Coin-operated condom machines have mostly gone the way of the dodo, but it’s not because young adults are practicing safer sex. This is why AIDS organizations in Fredericton, Saint John and Moncton are supplying condoms to bars across New Brunswick, free of charge.
The FreeDomes pilot project, which includes the dispensers and information accessible through QR codes, aims to not just raise awareness in its seven-week run, but also help answer the question of why condom use is so low.
“A lot of bars have condom machines where you have to put money in to get a condom out,” said AIDS New Brunswick’s executive director Stephen Alexander. “If we offered condoms for free, will there be an uptake and what will this tell us about condom usage?”
In Fredericton, Boom Night Club and the University of New Brunswick Grad House have free condom dispensers installed in washrooms, while more are being negotiated. AIDS NB also operates in Mirimachi, and Alexander says they plan to expand the project to there.
“I think any time that we can promote safe sex and safe sexual activity is a plus,” said Cody Waite, manager of the Grad House. “I don’t think there’s any naivety out there that it’s not happening. I think any initiative we can take up to make people more safe is worth doing.”
The sexual health support group reported half of people 20 to 25 years old did not use condoms in their last sexual relationship, while one in 10 women and one in 20 men in the province have chlamydia.
Across Canada, the 20 to 24-year-old age bracket uses condoms almost a tenth more than in New Brunswick, and chlamydia infects about 3 per cent of people.
“When we look at the amount of unwanted or unplanned teen pregnancies in New Brunswick, that has seen a rise as well,” Alexander said. “This really means that folks are not using protection.”
While he hopes the project can shed light on why condom use is down and STI rates are up, the project is already raising awareness.
“We can talk about overeating and obesity, we can talk about smoking and what it does to oneself, and even sports injuries and how we can be careful of that, but we don’t talk much about safe sex,” he said.
“Lets get our proverbial heads out of the sand, because this is a real problem that needs to be talked about.”
FreeDomes condom dispensers will be available at participating venues until March 31.