For decades, birth control was a taboo subject for Americans. Words like "condom," "diaphragm," and "cervical cap" were rarely heard or discussed. But early in the 1980s, at virtually the same time publicity about AIDS was increasing, talk of condoms and contraceptives became more open. With it, health officials say, came more student awareness. During the past several years, Student Health officials have reported large increases of students coming into the office for advice, help, and birth control devices. Officials cited a 25 percent increase in students, from 4000 to 5000, last year alone, who sought Student Health for sexual-health related reasons. Additionally, Student Health said yesterday that they fill 4500 one-month prescriptions for oral contraceptives each semester and distribute and sell about the same number of condoms each semester. The numbers increase each year, according to officials, due possibly to a larger number of students engaging in pre-martial sex and to a growing fear of contracting AIDS. But Cynthia Bayer, a certified nurse practitioner at Student Health, said despite the larger number of students seeking information or help, many still need to be better informed about common contraceptives such as "the pill," condoms, and the sponge. One statistic that officials point to was the more than 200 unwanted pregnancies reported in the past two years to Student Health by women who had used some form of birth control. And that might be only the tip of the iceberg, since many students prefer to go to private clinics for personal reasons or because they think Student Health is not confidential. But Student Health said that students need to be more about the confidentiality of Student Health and the what are best birth control devices. "There is a lot of misinformation about the pill," Bayer said. "But, it doesn't cause cancer or infertility and a healthy woman can use it for as long as she wants." "A lot of students don't know how to use [condoms]," she added. "Alone, [condoms or sponges] are better than nothing, but far from perfect. We see a lot of condom pregnancies." As a result of some of the ineffectiveness of condoms, officals said hundreds of female students have opted for oral contraceptives and they fill hundreds of prescriptions each month. They said that the pill was the most popular form of birth control for the students they see. They stressed, however, that female students represent over three-quarters of the students who come into Student Health for sexual-health reasons. And several women contacted this week said that among their peers, oral contraceptives are very popular. "All the people I know that are sexually active are on the pill," said a female College freshman student earlier this week. Female students added said that if they were having a long relationship, they'd be more likely to go on the pill and maybe eliminate using a condom if both partners had a good medical history. But males seemed to have a different opinion on the popularity of the pill and their preferences. "I think because [condoms] are the most reliable form easily available, they seem to be the only choice for many people," said Wharton sophomore Darren Klein. And despite the growing epidemic of AIDS around the nation, several students said they were more concerned about stopping unwanted pregnancies than sexually transmitted diseases. "The only reason I really use a condom is to prevent pregnancies," one male student said. But maybe the most prevalent form of birth control that is rarely discussed, is abstinence. Some students choose to follow their religious beliefs, morals, or parent's advice and avoid pre-marital sex altogether. New methods are soon on the way for students. Federal approval is expected early next year for a new contraceptive implant for women that would provide protection against pregnancy for up to five years, the Associated Press reported yesterday. Approval of the implant could mark the most important birth control advance since oral contraceptives and would be the first long-acting, hormonal contraceptive available in the United States. Additionally, the government is also expected to approve a new "female condom" for use by women sometime in the spring. Whatever the method students choose, there are several outlets for students to choose devices from. The Student Awareness Safer Sex Supplies, which operates from the Student Health office, offers several different brand name contraceptives at discount prices and does a booming business each semester. They said that they sell hundreds of condoms each month to both male and female students at relatively inexpensive prices. And nearly all drugstores, supermarkets, commisaries, and convenience stores around campus now carry some brands of condoms. WaWa convenience store at 38th and Spruce streets sells about 50 packs of condoms a week, while Marty's store on 40th Street sells about 25. The PSA Commissaries sold a total of 50 packs of condoms for the week of November 18. According to Paul Cruz, assistant manager of WaWa at 36th and Chestnut streets, sales can vary from week to week. "We sell about 30 packs [of condoms] in a normal week," Cruz said. "But if there are a lot of parties going on, we might sell up to 20 packs in a single day." The most popular brand according to CVS and Marty's managers are Trojan-ENZ, in 3- and 15-packs. · Education of birth control has been a major priority for Student Health during the last few years. Administrators have created numerous workshops and services to deal with the increase in students and to stress sexual responsibility to them. One popular program created by Student Health has Peer Health Educators conducting several workshops explaining how birth devices work and stressing communication between sexual partners. Nurse Practitioner and Health Educator Kate Webster, the coordinator of the different workshops set up around campus, said the programs try to give students the facts and let them work out their choices on their own. "We emphasize responsibility and prevention-communication skills for students," said Webster. "It seems [the workshops] are quite well received." College freshmen Barbara Deli and Gabrielle Dundics attended a recent birth control workshop offered by Peer Health Educators and said they gave them a open atmosphere to discuss their questions. "At first I was tense, but then the [Peer Health Educators] were really easy to talk to and by the end, everyone was really contributing," said Dundics. "They cleared up some myths and were really knowledgeable, and they stressed that [birth control] should be both partners' responsibility." One of the Peer Health Educators, College senior Erica Strohl, said she has been trying to encourage more students to attend the workshops adding that students need to more about birth control. "Penn students often think they know more about birth control than they really do," she said. But, according to the officials and educators, there is a big step between knowing about birth control and actually practicing it. The question is "whether information transfers to behavior," said Susan Villari, one of the two Health Educators at Student Health. She stressed the difficulties involved in this transfer. "There's a myth that sex is spontaneous, like in the movies, but it isn't always," she said. " It's hard, but it's worth the couple of seconds to talk about it." And there's also the "it-won't-happen-to-me" syndrome. Although, according to Villari, "AIDS really made people much more concerned," many still take risks. Added College senior Anne Package, "[the fear of AIDS] is not as big as it should be; students think it's not going to touch them." "Not many people expect the people they're going to be hanging with to have any diseases," said College freshman Chris Leitner, "and when they drink, they don't think about it at all." For students interested in the subject, administrators and students point to two subjects offered at the University. There is a Human Sexuality course run by the Psychiatry department and a Concepts in Human Sexuality course in the Education department. According to students, the Concepts in Human Sexuality course makes students think twice before engaging in casual sex. They said they found the material both interesting and challenging.Comments powered by Disqus
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