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Concerned about condoms

| Wednesday, October 15, 2014

When I first arrived in Oxford, England, I found myself walking through hurricane-grade rain with 100+ pounds of luggage. Though I enjoyed the help of a fellow Notre Dame student, the luggage-based workout and torrential downpour combination was not the best way to start my year abroad.

After discovering that the student with whom I arrived lived 12 flights of (albeit small) stairs up a tower at New College Oxford, the ascension of which required three sets of purple roller bag tricep curls at 12 reps each, I scuttled back to my own room at Oriel College in the rain. Luckily, my room was only a mere two stories up a rickety staircase.

On the desk in my room, I was at first delighted to find a small bag of what were ostensibly “goodies,” what I assumed would be English baked goods or postage stamps or maybe a WiFi password. Instead, I found the following: promotional material for a nearby burrito restaurant (likely the endorser of the whole “goodie bag” deal), a stamp-on tattoo for a baguette shop (likely a co-sponsor), two information cards with relevant phone numbers, two balloons and a stick of fudge.

And something else which, naively, I thought were just two connected teabags. But, to my predicted dread, they were actually two Durex natural rubber latex condoms.

I am concerned.

Why am I concerned over two silly little condoms, no more perilous per se than the two similarly elastic balloons? I am upset because I, a college student in the twenty-first century, am presumed through stereotype and dangerous  assumption to want access to these two “natural”  rubber condoms. That is, I am presumed to be entirely interested in fornication and that, apparently, is more important to address  in a “goodie bag” than, say, a WiFi password or a decent snack item.

Now, am I just another sexually prude ND Catholic peeved about birth control? Maybe, but I don’t think so. I think that I’m deeply worried and frankly offended by the stereotypes directed at me as young man. Imagine, if you will, the following scenario:

Young men like to relax, right? Have some down time? Well, what better way to relax than with a Camel cigarette? Sure, not everyone smokes, but I’m sure a lot of British college students would want access to two free Camel cigarettes. Hey, why don’t we encourage them to smoke by placing the two delectable death sticks in their welcome bags?

Too strong of a metaphor? What if I, the hedonistic, morally misguided male college student, received a commemorative Oriel College shot class, complete with graduated markings for each ‘standard drink,’ in my “goodie bag” along with directions to the nearest bar? Would that be a welcome option?

The point, quite simply, is this: we should not allow stereotypes that describe some individuals in a particular demographic dictate our expectations for all people of that demographic. Giving Oriel College students condoms in their welcome bags simply reinforces stereotypes of young collegiate men as lady-slaying sexual conquistadors. As the Oriel College guide naively states: “University is a time to explore your body, including your sexuality.” But is collegiate sex really as calm, tame and limited in its range of consequences as an ‘exploratory’ walk in the park?

Why else are they giving me condoms? So I can blow them up along with the balloons for festive decoration? If the “goodie bag” on my desk was meant to be any indicator of who I am expected to be as a college student, then I really ought to tattoo myself, eat Baguettes and low-quality Mexican food, blow up balloons, engage in casual socially-endorsed protected sex and cleanse my pallet with a stick of fudge.

The standards that we as a college, as a society, set for people, especially young people, can powerfully affect who those people become. Research concerning self-fulfilling prophecies in education is unfortunately clear: the expectations we place on youth greatly influence their outcomes, as seen specifically in a 1983 Journal of Educational Psychology study by Jere Brophy, among countless others. Supplying young people with condoms without them even asking communicates quite simply that they are expected to have casual sex with contraception as a failsafe.

Is it too much to ask to hold college students to a higher standard, or at the very least, trust them to have the responsibility to go to a clinic or welfare office to endorse some prepaid voucher for contraceptive products?

I know that the “goodie bag” was probably not a conscious attempt to define me, but it would be nice if we exercised a greater deal of caution in how we apply stereotypical expectations to young people.

Charlie Ducey is a junior studying the languages of Ezra Pound (English) and Gottfried Benn (German). For the next academic year, he is residing on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean in Oxford, UK. He welcomes your words. He can be contacted at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

About Charlie Ducey

Charlie Ducey is a senior who studies English at Notre Dame. He is currently a big fan of alternative German rock music.

Contact Charlie