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The third wheel

With an economy in shambles, rising tuition and cramped dorm space, today’s college environment may not be the best in which to raise a baby. But with the apparent degeneration of relationships into a series of drinking games and superfluous conversations, any combination of which leads to someone’s bedroom, the traditional workload normally required to satisfy hormonal urges has significantly lightened over the years. Soon, if the economy continues to struggle, niceties such as beer and vodka may no longer be affordable in the new courting process, and the whole roundabout scheme to achieve physical satisfaction may devolve into one charmingly simple question: “Sex?”

How to balance these two opposing forces, the natural call to procreate and the economic opposition to collegiate baby-making? The solution is counterintuitive: Add another sexual partner! No matter what combination of genitalia is present, a third wheel will only make the experience better. That ever-present, ever-ready, ever-satisfactory other partner is the condom.

The last defender of sexual promiscuity, the squire of modern chivalry, the artifact that, according to Trojan, turns pigs into humans. But is something awry in the land of penis-covering plastic? Earlier this year, the Guttmacher Institute, an organization devoted to the study of sexual health, found that in 2006 the teen pregnancy rate rose for the first time since the 1990s. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the rate of syphilis and chlamydia infections increased between 2007 and 2008.

Even the enchantment of the Gothic Wonderland may be overpowered by these trends. According to the 2007 report on the Campus Culture Initiative, a crack team of investigators discovered a “hook-up culture” characterized by “casual sexual connections.” In the oft-times treacherous world of casual sex, only one partner can be counted on—the condom. But, like any effective partner, it too must be treated with respect. According to another Guttmacher Institute report, condoms used perfectly fail 2 percent of the time. But, due to mishandling, the typical failure rate is closer to 17 percent! 

Can Duke stave off disaster? Can the condom still be trusted? To find out, I went searching for the scholar of the condom on campus. Her name is Lindsey Bickers Bock, the Healthy Devils Peer Education Program Coordinator.

Bickers Bock said in an e-mail that some scrutiny is important when it comes to condoms. Not all condoms are made equal. Some condoms are made for novelty use—they usually don’t protect their wearers from anything. Such fool’s gold is not your friend. When you do find the real McCoy, consider the material from which the condom is made. According to Bickers Bock, latex is the best at preventing STDs and pregnancies. Lambskin condoms contain small pores that may permit STD transmission. Polyurethane condoms have a higher tendency to slip off or break relative to their latex cousins.

But latex does not solve all problems. Hook-up hubris will not escape the wrath of Bacchus and the burn of gonorrhea. A latex condom stored in heat or exposed to too much sunlight can dry out and will be more likely to break during crunch time. Bickers Bock recommends keeping a condom somewhere other than in a wallet, pocket or glove-compartment. And if the moment calls for that extra glide, make sure to use water-based, rather than oil-based lubricants for latex condoms.

For students looking to jump on the latest Duke condom trend, Bickers Bock wrote that the Lifestyles Ultra Sensitive condoms have been the most popular over the past year. In terms of safety, all of the packaging hoopla made over the strength, shape, texture and thinness of various condoms makes little difference. If the condom is FDA approved, then the sex is safe. Your sexual experience is backed by the government! And who said the little guy is getting no love from Feds?

When it comes to the casual sex scene, integrity may not be the first word that comes to mind. The “hit-it-and-quit-it” mentality turns every encounter into a one-night stand. But for at least one relationship, integrity always matters. In the wild west of romantic involvement, only one sidekick can be trusted with your life. That partner can come in different shapes, sizes and colors, and sometimes your accomplice may even smell nice too. The relationship is one of mutual respect, one in which both partners leave their well-being fully up to the other. And so next time someone snidely asks about last night, have the courage to say you did fall in love, even if it was with a piece of plastic.    

Elad Gross is a Trinity senior. His column runs every other Friday.

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