In 1978, students attending the Berkeley campus of the University of California decided Valentine’s Day needed to go, and Condom Day, more precisely, Condom Week, should take its place. In the ensuing years, the month of February became National Condom Month. The point: to promote safer sex via educational events in an effort to raise awareness and prevent sexually transmitted diseases.
Shirin Peters, MD, medical director of Bethany Medical Center in Manhattan says that the term ‘ safer sex’ is recommended because saying ‘safe sex’ can be interpreted as being 100% protective and that just isn’t the case.
Dr. Peters suggests that although statistics seem to indicate that STD or STI (can be used interchangeably) rates have decreased during the pandemic this is perhaps due to people having less sexual partners out of fear of contracting Covid-19. The decrease in the number of positive STD/STI results might actually mean that fewer people are getting tested.
If fewer people are getting tested, then the potential for an explosion in STD/STI cases exists once the pandemic restrictions are lifted. Following the pandemic people who are unaware of their STD/STI status will likely have sex with others who are also ignorant of their status. Dr. Peters is concerned that a significant increase in positive STD/STI test results will appear 6-12 months post-pandemic.
A survey performed by The National Coalition of STD Directors (NCSD) reported in January 2021 that more than 1/3 of staff in public health department STD programs have been redeployed to help with the Covid-19 pandemic. This redeployment cut back services for patients with diagnosed cases of chlamydia, syphilis and gonorrhea. Clinics have closed; others reduced their hours and services and reduced time in the lab. There is also a shortage of STD testing kits.
Dr. Peters recommended that those who are sexually active practice safer sex, unless they are in a monogamous relationship and the STD/STI status is known. She recommended using barrier contraceptives such as condoms, which are readily available and easily portable especially for spontaneous encounters. She gives this advice to her clients.
The condom caveat is that it needs to fit properly. If the condom is too tight it might break and if it is too loose then there could be leakage. Condom manufacturers provide sizing information on the packages.
Dr. Peters suggested working condom application into foreplay — textured and flavored condoms can add to the moment — and to add lube to the condom’s inside to avoid a break. Enhancing the experience doesn’t hurt, either.
Dr. Peters has provided exactly what National Condom Day/Week/Month has become: A time to provide education related to STDs that would inform high school and college students. Awareness groups, retail outlets and condom manufacturers also participate.
The founders of the original Condom Day were prescient. With reduced access to STD screening, prevention and intervention services, the educational goals are spot-on. Condoms are meant to protect you and help prevent the spread of STDs.
Yvonne Stolworthy MSN, RN graduated from nursing school in 1984 and has spent many years in critical care and as an educator in a variety of settings, including clinical trials.