"The Condom Dispenser Initiative": Promoting Condom Availability, Accessibility and Use on a College Campus

Of the nearly 20 million new sexually transmitted diseases contracted every year, half are among young people ages 15-24. Condoms prevent the transmission of many STDs, but consistent condom use remains low among adolescents and young adults. In a nationally representative survey of college students, only 58% of sexually active students reported condom use at last vaginal intercourse.

Easy access to condoms is an issue for some young people; thus, interventions that increase the availability of and accessibility to condoms are important. Research also suggests they can be efficacious at increasing condom acquisition, carrying and use, as well as reduce STI rates. Despite these promising results, many condom distribution programs require face-to-face interaction with a “condom distributor”, which may hinder access. To address this prior limitation and increase college students’ access to free condoms, an innovative condom distribution program was recently initiated by University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Student Wellness Department, a large University in the southeast: in August of 2013, they installed condom dispensers with free condoms at 10 on-campus bathroom locations across campus. The purpose of this study was to evaluate students’ awareness of, intention to use, and use of these new condom dispensers. We also examined interpersonal communication about the program.

In November 2013, we conducted an intercept survey of undergraduate students (n=375) at a central campus location. Research assistants with iPad tablets offered a $5 campus gift card as a survey incentive. Participation was quite high, with very few refusals. Results indicated that the majority of students (68%) were female with a mean age of 19.7. Although most respondents were white (61%), African Americans (17%), Asians (17%) and Hispanic/Latino (9%) students were represented. Fifty-two percent of the sample reported having a current romantic partner, with 8% reporting multiple partners.

Most students (62%) reported first hearing about the new condom dispensers through their peer networks (i.e., someone told them). Others became aware through social media (31%), campus newspaper (27%) or the Student Wellness website (20%). Attitudes toward the program were overwhelmingly positive, and the majority of students (71%) reported having seen the dispensers in person. Twenty percent said they had used them before (i.e., took a condom from one), and 37% reported that it is “somewhat” or “extremely” likely they will use the dispensers in the next 6 months.

Those who reported dispenser use were significantly (p<.05) more likely than those who didn’t to have talked to friends about the program. Perceived accessibility and availability of condoms were also high for much of the sample. Multivariate analyses are currently underway to understand how variables such as gender, race, relationship status, program awareness, and interpersonal communication are associated with perceptions of condom availability and intent to use the dispensers.

Findings thus far suggest that the program has attracted students’ attention, sparked interpersonal communication, and been well received, boding well for the future application and dissemination of on-campus condom distribution programs. Peer networks and interpersonal conversation may be particularly instrumental at influencing awareness of such programs.