In browsing the archives for our review of the decade, the thing that stood out the most was how little changes in UCD. Every year, the same stories make the headlines – staff strikes, mumps outbreaks, Students’ Union elections and society scandals. Time marches on, but life in UCD remains largely unchanged. Aside from the changing face of the campus, our community life in Belfield doesn’t look all that different than it did ten years ago.
But a look at the documents released by the DPP recently under the 30-year rule show that UCD in 1979 was a very different place to study and live. While we as students may find it hard to believe that UCD was ever at the forefront of a major national scandal, in the late 70s, it was just that.
It’s even harder to believe that as late as 1979, condoms weren’t widely available as a form of contraception. UCD was – for a brief time – the proud home to Ireland’s very first condom vending machine. The fact that the machine lasted just a week before it was set alight and burned off the wall is a reflection of how radical this move was at the time.
In stark contrast to the religious outrage that caused the machine to be vandalised, the more open-minded students of UCD rushed to use the service – 160 condoms per day were bought by frisky scholars in its short time on campus.
If that’s hard to believe, then it’s downright shocking to read that at the beginning of this new decade of sexual freedom, a parents’ group was up in arms about making condoms freely available to students. Making the headlines in 2000 was the criticism levied at the SU for including free condoms in their Freshers’ packs. According to the National Parents Council, making sure students high from their first dose of freedom have the tools to make good sexual choices was a “dangerous and irresponsible” move.
And it wasn’t just the parents who were horrified. The incumbent L&H auditor said the decision to distribute condoms in this manner was “inappropriate, insulting, counterproductive and sickeningly commercialised.” Nowadays, condoms are a standard part of any student pack; from Freshers’ Week to SHAG week, and the idea that anyone would think it a bad idea to provide horny and hormonal young people with adequate protection is almost inconceivable.
Thankfully, time and opinions have moved on, and our attitudes to contraception have become more permissive. Although the morning after pill remains a prescription-only purchase, students in UCD are well catered for when it comes to sexual health. With our own doctors’ clinic, pharmacy, and links to STI testing services; the facilities are in place to help students be responsible about their sexual practices.
Much of this progress has been achieved in the past ten years. Not only are condoms now available for free from the SU Welfare Officer, but deals have been struck with suppliers to make them cheaper to purchase from the SU shops. The link between UCD and Dr Freedman’s STI clinic in Ranelagh is a real boon to students, since the availability of free STI testing in Dublin leaves a lot to be desired.
As we proceed into the new decade, let’s hope that the huge strides UCD has made towards encouraging responsible sexual health practices continue with the same determination that marked the naughty noughties.