Make condoms great again

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It only takes a quick visit to the online store Condoms Canada to appreciate the incredible variety of condoms out there.

Condoms cheaply and effectively prevent sexually transmitted infections and unintended pregnancies but only 47 per cent of sexually active youth in the NWT are using them regularly, according to a new study. Ezra Black/NNSL photo
Condoms cheaply and effectively prevent sexually transmitted infections and unintended pregnancies but only 47 per cent of sexually active youth in the NWT are using them regularly, according to a new study.
Ezra Black/NNSL photo

They come in flavours like grape, cola, banana and strawberry, there are glow-in-the-dark condoms to light up the night and even vegan condoms for the ecologically minded.

The country’s 150th anniversary was celebrated with a condom design contest that reached its climax when Emma Scott of Toronto, Ont., created the winning rubber called “I’d Tap That,” which features a tapped maple tree.

And a quick search will yield novelty varieties such as the Kim Jong Boom Condom, “made specially for all the Supreme Leaders around the world,” and features an image of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un giving a salute.

But even if the dictator’s seal of approval were real, it would not overcome a chronic and serious public health obstacle: most teens in the NWT are not using condoms.

And that is a shame because condoms can be used to address two significant problems: unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) like HIV/AIDS. Condoms cheaply and effectively prevent both but only 47 per cent of sexually active youth in the NWT reported using them regularly, according to a new study.

Fostering Open eXpression among Youth (FOXY) commissioned the study on the sexual practices of 610 teens from 17 communities around the North and found only 52 per cent of sexually active male and 43.5 per cent of the sexually active female respondents were using condoms on a consistent basis. The study also found rural teens and those who use drugs or alcohol were less likely to use safe sex practices.

About 20 per cent of respondents reported being sexually active but those numbers could be higher as a result of under-reporting and while rates of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections have been improving in the NWT, the numbers still far exceed the rest of the country.

Pregnancy rates for girls aged 15 to 19 in the Northwest Territories, for example, are nearly three times the Canadian average, according to Statistics Canada.

The prevalence of sexually transmitted infections in the North is about seven times the national average of 3.2 cases per 1,000 people, according to a 2015 report from the Department of Health and Social Services, while a 2016 study found chlamydia rates in the NWT were nearly 18 times higher than the national average.

Northerners have been having sex with one another. One could argue it’s a very Northern activity. But the youth need to be taught to do so in a responsible manner and education is the key.

FOXY should be commended for its ongoing work promoting mental and sexual health in the North. The group was recently gifted $1 million in funding over five years by the federal government. Lets hope they put that money to good use but there will need to be a larger educational campaign if we want to promote safe sex among teens, which is where the government needs to step in.

The government needs to put its might behind marketing condoms and making them available in the communities. If condoms were made more obtainable and presented as fun and cool, wouldn’t teens be more likely to at least buy them, and perhaps even to use them?

Those little bits of latex are a big deal. They have the power to curb the spread of HIV/AIDS and other STIs and they can prevent unwanted pregnancies too.

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