Tucson teens urged to Use Condom Sense’

As a family planning provider, you want to reach teens who are sexually active and are not practicing safer sex. While your clinic makes condoms readily available, teens either don’t take advantage of them or are unaware that such programs exist. What can you do?

Take a look at Tucson’s "Protection Connection." Managed by Planned Parenthood of Southern Arizona, the program operates 19 condom vending machines in high-traffic areas frequented by adolescents. For 50 cents, they can obtain a condom and a friendly reminder to "Use Condom Sense" to reduce the risk of pregnancy and the spread of sexually transmitted infections.

The program allows the condoms to be distributed to youth who really need them: sexually active teens under age 17 who don’t normally access local reproductive health services, says Patti Caldwell, MSW, senior vice president of Planned Parenthood of Southern Arizona. Most of those adolescents obtain their condoms from drugstores, rely on friends for supplies, or wait until they are a little older to visit reproductive health clinics.

"We don’t see the majority of these teens, so it is important to us that we don’t make access to what they need conditional on walking into a clinic," notes Caldwell.

Protection Connection is a social marketing campaign focused on changing the social norm among sexually active youth to consistent condom use, according to Caldwell. Its approach was inspired by programs such as Portland’s "Project ACTION," administered by Population Services International, a nonprofit health organization in Washington, DC. (Contraceptive Technology Update offered an overview of Project ACTION in STD Quarterly in June 1997, p. 72.)

Teen focus groups help design program

Training and technical assistance from Population Services International began in late 1997, with 1998 devoted to developing a community advisory board and raising funds for the project. The program also contracted with market research firm Behavior Research Center of Phoenix for baseline research with local teens, including 12 focus groups of young people and a convenience sample of 300 young people under age 17. This initial research, as well as pretesting, guided the development of media images and messages.

The youth identified city park and recreation centers, coffee houses, and night clubs featuring teen nights as potential vending machine locations. Program staff installed the machines and kicked off a media campaign in midsummer 1999. Bus benches, advertising placards in local transit buses, and radio spots were used to heighten awareness of the program. This year has seen the addition of a teen advisory board, a part-time teen coordinator, and six part-time outreach workers. The program costs about $100,000 per year, Caldwell estimates.

The machines are stocked with Ansell LifeStyles condoms from Ansell Personal Products of Red Bank, NJ. The program has hired one person to install the machines and perform regular maintenance every two weeks to keep them clean and functional, says Caldwell.

Behavior, attitudes shift

A second convenience sample was performed this spring to check on project recognition and impact. More than half of young people now associate condoms with safer sex, compared with 39% in 1998. Use of the condom machines rose to 57%, up from 42% the previous year.

The simple message of "Use Condom Sense" has been heard by the target audience. About three-quarter of teens surveyed said they were aware of the media campaign. More than 90% of teens say the campaign has made them very or somewhat likely to use condoms when they have sex.

The ads seen on the bus benches and placards feature one of four images of a young man or woman holding a condom, along with the words "Use Condom Sense — a friendly reminder from Planned Parenthood," and the message, "Although no contraceptive or prophylactic can guarantee 100% effectiveness, condoms, when properly used, reduce the risk of pregnancy and the spread of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV." The same images are used on the condom vending machines.

To advertise the location of the machines, Planned Parenthood has printed wallet-size cards with the "Use Condom Sense" logo and a listing of all machine locations. Included inside the cards is an illustration of how to use a condom, because the 2000 convenience survey indicated a decline in the number of teens who said they knew correct condom usage.

Repeating the message

Planned Parenthood of Southern Arizona is committing to the condom awareness program for the long haul, says Caldwell.

"We want to continue to evolve the media campaign and get enough money to keep funding it," she notes. "Keeping the message out there is really important, since teen-agers are only teen-agers for awhile, then there are new teen-agers."

Such a continued commitment is needed, says Cynthia Mick, FNP, BSN, MSN, primary nurse practitioner at Planned Parenthood’s Jean Hoffman Center in Tucson. The clinic sees a large number of teen- and college-age patients.

"I think teen-agers are beginning to use condoms more often, although I think it is still a significant problem," observes Mick. "I think that it is a difficult group, and it’s going to take more time."

For more information on the Protection Connection campaign, contact:

Patti Caldwell, MSW, Planned Parenthood of Southern Arizona, 127 S. Fifth Ave., Tucson, AZ 85701. Telephone: (520) 624-1761, ext. 211. E-mail: patti.caldwell@ppfa.org.