation as buying textbooks and finding the dining hall.

At Oregon State, “safer sex” kits are filled with condoms, lubricant and Hershey’s Kisses; at Stanford, each student receives 12 free condoms from the student-run Sexual Health Peer Resource Center, which is also beginning its annual educational “field trips” on which freshmen are escorted from their dorms to the center for an introductory talk.

As far as I am concerned, this is just the way it should be. Sexual behavior evolved to encourage propagation of the species by providing pleasure. That kind of incentive sounds a lot like the entertainment industry. Contraception allows sex to be uncoupled from species propagation. So what? There are already too many of us. Eating is a biologically required activity, but most of us try to have some enjoyment and pleasure in eating. Uncoupling eating from base nutrition doesn’t sound wicked to me. No one recommends we only eat gruel because gruel is sufficient to maintain life.

Of course eating wrong can be a health hazard. We need to learn to eat safely. You know what’s coming next:

Doctors, family planning groups and health organizations are unambiguous in endorsing condoms as the most effective means of reducing the risk of sexually transmitted diseases and H.I.V. infection, as well as a way to reduce the risk of unintended pregnancy. “Condoms provide an enormously high protection rate,” said Dr. Jeff Waldman, the senior director of clinical services at Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

When my (now grown) kids went out on dates, we always said, Drive carefully. And then we added, Have fun.

Alas, I missed this welcome change in mores. Chalk it up to a misspent youth.


  1. #1 Corkscrew
    September 25, 2006

    I read this with the usual dismay I feel when I hear about the free and easy sex of today’s youth.

    As a member of today’s youth (well, I’m 21, that counts right?) can I just say: ha! The situation is the same as it’s always been: 20% of the guys get 80% of the sex. Slight increases in the overall quantity do not change the fact that most of us aren’t getting laid nearly enough.

  2. #2 G in INdiana
    September 25, 2006

    Starting this stuff in college is WAAAYYYY too late in my neighborhood, rural SE IN USA. The vast majority of HS students do NOT attend college, heartland family values aside. With the rates of teen pregnancy rising in my local public high school coupled (pun intended) with the abstinence only crap they teach in the “health” classes, those condom folks need to target a younger and far more active age group: the age 12 to 17 year olds.

  3. #3 NJ
    September 25, 2006

    Hey, I was a pioneer in safe sex during the 70’s and early 80’s!

    At the time, of course, I just thought I wasn’t getting any…

  4. #4 revere
    September 25, 2006

    NJ: LOL. And you were right. But you were ahead of your time, given the Bushie idea of safe sex: not getting any.

  5. #5 tympanachus
    September 25, 2006

    Those of us who went to college near the Mexican border in the ’60s had a similar experience with the university health departments.They had a long tradition of being proactive about safe sex and were well equipped to quickly and quietly deal with infections though the horror of drug resistant clap was with us even then.

    I went to NMSU which is only 45 miles from Juarez. The Juarez Health Department was also very proactive and any purchased sex required a stop with the Enfermera de la Inspeccion (usually quite the hag) who looked for obvious signs of infection. Condom technology was still rude and crude and dismissed as no different than taking a shower in a rain coat (apparently there are some things that tech cannot help).

  6. #6 Spruce
    September 25, 2006

    The population of Norway is about four and a half million people. Each year The Directorate for Health and Social Affairs hands out about 2 million free condoms, the goal being to make these easily available to young people from age 15 to 24. And they have various projects. Last year they had a condom design competition, for young people, the winning bit of artwork was printed up on 100,000 condoms. They have also had a jingle competition, for a snappy informative little jingle about Chlamydia. Never mind if you can’t speak Norwegian, a look at the artwork on their web page for young people is enough to get an idea of their opinions on sexual education…. The web site for young people < http://www.unghelse.no/> The web site with the winning condom artwork: < http://makeashorterlink.com/?V12C227DD>, a description of the condom design competition: < http://www.unghelse.no/kondom/>

  7. #7 revere
    September 25, 2006

    Spruce: Thanks. I read Norske en lite — very little — but I got the idea pretty quick. Reminds me of the US government’s efforts — because they are so different.

