Among the many club and academic posters that we see littering our academic buildings’ halls, is an anonymous poster titled “Top 10 Reasons to Use Condoms.” Labeled “In Honor of World Aids Day” (which is Dec. 1st), the poster is complete with 10 reasons to use a condom. 

In descending order, the University’s unapproved poster lists reasons – some cheeky, some genuine and some borderline offensive – to use condoms. Benefits covered in the list include the lower price compared to birth control pills, the ease in comparison to a shot of Penicillin – commonly used to treat Syphilis – and that it can save your life.

Some other points take a more playful approach, with the complicated spelling of many STDs and the fact that parents may not be prepared to be grandparents yet. However, where the sign’s messaging may get clouded by its wording is number two, which may earn a laugh, but is not necessarily appropriate. The messaging is entirely distracted by the language choice in points five (“Your date was lying when he said he was a virgin”) and six (“Your date was lying when she said she’d never done this before”), which branch into the use of universal shaming and fear to encourage the use of condoms. 

This poster had raised eyebrows in Canisus and Egan (where it has been seen since as early as December) not necessarily because of its topic, but because of its method of expressing its message. When the university’s campus is littered with posters and messages about health and wellness, this being the university’s only messaging on contraception is cause for student and faculty concern. 

Current University policy states the following regarding contraception or birth control on campus: “Fairfield University, a Jesuit Catholic institution, is committed to the dignity of the human person and the goodness of sexual expression as found in the teachings of the Roman Catholic faith … as a Catholic institution committed to the dignity of the human person we (Fairfield employees, students or club members acting in an official capacity, organizations and events sponsored by the university) will not sell or offer any contraceptive devices or birth control … ” The full statement on contraception can be found on page 104 of the 2023-24 Student Handbook.

As explained in the handbook, it is against University policy for anyone to sell or give out condoms or other forms of birth control on campus. But what about hanging a poster like the one recently found around campus? According to page 14 of the Student Handbook, students are permitted to post items such as posters around campus. However, they should check with the administrative offices of their desired building before doing so.

The policy also reads that all posters should have a University disclaimer and that posting flyers in violation of university policy is prohibited. This indicates that the “Top 10 Reasons to Use Condoms” poster would not have gotten university approval.

Fairfield University’s official stance on sexual health promotes little other than abstinence. This type of policy has long been questioned; teaching abstinence – only as a form of sex education is widely criticized as ineffective or even unethical. Some Fairfield students believe that the school does not do enough to promote sexual health and safety.

“I’m disappointed that [Fairfield doesn’t] have free contraception,” Dean Hartl ‘25 said. “To take on the abstinence model is to completely deny access to safety for people who are going to do things you don’t want them to.”

In accordance with the guidelines laid out in the Student Handbook, Fairfield’s on-campus Student Health Center states the following on their website: “ … [The Student Health Center] as part of a Catholic university, follows the Church’s teachings on reproductive issues. The Student Health Center does not provide contraception or contraceptive devices.”

While the Health Center may prescribe birth control to some student patients “as part of a medically indicated treatment plan,” students are otherwise unable to access contraceptives on campus. 

On other college campuses across the country, policies regarding birth control vary. Nearby Sacred Heart University makes no mention of contraceptives in their student handbook. Fordham University in New York, a Jesuit university like Fairfield, has a similar stance to Fairfield, stating in its handbook that distribution of any form of contraception is prohibited on campus.

Across the board, many universities, particularly Catholic or Jesuit ones, offer little information to students about sexual safety and birth control. 

When it comes to approaching this discussion surrounding condom use and contraception, how can it be effectively communicated, if at all? 

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) makes it clear that sexual safety is a pressing issue, namely for those between 15 and 24 years old. In the United States, as of 2018, 1 out of 5 people have a Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI), and those aged 15 to 24 made up half of new STI infections, according to the CDC. Not only is there a prevalence of STIs, but it’s overwhelmingly teenagers and young adults who are getting infected. 

One Fairfield professor has done research in the area of sexual safety communication, as a part of his research on deceptive affection. Sean Horan, Ph.D., Chair of the Communication Department, published a 2017 study titled “Condom Communication” that individuals have a “tolerance” for sensitive topics like these, and respond best to communication that fits within their tolerance.

The study echoes this idea, stating that “individuals may avoid communication about condoms, or have an aversive reaction if condom communication exceeds their tolerance.” 

Horan’s research continues to identify the areas in which misconceptions exist surrounding condom use, specifically, the risk of not using condoms. Of the 119 participants involved in this 2017 study, when asked about their reasoning for not using condoms, 65 reported it was due to a “misconception of risk”.

The results of this study found, overwhelmingly, that “sexually active adults did not appear to understand how to conceptualize risk,” even going as far as to describe the “nature of their activity,” that is, sexual activity, as “not warranting safety measures.” What becomes increasingly apparent is that there is a cycle of both misunderstanding and avoidance that fuels each other to create a culture of silence. 

At a Catholic institution, this creates a struggle for health and communication professionals as they struggle to communicate (if at all) with young adults about sexual safety and condom use. The University has a plan regarding other risk behaviors, including drugs and alcohol, and how to best care for their student base in that way.

Horan, when asked about broader health communication to college students, states, “We’re not talking to young adults about young adults’ health issues”. 

He continues, referring to sexual safety, that, “We need to meet people where they are. There are people choosing to be abstinent, and there are people choosing not to be abstinent, how can we serve both groups? Looking at the risk behaviors of college students, we have resources for drugs and drinking, do we have resources for sex? I don’t know that we do.”

In regards to the improvement of communication on sexual safety, and condom use in particular, Horan’s research provides some insight into what future focus can be. His 2016 study “Further Understanding Sexual Communication” stresses the importance of open communication in conversations about sexual safety.

Horan states that “sexual education programs should work on further integrating the role of communication and sexual safety during sexual activity.”

Research has backed the benefits of open communication and education on sexual safety issues. Whether it be understanding methods of engaging in protected sex, in addition to their importance, or further understanding of STD and STI testing, identification and treatment – studies show that young people need health communication. Yet, unapproved posters with blatant stereotypes and very few facts stand as the only communication Fairfield University students receive about condom use, sexual safety and protected sex.

About The Author

Junior | Assistant News Editor | Digital Journalism Major | Editing and Publishing Minor

Junior | Assistant News Editor | Digital Journalism Major | Editing and Publishing Minor

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