SANTA CRUZ, CA—A free condom served as a harsh reminder of the sexless existence Julie Tudor has endured since February 2002, the 31-year-old bookstore manager reported Tuesday.
"Uh, thanks," said Tudor, reluctantly accepting a LifeStyles Xtra Pleasure condom attached to a brochure containing detailed information on proper use of the prophylactic. "But I really don't, uh, okay, thanks."
At approximately 2 p.m., while cutting across the University of California–Santa Cruz campus en route to a coffee shop, Tudor encountered a table featuring a hand-painted sign urging passersby to practice safe sex. She was immediately offered a condom by Stephanie Loughlin, a volunteer for the campus organization UC–Santa Cruz Safe-Sex Alliance.
"I could've told them to save it for someone who has even a remote chance of actually using it, but I still have some dignity," said Tudor, who hasn't needed a prophylactic since her Feb. 14, 2002 split with then-boyfriend Doug Ryback. "God, if they only knew how little they were helping me."
Tudor said she smiled politely when Loughlin, a bubbly 20-year-old, bounded up to her and urged her to "play it safe."
"I didn't want to say that in the 11 months since Doug and I broke up, I really haven't been 'playing it' at all," Tudor said. "Thanks for reminding me."
Tudor said she still has plenty of unused condoms at home.
"I have a box that hasn't been touched since the breakup," Tudor said. "I know they're still there, because I checked for them before going out with that jerk stockbroker Michelle set me up with last month."
Tudor initially tried to avoid the safe-sex booth, pretending not to hear Safe-Sex Alliance volunteer Ryan Schumann when he shouted, "Free condom?" Misinterpreting Tudor's efforts to sidestep the booth as discomfort with the subject of sex, Schumann targeted her for additional education.
"Some people don't like talking about sex, which is why outreach programs like ours are so vitally important," said Schumann, 19. "I told her not to be embarrassed, and that sexuality is a normal, healthy part of everyone's life.'"
"Everyone's except mine," Tudor replied when told of Schumann's remarks. "I decided to spare him that detail, though, and let him blather on about mutual respect and positive sexuality and something about a dance at the student union on the last Friday of every month."
Despite not needing protection from unwanted pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases, Tudor was offered a choice of condoms by Trojan, Durex, Trustex, inSpiral, and Crown—all placed in a fishbowl along with complimentary packets of Astroglide lubricant and Wet-brand flavored lube pillows.
"When I sort of frowned at the condom in my hand, they pulled me over to pick any that I liked better from their cornucopia of condoms," Tudor said. "Lubricated, non-lubricated, for-her-pleasure, for-his, mint-flavored. They even had ones wrapped in foil that looked like candy coins. Which, I hate to admit, caught my eye for a second. Chocolate, I would've had some use for."
Declining the offer of an alternate condom, Tudor grudgingly accepted a brochure containing "fun and safe" sex practices to try with her purely theoretical partner. She also took a printed sheet listing local health clinics that provide free testing for STDs, a brochure on the correct use of dental dams, and a photocopy of an article about female condoms—none of which remotely interested her.
In the two weeks since Tudor's last major sex-related letdown—her failure to get laid on New Year's Eve despite a willingness to sleep with anyone even slightly attractive—sex had largely been relegated to the back of her mind. On Tuesday, however, Tudor was reminded of her sexless existence every time she opened her purse and saw the free condom.
"Back in college, when I was screwing with reasonable regularity, I'd actually spend time thinking about the subject [of safe sex]," Tudor said. "I'd worry if carrying a condom in my purse was being too forward. I'd think, is it okay to have sex with friends? What sort of stuff do I want to explore? Are threesomes safe? I had no idea that one day, my safe-sex questions would boil down to, 'Where can I get some?'"
Loughlin, who has volunteered for UC–Santa Cruz Safe-Sex Alliance since September, said she sees the unwillingness of some people to discuss sex as a problem facing safe-sex activists.
"Some people are, like, really weird about sex, and that totally sucks," said Loughlin, adjusting a "Be On The Safe Side!" banner. "That's why I'm here. The more open everyone is about it, the less people will die."
"God, I remember back when I was her age," Tudor said. "I was dating this guy who lived in Arizona, but I kept cheating on him with this guy on my dorm floor: Kyle? Karl? He was a rock climber, a real outdoorsy type—kinda skinny but strong. You know, with these nice knotty muscles. I'm sorry, what was your question?"