Condom vending machines will return to Lynchburg College in the fall.
Although condoms always are available to students for free through the school’s health center and resident advisors in the dorms, more than a decade has passed since the school has offered them in vending machines.
Students asked for them, according to John Eccles, vice president and dean for student involvement at Lynchburg College.
“It has to do with healthy, safe sex practices,” and school officials want to support students’ decisions to be safe and healthy, he said on Thursday.
Because the college has not purchased the machines, Eccles was unable to identify what specifically would be sold and what each item would cost. He said items will be sold at cost, and the college will generate no revenue from the machines.
This will be the college’s third stint with condom vending. Until the smoking bans of the 1990s, LC students used to be able to purchase condoms from vending machines on campus that also sold cigarettes. When smoking became prohibited, the machines were removed.
About four years later, students asked for, and received, condom vending machines in the dorms. When college renovations began, though, the vending machines again were removed. That was about a dozen years ago.
This year, said Eccles, students asked for them again.
While condoms have been widely distributed from college health centers for decades, the vending machines still are not commonplace.
In 2013, Tufts University and the University of Michigan put condoms in dorm vending machines. Condoms are sold in standard vending machines at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., Vanderbilt University and the University of New Hampshire. Boston University has employed condom vending machines for more than four years. At University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, 10 condom dispensers are located across campus.
“Students had requested a way to access condoms in every residence hall without having to ask the residential staff, and we felt that this was a way to do this that was cost effective while also putting the onus on the individual student to take responsibility for their choices,” said Timothy Miller, associate dean of students at George Washington.
“The sales have been regular enough for our vendor to justify putting them in all the residential machines.”
Many religious institutions do not permit condom distribution. In March Boston College, a Catholic institution, put a condom distribution ban in place in an attempt to prevent students from providing condoms in dormitories. The issue is still a hot topic for those involved in the debate.
Condom vending machines are a novelty for local universities.
At Sweet Briar College, Health Services Director Rosie Lewis said condoms are available to students through the health center and residential life staff.
“The health center’s emphasis is on encouraging and educating students to make healthy life choices, including knowing and using safe-sex practices. Using condoms is presented as a part of that conversation — along with abstinence and other healthy practices — because they are effective in preventing most sexually transmitted diseases. Students are encouraged to use them even if they are using another form of birth control,” said Lewis in an email.
Randolph College officials said they believe condoms are available at the health center.
Liberty University, which does not permit sexual activity including kissing on campus, did not respond to a request for information about condom access on its campus.
“Access is the key,” said Fred Wyand, spokesman for the American Sexual Health Association. Wyand said there are 20 million new cases of sexually transmitted diseases every year.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, the prime age group getting those STDs is 15 to 24 years old.
“The college-age population is right there in that sweet spot,” which makes it all the more important for colleges to spread the message about safe sex, said Wyand.
Lynchburg College has not seen an increase in STD or pregnancy rates on campus in the last decade, Eccles said, but if the new program prevents even one of those cases, it will be worthwhile, he said.
Part of the reason the machines are even needed is because of the taboos that have been created about sexual activity and health, said Wyand. Some students don’t use a condom because they are too embarrassed to ask for them at health centers or go out and purchase them.
Eliminating that embarrassment and giving people more choices “is a good thing,” Wyand said.
Back in Lynchburg, Eccles said campus staff and faculty have been supportive of the decision.
From a research standpoint, it’s been proven that “condoms don’t encourage people to have sex. They figure out how to do that all by themselves,” he said.
This fits the college’s ongoing campaign to promote student health, by offering them access to information on everything from nutrition and smoking to healthy sleep habits.
The school will not be notifying parents of students of the new feature, said Eccles, because they are dealing directly with students.
It also will not expand its offerings. The school has made “a conscious decision” to not offer the morning-after pill, although some other institutions have decided to go that route.
Eccles said the college will continue to re-evaluate the need for condom machines. Decisions regarding their presence will be based on sales and student feedback.