The executive director of a Spartanburg nonprofit has amassed a unique collection she hopes will get more people talking about preventing sexually transmitted diseases.
Tracey Jackson has been with Piedmont Care, an organization dedicated to fighting the spread of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, for close to 18 years. She recently began gathering condoms from the various places she visits.
In her office are dozens of condoms from places as close as Washington and as far away as South Africa.
“It’s certainly a conversation starter, or ender, depending on who you’re talking to,” Jackson said. “It definitely fits with what we do in trying to make more available and encouraging everyone to use condoms.”
The condoms she was given in South Africa came from the country’s government. Jackson said in Africa, efforts to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS focus on prevention, rather than on the medical treatment needed after the disease has been contracted.
“There, everywhere you go, they talk about AIDS,” Jackson said. “There, (condoms) are everywhere.”
Jackson’s collection features many condom wrappers designed to elicit a laugh.
One condom wrapper features the Loch Ness Monster on the front. Another bears the logo of a brewery in Colorado.
Jackson said South Carolina, and the rest of the U.S., could learn a few things from other countries about making condoms more easily accessible.
More condom use could drastically cut the statewide rates of HIV/AIDS and other STDs, Jackson said.
South Carolina’s HIV/AIDS rate recently fell from 10th in the country to 13th.
In 2014, the most recent year for which data from the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control is available, Spartanburg County had an HIV/AIDS rate of 124.1 per 1,000 people.
The rates of chlamydia and gonorrhea for the same year are higher, DHEC data showed.
Spartanburg County reported 1,477 cases of chlamydia, equal to a rate of 507.6 per 1,000 people.
A total of 479 reported cases of gonorrhea equaled a rate of 164.6 per 1,000 people.
While Piedmont Care focuses specifically on disease prevention, other organizations aim to reduce teen pregnancy rates by making condoms and other contraceptives more readily available.
There is shared ground between the two focus areas, however, Jackson said.
“If you don’t have conversations about condoms, then we have a problem,” she said. “Other birth control methods don’t prevent disease.”
Polly Padgett, adolescent health project director at the Mary Black Foundation, said using condoms is a must for anyone who is sexually active, especially young people.
“From our perspective, it’s about your sexual health,” she said. “The interventions we do, they don’t just talk about teen pregnancy, they talk about your body, taking care of yourself and your health. Obviously, you can’t talk about that without talking about preventing disease.”
Padgett said the foundation has worked with Jackson to break down barriers to the availability of condoms in Spartanburg County.
The more difficult it is to get condoms, the more likely it is disease rates, including the rate of HIV/AIDS, will rise, Jackson said.
She said talking about the disease and its prevention is often uncomfortable for people because any discussion has to include issues of race, poverty, sex, gender and sexuality.
However difficult, those conversations need to be had, Jackson said. She hopes something lighthearted such as her condom collection can get people talking about ways to prevent the spread of STDs.
“This has become a teaching tool,” she said. “We both need to be edgy and want to be provocative to get people talking about these topics.”
An Associated Press Member Exchange