Students, staff collaborate on network of sex health help

Feb 23, 2012
Health, Safety & Testing
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Five hundred condoms were waiting for Sophie Cox one day — and in one night 250 were gone.

“I got 500 condoms in the mail,” Cox said, “Which is a lot of condoms. I mean, you don’t always think about it but that really is.”

As president of the Women’s Studies Student Organization, Cox has led two giveaway nights — during one, last November, she and fellow WSSO members passed out 250 Trojans in just a few hours downtown.

Their work is just one part of a larger network of free things: free materials and sex education distributed by University staff and students.

The collaboration branches from East Campus to East Clayton Street.

“I don’t want to generalize, but people downtown, whether they’re drinking or going out more often, they’re probably more likely to be having sex,” Cox said. “I don’t know if that’s true or not but we get that idea that people are responding, that they actually want the condoms. It’s good, we maybe prevented some unwanted pregnancies that night, and we found a pretty small way to do that.”

Standing on sidewalks downtown, Kroger bags of condoms in hand, WSSO members are open and simple in their invite: would anyone like some latex?

While Cox said most people are thankful for the freebies, she and other volunteers have occasionally encountered resistance.

“They were like, ‘What’s the catch?’ And yep, there’s no catch,” she said. “It’s just a free condom. People take them. I don’t know if there’s any difference between condom brands, but you know, they’re Trojan.”

Cox remembers one incident that highlighted gaps in downtown decision-making — and emphasized the need for free sexual health materials.

“One girl was like, ‘No thanks, I’m a virgin,’ and her friend says, ‘No, she’s not’ and grabbed one,” Cox said. “Maybe they were just joking, I don’t know, but that gives you an idea of how people think condoms are taboo even though everyone should be using them.”

Where the rubbers meet the road

Katy Janousek distributed 6,500 non-flavored condoms last semester.

“I don’t get why people are so bashful about [sexual health], but I think Katy is trying to change that, she’s trying to make the conversation about being healthy in a lot of different ways more than just making people ashamed for using condoms,” Cox said. “She’s like, ‘You need to use condoms.’ The conversation does need to change because rates of STDs and AIDS, I don’t think they’re going down. They’re still around.”

Janousek passes out sexual health materials in residence halls and Greek houses, makes them available to student organizations in Tate and at clinics in the Health Center.

She hosts programs touching on practices from abstinence on.

But Janousek’s philosophy is more about reaching out than passing out.

In her four years as the University’s sexual health coordinator, Janousek has made relationships with student affairs officials, changed condom policy and rewritten the rules of sex ed.

It isn’t just about the giving now, but the receiving.

For years, the Health Center has provided materials to the LGBT Resource Center, where visitors can grab a cup of coffee — and a handful of condoms.

“[Janousek will] send us a supply at the beginning of the semester and we keep them out — not on purpose — but near the coffee station,” said Jen Miracle, the center’s director. “Not like ‘coffee and condoms’ but mostly because of the location, so people can not have to ask for them. It’s kind of inconspicuous. You can grab a cup of coffee, then take some condoms, too.”

Resource Center volunteers will then call back to Janousek when they’re running low — when there are too few dental dams, or not enough packets of piña colada-flavored lube.

This give-and-take is Janousek’s ideal: no one has any problem with the stigmas associated with sex, or doing it safely.

It’s that stigma that used to drive students to grab handfuls of condoms when they sat loose and no one was watching.

“And it’s a shame,” Janousek said, “because people are so embarrassed [which] is why they’re stealing them from stores.”

So she sealed the condoms up, packaging them — three condoms to a bag — along with basic information about application and lube, among others.

She is “intentional” about their distribution — ordering condoms twice a year by the thousands, for seven cents each — and she is intentional about educating the classrooms and residence halls at which she is invited to speak.

Accurate information and reliable resources matter, Janousek said.

Ralphel Smith, the assistant director for residence life, has worked with Janousek in her position as coordinator.

Earlier, before her, sexual education was viewed more liberally, Smith said. AIDS was a topic of conversation and there were open discussions about the merits of learning and practicing safe, healthy sex.

“But I don’t know if students know how to ask for that now,” he said.

So Janousek asks for them, because she has learned that not everyone comes to campus educated: in 2008 or 2009, as she tells it, she was leading a program early in her time as coordinator.

Things were going well. She got to discuss Fallopian tubes. At the end, a group of girls circled a model of the female pelvis.

“And they were like, ‘Wow, where does the baby come out?’” Janousek said.

Janousek realized she was providing a foundation, not just advice.

The basics came first.

Learning to love latex

Melanie Lucash has seen some crazy things.

“A lot of people ask me, ‘What’s the craziest thing you’ve heard?’ or ‘What’s the craziest thing people do?’ And really the craziest thing that I hear is a lack of knowledge, that people — especially people from small towns in the South or private schools and religious schools sometimes — don’t get any sexual education whatsoever, or what they do get is abstinence-only,” Lucash said. “So when they come to college and there’s this atmosphere where a lot of college students are experimenting and having fun and embracing their sexuality, they’re trying to do that with a lack of information and no foundational basis to go off.”

As executive director of the Sexual Health Helpers at UGA, Lucash organizes events to raise awareness of sexual issues.

Also, she passes out condoms.

As a participant-group in the Greater American Condom Campaign, a grassroots movement dedicated to distributing sexual health materials to college campuses across the country, SHHUGA’s goal is simple.

“So being healthy is something where you have to think of your emotional health and your intellectual health and your spiritual health,” she said. “And your sexual health is part of that.”

Lucash said the web of free sexual health materials distributed at the University — from Health Center to residence halls to resource centers — benefits students’ health beyond just their physical well-being.

And other groups can help: student organizations can apply to be SafeSites, which are condom distribution points for the GACC movement.

In the past, both WSSO and SHHUGA have received SafeSite certification — and the box of 500 free condoms that comes with it.

“Some people are very receptive and excited about it,” Lucash said. “Some people, we hand them a free sample of condoms and they want to give it back to us because they’re like, ‘Oh no, I’m abstinent.’ And it’s like, ‘I’m not giving them to you so you have sex. I’m giving them to you so if you do have sex then you’ll be prepared. Or if you have a friend, then you give them to your friend.’ SHHUGA doesn’t give out condoms expecting people to be promiscuous.”

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