The University of Utah created ‘Pleasure Packs’ to discreetly mail condoms to students

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) University of Utah student Grace Mason, left, and health educator Maya Jolley want you to talk about sex. "We hope to break down the stigmas," said Mason, Jan 15, 2020, who along with Jolley created "The Pleasure Pack" discreet delivery and pick-up service to increase access to safer sex supplies and increase sexual and reproductive health knowledge. University of Utah students can customize their Pleasure Pack with external or internal condoms, oral dams, and water or silicone-based lubricants.

It’s sort of like the Grubhub of safe sex.

Only in place of ordering a burger and fries, the University of Utah’s new delivery service lets students pick out a custom package of condoms and lube.

“And they’ll be sent right to your dorm,” boasted Grace Mason, a junior and the force behind starting the program, hosted by the U.’s Center for Student Wellness.

The school has cheekily branded the deliveries “Pleasure Packs.” And students can request one for free and have it delivered to campus housing in a discreet envelope. All it takes is filling out a brief survey of what you want — latex-free or XL condoms, oral dams, water- or silicone-based lubricant — and an order will be mailed your way.

The service launched in January. In the first week, more than 30 students requested a pack. By month’s end, more than 50 had.

[Read more: Recalled Utah condoms appear on eBay]

“We want to empower students to feel like they have access to resources,” Mason added. “And this is just a great way to do that and break down the stigmas around sex with funny slogans, reminding people that pleasure is a part of sex.”

In some ways, the new effort mirrors what the Utah Department of Health tried to do with its HIV awareness campaign this month — which actually kicked off on the same day as the U.’s on Jan. 15. For that, state officials created and distributed condoms with provocative Utah-themed packaging, including labels that said “Greatest Sex on Earth,” “SL,UT” and an image of a highway sign pointing to the towns “Fillmore” and “Beaver.”

The project faced pushback and was later shut down by the governor, who called it too risqué and a poor use of federal funding.

Call it getting lucky, but the U.’s service doesn’t face that same threat. It is both geared toward college students and funded by them — with a $20 fee per student that goes to health programs on campus — rather than by taxpayers. And so far, it’s been a hit.

Across campus, there are posters promoting it. One features a banana and says, “Safe sex is a-peel-ing.” Another has a picture of a bed with rumpled sheets. Some students have even gotten in on the humor with their own sensual suggestions, joking: “The U. is not a dry campus any more” (a riff on the school prohibiting alcohol).

They’re less Utah specific and more about engaging safely in a physical relationship while having a little fun.

“People are really excited about it,” said Maya Jolley, a health educator at the U.’s Center for Student Wellness who worked with Mason on creating the packs. “It’s been a good way to encourage folks to engage in a conversation about sex and consent.”

Mason added: “So far, people have just been laughing and having a good time with it. There’s joy and confidence. We’re all in college. We all want to be healthy.”

Now a student in gender studies and health, society and policy, Mason first became interested in improving sex education in high school when she was signed up to take a class on the topic and said she learned next to nothing.

Her teacher was also the basketball coach. She remembers him declining to answer any of her questions. “He would just shake his head,” she recalled. “I was not satisfied.”

In Utah, a conservative state, sex education has always been a flashpoint. The classroom standards for the topic were recently updated for the first time in 20 years — and still focus on teaching only abstinence.

So Mason got involved with a peer health education group and has continued studying the best ways to talk about sex with young adults. As a freshman, she stumbled upon other campuswide contraception initiatives — such as a similar program called “The Condom Fairy” at Boston University and another at the University of Denver— and decided she wanted to set up something like those here.

The U.’s Center for Student Wellness has always had condoms in its office. But many students haven’t known about them or have felt too uncomfortable or shy to pick any up there, Jolley said.

With the Pleasure Packs, staffers have already distributed more condoms in a few weeks than they typically do during an entire semester.

The packs are put together by student staffers from the safe sex club that Mason formed on campus. They’re all trained on confidentiality — which is a big part of making the program work.

It starts with students going to the website — wellness.utah.edu/safersex — to fill out a simple survey with a few questions about what kind of supplies they want. Each pack comes with a combination of 10 condoms or oral dams and five packets of lube, and students can choose what type they want. Mason specifically wanted to make it inclusive and cover the needs for both straight and LGBTQ students.

Once the packs are created, they’re addressed to a student’s mailbox at the dorms or put in a bin for pickup at the student Union building or the Wellness Center for those who don’t live on campus. To be discreet, the envelope doesn’t give any indication of what’s inside or where it’s from.

Mason reached into one she made as a test and pulled out the brochure that’s included, which she designed, that discusses safe sex practices and lists resources, including STD testing on campus. Salt Lake County’s annual report on infectious diseases found that in 2018, sexually transmitted ones topped the list — particularly among teens. And she hopes students will look over the information.

“They’re a fun but mighty package,” she said with a giggle. “This is an easy way to get to know your lube. If you want to try something new, you can learn how to use it, too.”

This semester is a pilot, Jolley noted. The group currently does delivery on Wednesdays, so getting a Pleasure Pack is less of a heat-of-the-moment thing and requires a bit of planning. If it’s popular enough, though, the center might expand that. And right now, there’s no limit on how many packs a student can order.

There are 3,400 students living on campus and 30,000 total who attend school at the U. Mason wants them to know that getting a condom can be as easy as ordering something to eat or drink on their phone.

In fact, at one point, she thought about calling them “Thirst Aid Kits.”