When many people conjure images of the American university experience, themes that come to mind may include plenty of homework, plenty of alcohol and, yes, plenty of sex. Indeed, studies show that a majority of college students take part in some sort of sexual activity while in college. Although studies struggle to provide an exact number, New York Magazine’s The Cut found that over half of college students are sexually active.  

Of course, with sex comes risk. According to a 2016 statistic from the National College Health Association (NCHA), only 53% of University of Cincinnati (UC) students reported using a condom or other barrier method for vaginal sex. However, despite this comparatively low statistic, Planned Parenthood says that condoms are an important part of safe sex. They are the most effective way to prevent not only pregnancy but also the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases and infections.

At UC, the most visible resource that the university puts forth in an attempt to encourage safe sex on campus is the Student Wellness Center. Located in the Steger Student Center, the center takes it upon itself to promote information regarding safe sex and to provide sexual wellness products and resources such as condoms, HIV testing, pregnancy tests and more. 

Our goal is to provide them [students] with accurate information so they can make the best decision for themselves about how to engage in sexual behaviors in a lower-risk way,” said Brandy Reeves, director of the Wellness Center. “We also want to remove barriers to access to sexual health products and care.”

To “remove barriers,” Reeves said that the center works to create a discrete environment where students can come in and grab the products offered. Students simply check into the Wellness Center and are free to grab whatever they need out of the bins that line the walls.

Moreover, the center’s “Gotcha Covered” program enlists volunteers throughout campus to undergo a one-hour training to be able to distribute condoms to students. According to the university’s website, there are 500 “Gotcha Covered” volunteers. These volunteers include staff and faculty of all kinds, including professors, RAs and more. After training, the volunteers help provide a more discrete way to use the benefits of the Wellness Center. 

Reeves says that the “Gotcha Covered” program predates her arrival at UC, but that she believes it is successful both for those who are distributing condoms and information and the students who are picking up the condoms. “The Gotcha Covered volunteers report that they enjoy playing a role in providing sexual health services to UC students and being able to answer people’s questions and provide resources,” Reeves said. “The students who take condoms like having options for where, when, and how to get condoms and other sexual health products.” 

In addition to the condoms and other external barriers that the center provides, Reeves also touts the university’s HIV testing as one of the ways that UC students can practice sexual wellness.

Offering multiple HIV testing events per month through partnerships with outside organizations, the Student Wellness Center encourages students to come in and get tested and receive their results in 20 minutes. Reeves says that these events have proven successful, with students taking advantage of each of the events. 

Although the Wellness Center may be the most visible resource for students seeking sexual wellness products, it is not the only organization on campus promoting safe sex. Other groups that are not directly affiliated with the university also take part in passing out safe sex products, among other sexual wellness initiatives. One such group is GlobeMed UC, an organization that promotes all types of health and healthcare access throughout the world. Although the club’s belief that healthcare is a human right leads its members to work in all areas of health in all corners of the globe, the club does focus on sexual health at the university. 

Much like the Wellness Center, GlobeMed UC passes out items like condoms and also promotes knowledge and awareness around safe sex. Different from the Wellness Center though is the location in which they pass out condoms and literature. The club often picks a public and visible location, such as Tangeman University Center (TUC) or the Lindner College of Business, to table and spread its message. 

“In our organization and our committee meetings, we talk a lot about how we approach stigma,” said Simhya Karthikeyan, a third-year medical sciences student who serves as external Global Health University coordinator for GlobeMed UC. “At the end of the day, it's always best to lead by example, having these conversations and then inspiring others to have those conversations with people that they're comfortable with. It's just a domino effect.”

Past initiatives by GlobeMed UC and its members include a recent tabling event in TUC celebrating World AIDS Day on Dec. 1 to pass out candy canes and condoms, and speaking with those interested in the club. Although technically independent from the university, GlobeMed UC partners with UC resources like the Wellness Center and the LGBTQ+ Center, allowing the club to put students in contact with campus resources and therefore continue to promote sexual wellness. 

"There's been an increase in students being more aware that the university has these resources Especially with the new opening of the Student Wellness Center right in the middle of Main Street, plus the LGBTQ+ Center and how they overlap in their programming,” Karthikeyan said. 

“Students feel more comfortable reaching out.”

According to Karthikeyan, the biggest barrier to promoting sexual wellness is the stigma. Although she commended the opening of the Wellness Center and the resources provided there, she hopes to see more work done to create more equitable and open access to sexual-wellness resources and she hopes that GlobeMed UC can play a role in that. “I think the university could definitely do a better job of bringing more people into the conversation and seeing what students want to see on campus as well.” 

Despite being a rather uncomfortable subject to broach, Karthikeyan does believe that changes can be made on a global, local and campus level, helping to promote safe sex everywhere. Stressing the importance of sexual health in a complete and robust healthcare system, she said, “There needs to be more opportunities and resources for students to be able to have these conversations.” She continued, “Whether or not we're sexually active or not, whether or not you're in public health or not, at the end of the day. It's our health. That is something that's going to be with us no matter what.”

Features Editor

Joe Frye is a fourth-year journalism major who has been writing for The News Record since 2021, serving as life and arts reporter and now features editor. He has previously interned for Cincy Magazine.