  8. #8 revere
    September 25, 2006

    Corkscrew: What a relief! Now I can go back to enjoying being old. Just on the odds I have 80% chance of not missing anything and considering personality, looks and general attractiveness I’m sure it would be much better than 80%.

  9. #9 mary in hawaii
    September 25, 2006

    TOTALLY off the subject, but there’s stuff happening regarding avian influenza these days (read crofs blog) and I really wish we could get back on to some discussions about that. Not that I mind talking about sex…and to G in Indiana, when i teach the human development and reproduction section of health education, it’s not “abstinence only crap”…whether someone tells me to or not. Seeing as how sex is a biological imperative as natural as eating or breathing, my personal philosophy is that the more you know about something the more in control you are, and that promoting guilt about it is the most psychologically destructive and least effective method of “control.”

  10. #10 revere
    September 25, 2006

    MiH: Posts tomorrow, but it is our view that there are many things happening in the world besides avian flu, too.

  11. #11 mara
    September 26, 2006

    mary in Hawaii…you may well be correct but when I look at my drop-dead georgous 14 year old daughter and ponder my own fevered youth I do not want to see this “baby” in a similar situation.A Convent/University until she is 25 would be perfect!… but,being of sufficient intelligence to get about unaided,I realise this will not happen.She will do what most switched on teen-agers do and I probably will not get a running report.Damm…before I became a parent I was an expert on such matters.Now I am a wobbly lump of equivocal jelly,who would quite like to entertain the fantasy that disease,pregnancy and heartbreak only occur in “bad/stupid” families.

  12. #12 G in INdiana
    September 26, 2006

    mary in hawaii, you live in a progressive area. I live in the backwaters of the heartland. VERY different “value” systems. If a health teacher tried to give kids the information they need to be safe, they’d be CANNED the next day. Some kid would go home, tell mummy and poppy that the teacher talked about condoms, the school board president would be called at home and reamed a new anal cavity. He’d call the teacher into the admin office and fire them the next morning. That’s how it is when you live in the Jesus belt (even though Indiana is considered a norhtern state, they don’t act like it a vast majority of the time).
    And mara, the secret to delaying sexual activity in kids is 100% communication. And that starts when they are still in the cradle as far as I am concerned. Not being shocked or judgemental about what they do is a big part fo keeping those lines open. Realizing they are going to make the same mistakes you did, even though you warned them. is another.
    You CAN get a running report if you keep it open and honest. I don’t think your daughter is any different than mine is. When she told me of her first sexual activity I did not react in cringing horror, but discussed the event with her in a calm and adult manner. We even laughed about some things. I cannot tell you how comfortable she told me she was, and she had been worried about my reaction, which tells you she knows less about me that she thinks she does.
    Enjoy your daughter’s development into a woman, don’t be scared of it. I wish some one had treated me the way I treat my daughter, maybe I would not have had such a struggle with sexual issues and relationships.

  13. #13 M. Randolph Kruger
    September 26, 2006

    I guess it depends on where you live. Even in very conservative W. TN, most of the parents have gotten the word that you can get pregnant or turn up with AIDS/HIV without one. So its left up to the teach to back hand this. Instead of saying, “Use a condom” it goes to “Preventative measures” and then go into how one works. For some reason this doesnt promote “Sex” and trip the wire for mine and others conservative values. Fine by me.

    One of those bad things you get to see in the military is when the old short arm inspection is done with the Security Police after there has been a visit to Manila or Ausbila Honduras. A week after is when you would see the first signs. Having to stop on a path while they go for the third time in an hour, obvious fevers and then the M.O. says that its time for the inspection. AIDS/HIV of course you cant see but a lot of times it was coincidental with something that looks like a scene out of a horror movie. Everyone would get a blood test. Nowadays the full combat units with no women in them get the order to use them. They also teach classes in how not to get it. So credibility is out the window here for one end of the government opposed to the other end.

    Thought that there was only one government.

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