I read right over the headline in one of last week's University Daily Kansans that announced a 20 percent increase in condom sales at Kansas University's Watkins Memorial Health Center.
I hit page two, then three, but the word condom kept running through my head. Pages four and five blurred by, and the 20 percent increase entered my mind. Twenty percent? The number whirled around.
Sure enough, I backed up to page one, and there Watkins' chief pharmacist, John Baughman, was saying condom sales last fall had, in fact, increased about 20 percent from fall 1990.
Twenty percent? That's a big increase.
The number was an estimate, and Baughman said the pharmacy hasn't always kept condom sales figures. From January to December of 1991, though, he said Watkins sold 1,620 packages of condoms. Three condoms come to a package. That's 4,860 prophylactics.
THAT'S NOTHING, however, compared to the sales in KU residence hall vending machines.
Janine Demo, Watkins' coordinator for health education, noticed a similar increase in condoms sold in those machines: Last spring, 1,797 packages were sold; last fall, 1,983 packages were sold, an increase of 10.4 percent. Yup, 5,949 condoms were sold over one semester.
"They're doing quite well," Demo understated.
In all, 16,200 condoms have been sold through the university in the past year. Sure, that's a lotta latex, but what does it mean? Are KU students unusually, uh, frisky, or do condoms simply make great party decorations?
Part of the explanation for the increase in condom sales could be economics. A three-pack of Sheik Elite, spermicide-lubricated condoms costs 50 cents, both at Watkins and in vending machines.
ANYWAY, 50 cents a three-pack is cheap. It's about one-third the cost, on average, that many local retail stores charge.
Regardless, economics can't completely explain the increase in condom sales.
Demo credited education, in part, for the increase.
"I'd like to think that our education programs had something to do with it," she said. "We educate, educate, educate, but that's all we can do from this side. It's up to the student to change behavior. This, I think, could be an indication of changing behavior."
Demo said KU students' behaviors, in terms of sexual activity and sexual practices, probably were close to the national norm.
"I wouldn't say Lawrence is like the sex pit of Kansas," Demo said. "I don't think students in Lawrence do more than anywhere else."
There's no doubt that sexual behaviors on a national and local scale are changing. Education like that we're besieged with on the national level, especially that concerning HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, surely has some effect.
But it's grassroots programs, like the ones created and run by Demo and her colleagues, that make the real difference. Demo said she felt a sense of personal pride in the way KU students have reacted to her educational programs. She should.
Demo may be reluctant to take the credit, but this increase in university condom sales is just one indicator that programs like hers are making an impact.