Half of students don’t use condoms? Really?

The surprising results of Canadian student sex surveys

When you see a sexual health study sponsored by a condom company you may be skeptical, especially when the headline is that 51 per cent of students who had sex last year didn’t use a condom. Half? Really? It sounds like a ploy by Trojan—which commissioned the survey of 1,500 undergraduates in partnership with the Sex Information and Education Council of Canada—to sell more rubbers. After all, this generation grew up with non-stop public health education on the risks of a sexually transmitted infections like HIV. Students couldn’t possibly be so careless, right?

Unfortunately, I’ve seen this number before. Canadian results from the National College Health Assessment, a survey filled out by 34,039 students at 32 Canadian schools earlier this year, also found that only half of students use condoms most or all of the times they have vaginal sex.

That NCHA report also showed that one in 100 had been treated for Chlamydia in the previous year, which if extrapolated to the roughly one million undergraduates in Canada is about 10,000 cases. Chlamydia is not fun but also not deadly. HIV-AIDS, on the other hand, is incurable. About one in 500 students reported being treated for HIV-AIDS, suggesting about 2,000 known cases.

Despite these risks, the Trojan/SIECANN study found that more than half (56 per cent) of students say they are not very concerned about sexually transmitted infections. And 23 per cent think there is a vaccine to prevent HIV while 21 per cent think there might be one. There certainly isn’t.

To recap: roughly half of students are so unconcerned and uneducated about STIs that they don’t know that there isn’t an HIV vaccine, they don’t use condoms and they don’t worry much about STIs. It looks like the main message of sex education still isn’t getting through.