According to Centers for Disease Control data, sexually transmitted disease infections are on the rise among the country’s youngest population.
In Jacksonville, some University of North Florida faculty are trying to stop that trend with education and yes, condoms.
A protester with a large, multi-colored sign yelled at students at UNF’s student union building Wednesday. He’s a semi-regular agitator on campus. This time his target is specifically a World AIDS Day tent in the building’s courtyard where students can get information about STDs and prevention tools like condoms.
Angel Kalafatis, a sex educator and a Program Support Specialist at UNF's LGBT Center, couldn’t bag up condoms fast enough, as volunteers passed them out to the throngs of waiting students. She said she’s passed out more than 12,000 in the last two days alone.
“So, I get two reactions when I want to hand out condoms to someone: they are either thrilled that I’m giving out condoms because they’re expensive, or they are completely grossed out,” she said.
Luckily for Kalafatis, she said the former is usually a more common reaction on a college campus, but she says the latter can be a symptom of inadequate sex education.
“I think it’s just about having an open dialogue about sex being a part of our lives and condoms being this completely innocuous item just like your toothbrush and I think that destigmatization is important,” she said.
STD rates among young people are usually higher than the general population, but the CDC found last year that the infection rate among those between 15 and 24 had ballooned.
Some advocacy groups have blamed the so-called hookup culture and dating apps like Tinder and Grindr, but Kalafatis said relying on an abstinence-first model for sex education is as much a part of the problem as promiscuity.
“[It’s] this idea that only really easy people who have tons of sex with lots of partners and that if you’re a monogamous person with one partner and your partner tells you that they’re clean, that’s all the information you need. So, you never need a condom? That’s wildly incorrect,” she said.
Duval County Public Schools can teach students how to use condoms in health class with some restrictions. Teachers are barred from handing out contraceptives.
However, several Duval high schools like Sandlewood, Ribualt and Terry Parker, have campus health centers where students can get condoms and be tested for STDs and pregnancy.
The Jacksonville metropolitan area has the third worst rate of HIV infections in the country according to one aggregate study of CDC data and there are currently more than 6,000 people living with HIV/AIDS in Duval County.