Thousands of Mardi Gras beads will be loaded with condoms in Soulard this year. They’re part of an “in your face” attempt to fight sexually transmitted diseases in St. Louis.
Those behind the effort told Fox 2 Tuesday night, that it was far from being “over the top”.
For one thing, the “condom beads” will not be thrown from floats during Saturday’s Mardi Gras parade.
For another, the people who test for STD’s told Fox 2 the problem of STD’s in St. Louis was too big too ignore; Mardi Gras was an STD breeding ground.
“STD transmission is at an all time high, anywhere you go,” said Boomer Gutknecht, a counselor at the Advanced Medical Testing Center in Webster Groves.
“People get careless. They make bad decisions. They just don’t think. That’s partly because it’s a party, Mardi Gras,” he said.
So, he and his coworkers were stringing together 4,000 sets of beads and 4,000 condoms to give away at Mardi Gras in Soulard this weekend.
“St. Louis does have one of the highest STD rates in the country,” Gutknecht said.
For example, the Centers for Disease Control’s most recent statistics rank St. Louis second in the nation for Chlamydia infection.
Gutknecht said every year around this time, calls to the testing center skyrocket.
“After Mardi Gras, 100% . Because like i said, people are down there, they’re not thinking. They’re just partying,” he said. “A guy who was a virgin last week, calling in this week because he had unprotected sex with someone and he got on the internet and found out, saw some pictures that scared him to death…a huge increase of people calling saying, ‘oh man, I was drunk’. I can’t remember if I wore a condom or not’.”
So this year, several Soulard bars will be giving away the beads with a simple message to get people talking and thinking before they’ve had too much to drink to do either one.
“Catch these, not STD’s,” is the message on one condom wrapper.
“Hopefully … it’s in the back of your mind,” said Gutknecht’s coworker, Kassey Mellos.
“It’s not just, ‘ok, it’s no big deal.’ Well, not this time, because this time could ultimately be [THE TIME]; absolutely, no doubt about it…let’s take a moment, actually think about what we’re doing. Get to know this person. Talk about these things…it’s serious. It’s really a life or death situation. You have to be careful, out there.”
Abstinence, especially on a weekend like Mardi Gras, was always the best option, she said.
“This is certainly not going to be an eye-opener for anybody that condoms exist, sex exists and STD’s exist,” said Bree Dunsworth, who snatched up a set of condom beads at The Shanti bar Tuesday night. “It’s just awareness. A reminder. Definitely.”
The condom packages also have phone numbers and websites for STD testing centers:
(866) 396-4678, (866) 392-1659.