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Condomsense battling condom fatigue



Condoms prevent sexually transmitted diseases. That message hasn't changed over the years but B.C. statistics show that people are not paying attention to the message or they are choosing to ignore the facts.

STDs like chlamydia, gonorrhoea and syphilis are at very high levels in the province and HIV is on the rise in certain sections of the community.

"The message hasn't been modernized. It's not a message that young people nowadays listen to," said Dr. Michael Rekart, the director of sexually transmitted diseases at the B.C. Centre for Disease Control.

Some researchers are attributing the increase to what they call "condom fatigue."

"The basic preventative measure is something that people don't like – using condoms," said Rekart. "People aren't using condoms as much as they used to."

Rekart says there has been no innovative ways to target various groups and get them more aware of the importance of using condoms. He says young people were not sexually active in the early ’90s when condom education was at its height. Likewise, people are seeing medical trends that have AIDS sufferers living longer lives and some believe a cure for the disease may be imminent. Researchers say this so-called "treatment optimism" has led to increased unsafe sex.

The infection trends reinforce the importance of the Condomsense campaign in Whistler, which will be going on Dec. 6-15.

During this time, volunteers from Whistler-Blackcomb will be heading out to the local bars and staff housing to distribute condoms and information about safe sex.

"(Wearing condoms) should be like putting on a seatbelt. It should be like brushing your teeth," said Corinne Gardner, a local pharmacist and the director of the annual Condomsense campaign.

The rate of STD infection in Whistler is relatively high per capita compared to other Canadian towns, just because of the nature of resort living.

"It's a unique experience coming to a resort community. It's like university to a certain degree, without the homework, so they have more time to be socializing," said Kirby Brown, director of employee experience at Whistler-Blackcomb.

With all this "socializing" Whistler residents are keeping the doors of the SAFE (Sexual Awareness for Everyone) Clinic swinging.

The clinic is open on Tuesdays from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. and Thursdays from 5 to 7 p.m., and on a busy winter night the nurses can see between 35 and 50 people.

The clinic, located on the second floor of the Whistler Health Care Centre, is the place to go for birth control, STD testing and free HIV testing. There are also counsellors on hand to offer advice or answer questions about sex.

"(Whistler) can sometimes be a lonely place," said Brown. "The lure of the bar scene and alcohol and drugs, combined with the desire to fit in can lead you to make decisions that you can sometimes regret."

Condoms can lessen that regret.

Rekart isn't sure how to make that message to resonate among teens and young adults in Whistler but he said there is a correlation between education and rate of infection.

"The message is that AIDS isn't over, that STD's are still out there and it's very easy to avoid them. Just take the time to use condoms," he said.

The Condomsense campaign might be a way to trigger changes in sexual behaviour in Whistler.

"Younger kids might be more savvy about their sexuality but the more reinforcement (about safe sex), the better," said Brown.

Condomsense falls around the same time as World AIDS Day, which is on Dec. 1.

It is estimated that 36.1 million people worldwide are living with HIV. People are encouraged to wear a red ribbon to show their support for those living with the disease.