Grace Colley is an executive board member of Davidson College’s chapter of Planned Parenthood Generation Action (PPGA). She is also one of the Sexual Wellness Vending Machine Project managers of this year’s campus initiative.
This academic year, Davidson College’s chapter of Planned Parenthood Generation Action received the campus campaign grant to begin an initiative on campus to help address a problem we saw as prevalent among our student body. After a period of research and surveying, we found that there was a huge barrier in access to basic over-the-counter sexual wellness products on campus.
The product we heard the most need for was Plan B Emergency Contraceptive. We have a CVS Pharmacy in walking distance from campus, but the cost of Plan B there is $49.99 before tax. Our student health center also sells Plan B for $25. While the health center is clearly more accessible for students both in terms of finances and location, it is closed during the weekend and after five on the weekdays -- both of which are typically peak hours during which Plan B is needed. Students are able to phone an off duty nurse, but many students have reported that this process can take hours or simply makes them uncomfortable.
The health center also typically requires students to undergo questioning before getting the pill and the staff will only administer it to cisgendered women. We contend that both of these regulations can be problematic for trans students, students who need the pill due to sexual assault, and male students attempting to acquire the pill for their partner.
The need was clear.
Providing an additional option that has no barriers would foster a more inclusive, comfortable environment in which to purchase Plan B, while also acknowledging that contraceptive access should not be a gendered responsibility. We concluded that having a vending machine with sexual wellness products for a reduced price would eliminate huge barriers for our student body and further destigmatize reproductive health.
In addition to having Plan B Emergency Contraceptive ($18) for sale in the machine, we have pads (4 for $2), pantyliners (8 for $2), ibuprofen (2 doses for $2), pregnancy tests ($4 each), condoms (free), dental dams (free), and lubrication (free). We are extremely pleased to not only offer these products for a low price, but our vending machine is also the only place on campus where students can purchase menstrual products.
In the short time our machine has been up and running, we have seen almost half of the pregnancy tests gone, I have had to restock the condoms/lubrication on three separate occasions, and 5 Plan B pills were sold. Clearly, we are seeing a need realized.
A huge part of this project is not only providing a much-needed service to students but also starting a campus-wide conversation about sexual health and access.
During the vending machine reveal party earlier this month we were able to not only talk about the services of the machine, but also talk more generally about reproductive health to a wide audience. We played Sexual Health Jeopardy that focused on busting myths about menstruation and contraception. We found this event to be a productive, fun way to engage students in conversation about a topic they would usually find uncomfortable.
Additionally, the machine has information posted on it about how and where students can access contraceptives on campus, which contraception method could be best for them, important Plan B medical information, and other general resources specific to our campus. Advocating to have this machine on campus took almost two semesters. We are grateful that throughout every step of the process, we received immense support from the faculty, student body, and other campus organizations.
Through this campus initiative, we have seen results that went beyond even our high expectations, and we are extremely thankful for the opportunity Planned Parenthood South Atlantic gave us with this grant.
We hope that other university campuses across the nation and the world are also inspired to break down barriers to care. We already see the immense benefits it can bring students.
We encourage others to do more than contact their legislators. We know that not everyone has the time to survey the needs of those around them, but everyone can start the conversation with their friends and family about reproductive healthcare.