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Olympian Sex? Athletes To Use 100,000 Condoms

Assuming that most condoms are used by couples, the number presupposes 29 encounters over two weeks for each athlete -- that's two a day.

One of the Olympic stats most talked about around Vancouver this weekend wasn't medals or scores, per se, but condoms. One hundred thousand condoms are being given out in Athletes' Village, which adds up to 14.6 condoms for each of the 6,850 athletes and officials expected to attend the Olympics and Paralympics.

Apparently, that's what happens when you get the hottest, healthiest young people together for two weeks.

Or is it? Why are so many condoms needed by those bobsledders, skaters and other athletes? And why is there so much interest in the number they go through anyway? After all, I haven't seen any reports of the number of Q-tips or toilet paper needed to fulfill the whims of the denizens of Athletes' Village.

Officials have handed out free condoms to athletes since the 1992 Summer Games in Barcelona. In the next Summer Games in Sydney, the initial supply of 70,000 ran out, and organizers had to order 20,000 more. Then in Athens, officials brought in a whopping 130,000. And most recently, in Beijing, organizers brought in 100,000 (all with the motto "faster, higher, stronger"), and then auctioned off the 5,000 that were left over.

So the magic number seems to be about 100,000: for winter or summer. Assuming that most condoms are used by couples, the number presupposes 29 encounters in two weeks. That's two a day, rivaling Wilt Chamberlain's rate. (Chamberlain claimed he slept with over 20,000 women in his life, and bragged about sleeping with 23 women in 10 days.)

My athlete friends say one reason for the condom binge is that many competitors abstain from sex for up to six weeks before the Olympics, supposedly to build maximum testosterone levels and get a competitive advantage. So after their event, more than one champagne cork pops, so to speak.

That's compounded by the fact that many athletes of this level have committed themselves primarily to sport, so don't have partners or kids. And therefore are, um, able to hook up after their events (and body parts) are wrapped up.

But it's more than that, according to Jennifer Matthews, who authored the Whistler Guys' Study, as part of her graduate work in health promotion studies at the University of Alberta. She followed the sexual encounters of 15 guys aged 19-31 in Whistler, and said certain factors create a nexus for "hook ups."

There can be a kind of bubble created when young people are in a culture of fitness with its focus on physicality, are away from home and their normal environment, know few people and therefore are constantly in meeting and socializing mode, and are in a celebratory or party atmosphere. That's all compounded when there is alcohol involved. (And who knows what goes on behind the walls of Athletes' Villages?)

The bubble feeling creates a live-for-the-moment atmosphere in which the normal rules don't apply, which can affect the frequency of sexual encounters and the use of protection.

"If you're not playing by the normal rules, you may be less likely to use a condom," says Matthews. "You might think, 'Oh, I usually do, but I got carried away by the moment.' But STIs don't make that distinction. As human beings, we make exceptions, but viruses don't."

Dr. Reka Gustafson, medical health officer for Vancouver Coastal Health Authority said in a recent Vancouver Sun article that handing out condoms to athletes is an opportunity to put positive health promotion messages out there, and reinforce the message of controlling sexually transmitted diseases.

Matthews cautions that we can't necessarily estimate the number of sexual incidents by the number of condoms being handed out. (Who knows, maybe it's a better souvenir than a country pin?) No studies have been done to track the actual sexual activity by athletes at the Games, or whether athletes take more risks than others.

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