By Stephanie Haven
USA TODAY Collegiate Correspondent
Thinkstock Images

Between vending machines’ chips and candy lies a different late-night item: condoms.

When Tufts University students returned to campus Jan. 14, dormitory vending machines newly featured these contraceptives — $1.50 for a box of two — alongside routinely sold snacks.

From the University of New Hampshire to Vanderbilt University, some colleges sell condoms in vending machines that also have food and beverages. While many college health centers, like Tufts’, have free condoms, their day hours restrict when students can access these materials that are often needed at night, said Patricia Klos, Tufts director of dining and business services.

Junior John Rodli, a Tufts Community Union senator, proposed the addition last semester in a meeting with Klos. With health and student affairs administrators’ approval, and no opposition, Klos then requested that the school’s vending machine company, Merch-A-Vend, add condoms to existing inventory — something it has done for several colleges in New England.

“Tufts is an open-minded community that wants to keep its members safe and have services available without judgment,” Klos said. “We’re not trying to make a statement, but rather be responsive to a product that would benefit students to make more readily available.”

With such accessibility in dorms, buying condoms has become a more comfortable exchange than at a pharmacy or campus health center, said sophomore Ruby Vail, president of Tufts Voices for Choice.

“In college, with the mix of alcohol and people wanting to hook up, it’s important to have resources available that are easily accessible,” Vail said. “It’s the same as having access to flu shots and other things that make us healthy.”

But with increased condom distribution, Tufts sophomore Jessica Ingrum said she worries more students will have sex — something she believes should wait for marriage, when people are open to conceiving a child.

“It lessens student responsibility because the school is allowing them to have sex whenever they want,” Ingrum said. “I don’t really think it could be helpful.”

Condoms have been in dorm vending machines at Boston University for over four years. This increased distribution of condoms — and overall accessibility of birth control since the Affordable Care Act — has helped normalize conversations about contraceptives, a topic which can carry a stigma, said Boston University senior Mitchell Gray.

Rather than in vending machines, at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, condoms are free in dorms as well as their Student Health and Wellness Center. The latter also discounts other condom brands, which students can request be delivered to their room, junior Charlotte James said.

Such a system would eliminate Vail’s concerns about the cost and lack of variety in Tufts’ vending machines with condoms, which have the brand Gents.

Whereas these campuses promote accessibility to contraceptives, Catholic colleges restrict such availability. Though doctors at the University of Notre Dame’s Health Services will write birth control pill prescriptions, for example, they won’t do so for pregnancy prevention purposes, said senior Stephen Wandor, the Notre Dame Right to Life Club vice president of communications.

“Birth control is to be kept between the patient and doctor,” University of Texas – Austin junior Cait Meisenheimer said. “It’s a prescription for a reason or you have to go into a pharmacy for a reason. It’s a more personal decision than a vending machine.”

While access to contraceptives is contested, colleges should still provide education about sexual health, Gray said.

“College is still a place where people come to find themselves and part of that is having your first relationship,” Gray said. “You need to give a safe haven for people who have questions about STDs or birth control.”

Stephanie Haven is a Spring 2013 USA TODAY Collegiate Correspondent. Learn more about her here.

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