Condoms are still free and plentiful at the "Condom Corner" at the University of Montana.
Linda Green, director of wellness at Curry Health Center, said UM hands out 25,000 to 30,000 condoms a year, and when budget cuts hit, she trimmed funds for posters, brochures and CARE representatives who distribute condoms.
The protective rubbers got protected.
"We're still buying lots of condoms, and that's where we're spending our money rather than administratively," Green said Friday.
The Montana Kaimin first reported the cuts to the CARE representatives.
Now just an aside: Montana State University-Bozeman hands out 20,000 condoms a year through its clinic plus a few thousand through other programs, according to its Office of Health Advancement.
So per capita, the students at UM may be having more fun, or they just may be smarter about it. This week, the schools released their enrollments, and MSU's enrollment hit 16,703 while UM's dipped to 11,865.
UM and MSU are generally tied up when it comes to academic excellence, although the business program at UM outranked the one at MSU by 98 spots, according to U.S. News and World Report's 2018 list.
Green said she decided to cut money for reps and administration because she wanted to protect the condoms, dental dams and lube.
"We really felt it was important to still have supplies for people and not cut that," Green said.
In the past, UM used to have as many as 450 CARE reps who would give out condoms to students, but last year, the number fell to about 30 or so, Green said. And some of the reps didn't give out any condoms at all.
"Way more condoms were going out off the wall than through the CARE reps," she said.
The budget cut amounted to roughly $3,500, and Green said Curry Health is collaborating with groups such as the DUI Task Force in order to increase funding from other sources. She said health programs are also getting some of the income from sales of the Griz Montana Lager, a Big Sky Brewing Co. beer.
As part of the reductions, she said a full-time position at Curry got cut to half time. Some positions have turned into internships to save money as well.
Braden Fitzgerald, president of the Associated Students of the University of Montana, said preserving funds for condoms and other sexual health supplies is important, and he's pleased to see the issue come up on campus.
"I'm happy to see that students are talking about it. Any conversation about the use of condoms and sexual health and being preventative is good for the campus community as a whole," Fitzgerald said.
At the same time, he said he feels for Green, who had to make the tough call to cut CARE reps: "That definitely makes things a little more difficult for students to get access to the condoms, but it's still there. They just have to be more proactive, I think."
Green said resident assistants still head to Curry to pick up condoms, and UM is distributing roughly the same number overall, albeit mostly from "condom corner." Condoms also are available at ASUM, the Women's Resource Center and the Branch Center.
"The wall is wiped out all the time. So what has happened is other people in the office have just taken over stocking the wall and ordering condoms," Green said.
She said UM doesn't want to leave condoms out unattended because people might sabotage them by poking holes in them.
As far as overall wellness goes, students are generally drinking less and more safely, and their tobacco use is down as well, Green said. Stress is the No. 1 concern according to the most recent campus health survey from a couple of years ago.
In that regard, the condoms may help.
"I think the research shows that if students have easy access to safer sex supplies, they're more likely to use them," Green said.
At MSU, Office of Health Advancement Director Marci Torres said she and her team have a reputation on campus, and they protect it.
"People know us as the condom people, so we make sure we always have them wherever we are," Torres said.
In fact, she keeps a container of condoms in her purse, and she's ready to share when students sidle up to her: "Hey, you got any condoms?"
Torres said the situation can be awkward if her child is around, but the condoms also have been educational: "I think my daughter learned her colors off of them."
She said her mom was a little thrown off by the tactic, but her daughter indeed knows her colors, and the condoms are a good teaching tool: "Little kids think they're like lollipops."
Bigger kids get lessons at MSU, too. Torres said MSU tries to help destigmatize condom use with "condom bingo" played using facts about sexually transmitted infections, and it puts on a condom fashion show where students make outfits using expired and non-lubricated condoms.
At MSU, depression and anxiety are the biggest health concerns, and sexual health isn't at the top of the list, Torres said. However, she said sexually transmitted infections are on the rise in Gallatin County, albeit not on campus specifically.
"We need to educate people and provide them means to protect themselves," Torres said.