Risky birth control methods see increase at UW-River Falls, survey shows

Posted March 2, 2016

UW-River Falls has seen an increase in risky methods of birth control among students, according to a triennial survey most recently conducted last year.

The National College Health Assessment (NCHA) suggests a significant rise in the use of “withdrawal” among UWRF students questioned about what they had last used to prevent pregnancy, with an increase from 24 percent in 2009 to 39 percent in 2015, compared to a national rate of 29 percent in 2014. Birth control pills also appear to be less popular by about 6 percentage points since 2012.

The NCHA, published by the American College Health Association, surveys many colleges. Among them is UWRF, where students are given the option to take the survey every third year.

Condom use among students — specifically in vaginal intercourse — has remained fairly stable, with 2015’s survey showing a rate of 66.2 percent among UWRF students. Meanwhile, according to a recent survey at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, condom use has fallen from 60 to 52 percent since 2010, which has caused concern on that campus. One U of M official even said the new numbers are the lowest in recent memory.

On the other hand, on the increase at UWRF is the use of emergency contraceptives (ECs), often referred to as the morning-after pill. EC use has increased from 5 percent of respondents in 2000 to 12 percent in 2015.

Students have access to services both on campus and off that offer help in various situations.

On campus, students may go to Student Health and Counseling Services (SHCS) in 211 Hagestad Hall. That’s where Keven Syverson works as the office’s first and only health education coordinator. In September, he will have been in the position for 15 years. SHCS serves students by covering a broad range of potential problems, from alcohol to tobacco to sexual assault and, of course, sexual health.

Covering such a variety of subjects means having to sometimes focus on certain issues more than others.

“It’s hard to get everything out there for everyone to see at all times,” Syverson said.

“For example,” he said about a question from the NCHA asking students what information they have received from their university, “if you look at sexual assault, that’s gone up (in regards to students being informed about it by UWRF). People have received more information about that — it’s a hotter topic now.”

While sexual assault and violence information at UWRF rose by about 26 percent since 2000, the availability of information on pregnancy and sexually transmitted infection (STI) prevention has remained roughly the same.

Student awareness of available help is one factor that determines how much SHCS is able to work with students.

“There’s only so many ways to get information out on this campus, and that’s always a challenge and always has been — how to get information out to students, and consistently,” Syverson said.

Among materials SHCS offers about reproductive health is a free “sexual choices” kit, complete with condoms and information about their use.

“The biggest problem with using condoms, for them being effective, is user failure — not being put on properly,” Syverson said.

The kits also come with a breath mint.

SHCS also is organizing the UWRF Health Fair scheduled for April 13.

A short walk from the east side of campus is Pierce County Reproductive Health Services (PCRHS), 1234 S. Wasson Lane. PCRHS offers testing for pregnancy, STIs, cervical cancer and urinary tract infections, among many other services related to sexual and reproductive health.

PCRHS maintains a contract with UWRF, which doesn’t have its own reproductive health office. The contract allows students to take advantage of many services PCRHS provides at no cost. Such services include emergency contraception, testing for pregnancy and certain sexually transmitted diseases or STIs including HIV, genital wart treatment and pap smears. Other services allow students to access them at a reduced price.

Two PCRHS registered nurses, Kelsi Winter and Michelle Klechefski, had much to say about sexual and reproductive health and safety.

Klechefski gave an example of how her job with PCRHS has been rewarding in allowing her to help others.

“You get these young women, generally, usually with STDs — they’re scared to death. They’ve had a partner who has told them, ‘I have chlamydia.’ They’re not always entirely sure what chlamydia is,” she said.

“So then you just say, ‘This is what it is. If you don’t treat it, it’s a big deal, but it’s very easy to treat and then it’s gone,'” she said. “So you feel pretty good about doing that… You kind of feel you did your good deed for the day.”

Winter continued: “The biggest thing is to educate yourself, look at reputable websites or just come in and talk to someone — talk to us. Use condoms.”

“And the morning-after pill is not a birth control method!” Klechefski added.

In 2012, the NCHA’s UWRF survey showed an unplanned pregnancy rate of 1.4 percent, consistent since the survey began in 2000. In 2015, the rate was 0.6 percent.