By Andrew Mitchell
Life in a ski town is life on the edge. You push the envelope. You risk life and limb for one more rush of adrenaline and a brain-tingling infusion of endorphins. If you stop to think about it, even for a second, you may lose your nerve. So you go for it.
Which is fine with Corinne Gardner, a local pharmacist and the director of Whistler's annual Condomsense campaign — just keep it on the hill. If you go to the bar, have a few too many, and go home with someone, you're going to want to think things through first.
"You'd better get into the practice of using condoms," says Gardner. "Because you never know. You could get an STD, pregnant and even HIV and you will never see it coming."
"The typical visitor to the Whistler SAFE (Sexual Awareness For Everyone) clinic who is worried that they may have picked up a sexually transmitted disease is a 23-year-old sweet young thing, away from home for the first time, who went out drinking and forgot her responsibilities. She went home with somebody and now she's scared she might have picked up something. In most cases it will turn out to be nothing, but it's still better to be scared. You can think you know somebody, but you don't."
Although statistics indicate that the number of people contracting STD's, HIV and unwanted pregnancies are down, according to Gardner we're not out of the woods yet. Since the SAFE Clinic opened five years ago, more than 42 people in Whistler have been diagnosed with HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus), the virus responsible for AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome), 22 of which have been diagnosed with AIDS.
"That may not sound like a lot, but when you consider that Whistler is a small community with a permanent population of 10,000, it's a high number," says Gardner. In B.C., 2,400 people have been diagnosed with AIDS. Two thousand of those, according to Gardner, are already dead.
Although statistics are hard to come by, based on the number of people who are coming in to the SAFE clinic to get tested, Gardner says that many Whistlerites are still having unprotected sex. In the last five years, the clinic has conducted more than 15,000 HIV tests — one and a half tests for every member of the permanent population.
And HIV isn't the only thing you have to worry about if you have unprotected sex. Chlamydia, Gonorrhoea, Syphilis, Herpes and crabs are also out there if you're not careful. "Chlamydia is probably the number one STD in Whistler, but Herpes is running a close second," says Gardner. Although the population of Whistler only accounts for one eighth of the total population of the Sea to Sky Corridor, we account for more than 60 per cent of the reported cases of STD's.
The Condomsense campaign runs from Nov. 18 to Nov. 25, as Gardner and a group of 35 volunteers go from bar to bar handing out condoms, literature, educational tools, prizes and more condoms.
"We want to get the message across to the guys out there that going to the store to buy condoms should be like going to the store to buy toothpaste," says Gardner. "Do it for your friends, in case they need to borrow one. It shouldn't be a big deal for you guys at all."
Gardner is still looking for more volunteers for this year's campaign, especially men. "It's weird considering we're not the ones who need to wear them, but most of the volunteers we have are women. It would be nice to have some more guys to talk to the guys." More prizes are also needed from local businesses for Condomsense events.
The Whistler SAFE Clinic is open on a drop-in basis every Tuesday from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. on the second floor of the Whistler Health Care Centre. Services offered include birth control pills, free exams, treatment and counselling. If you wish to volunteer for Condomsense or donate prizes, call 932-3202.