Did you know that half of all sexually active young people will get a sexually transmitted infection (STI) before their 25? Or if current HIV rates continue, about 1 in 2 black men who have sex with men (MSM) and 1 in 4 Latino MSM in the United States will be diagnosed with HIV during their lifetime? Ohio is absolutely not immune to these statistics. Since 2013, the number of cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis have continuously increased throughout the state.
At the Ohio HIV/STI Hotline, anyone can call or chat (http://ohiv.org/) with us about general sexual health, HIV, STIs, condoms, birth control, etc. As a fairly easy option to better protect against HIV and STIs, we often recommend using condoms in all sexual activity. Unfortunately, we frequently hear that people are uncomfortable buying condoms or taking them from a health center, don’t know where to get them, or don’t know what size they may need. This of course got us here at the Ohio HIV/STI Hotline thinking… how can we reduce as many barriers to this one safer sex tool as possible?
With much excitement, the Free Condom Project was launched in May 2016! A month’s supply of free condoms will be discreetly mailed to anyone in Ohio (aged 16+) who orders from the Ohio HIV/STI Hotline website. We currently have a great variety of condoms, including flavored, sensitive, colored, thin, and XL. Inside each package will also be information about nearby HIV/STI test sites, how to properly use a condom, and information about the Ohio HIV/STI Hotline and other local resources.
Our theory is that reducing barriers and increasing accessibility to safe sex products like condoms and dental dams will assist in decreasing in the incidence of STI, HIV, and unwanted pregnancy rates throughout Ohio. When other programs like this have been done on a much smaller scale, participants have reported that they were more likely to correctly use contraceptives. We feel confident that if people have easy access to condoms, they will use them. The Free Condom Project is the first to attempt this on a state level, and since its launch has distributed over 25,000 condoms across Ohio.
Since incidence data on HIV, STIs, and unwanted pregnancy won’t be available until next year, we have been measuring our success in community feedback. So far, it has been incredibly positive! Community feedback has highlighted a lot of things that we already knew: there still is a stigma surrounding sex especially for women and members of the LGBTQ community, condoms are expensive, people don’t always know where to go to get tested, etc. And a lot of other barriers came to our attention that our team hadn’t initially even thought of, like, the fear of being “outed” just from the act of buying/picking up condoms. Here at the Ohio HIV/STI Hotline, we feel like we have been succeeding in our main mission – to remove barriers that were preventing people from engaging in safer sex. We are looking forward to serving even more Ohioans and ensuring everyone has access to safer sex products.
If you or a friend are interested in ordering condoms, please visit the Ohio HIV/STI Hotline at www.ohiv.org to fill out the simple order form. A completely free variety pack of condoms will then be shipped to your desired address shortly!
Editor’s Note: Check out the Ohio HIV/STI Hotline’s calendar of events by clicking here. If you need to talk to someone regarding HIV, STIs, sexual health, and more, call the Hotline at 800-332-2437. They are here to help!