Ailts: A “Plan B vending machine” could revolutionize sexual wellness at UMN

Providing more accessible sexual healthcare should be a top priority for all college campuses.

Ellen Ailts

Last month, Stanford University introduced a vending machine that sells products including feminine hygiene products, pregnancy tests and morning-after pills. Rachel Samuels, who was Stanford’s student body executive chief of staff last year, worked for three years to introduce this safe-sex initiative onto her campus. But many other colleges have already unveiled “Plan B vending machines” on their own campuses, often due to student-led action, including Dartmouth, UC Davis and UC Santa Barbara. This is a viable and desirable option for students and something that we shouldn’t have to wait years for on our own campus.

This vending machine idea is an important step forward in improving the sexual health landscape of college campuses. It solves many of the concerns students have around obtaining such products, especially the morning-after pill. In our largely sex-negative culture, it’s no surprise that a lot of college-aged people, especially young women, harbor shame and embarrassment around sex. The vending machine takes away the embarrassment of asking for Plan B at a pharmacy. Parteek Singh, a recent UC Davis graduate who spearheaded the initiative at his school, noted to NBC News, “a machine doesn’t give judgmental looks.” The vending machine makes buying the morning-after pill, or any sexual health product, a much more private experience. 

Not only can students avoid embarrassment, but they can also avoid the marked-up pharmacy prices; the vending machine price for Plan B is $30, while at a Target pharmacy, it costs $50. Perhaps the most important thing about this initiative is that it encourages students to take charge of their sexual health. Not only does a lower price allow more students to be able to afford the product, it also makes emergency contraception more physically accessible. 

While most campus health centers do offer such products at subsidized prices, weekend and nighttime hours are often limited or nonexistent, times at which most students are in need of emergency contraception. Boynton, for example, closes at 4:30 p.m. on weekdays and offers no weekend hours. The morning-after pill is most effective if taken within 12 hours of unprotected sex and traveling off-campus is a difficult option for many students without their own means of transportation. In addition to this, some pharmacies simply don’t sell Plan B, or don’t sell it to teenagers without a prescription — so even if students can leave campus, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be able to access the product, depending on where they are.  

It’s unfair that women are chiefly responsible for dealing with the consequences of unprotected sex, so why shouldn’t we make the solutions more easily available to lessen the burden? These health products are necessary for everyone, but especially for highly sexually active — yet generally inexperienced — college students. 

A “Plan B vending machine” on campus would help keep our students healthy and safe, as well as potentially open a renewed dialogue about the importance of sexual and reproductive health and minimizing the shame that surrounds it. Making healthcare on our campus more accessible, affordable and shame-free is an important ambition and a defiant stance in an era of chaotic and uncertain government healthcare. If we truly care about the health of young people, these are the kind of creative and resourceful initiatives that should be implemented on our own campus and across colleges nationwide.