The week before Valentine’s Day means many things to many people. For some, it’s about buying chocolates. For others, it’s about crafting a model of a vagina out of felt cloth and displaying it for all to see.
This past week was sexual responsibility week at IUPUI. Sexual responsibility week began in the 2010-2011 school year and was sponsored by IUPUI Student Health Services until the Office of Health and Wellness Promotion took over. The week is scheduled close to Valentine’s Day because it’s a time when relationships and sex are hot topics.
Sexual responsibility week consisted of booths set up in both the campus center and Taylor Hall’s Multicultural Center. Booths were run by peer educators, students who are part of the office of health and wellness promotion. In order to catch eyes and engage passers-by, students on the sexual health committee created educational games for students to play.
“A lot of times when we do events like this, it’s more informational, and so trying to get people to stop by and talk with the peer educators is hard, so coming up with something creative is very helpful,” Emily Werner, coordinator of Health and Wellness Initiatives, said. “It’s not for the sake of just shock and awe.”
“We need something to grab their attention,” Emily Sightes, peer educator and leader of the sexual health committee, said.
New games were developed this year, such as “Lori the Labia,” a four-foot-tall felt vagina. The object of the game was to throw a velcro-covered ball through the opening, or to stick the ball onto a body part and name it. Previous games, such as ring toss with a penis model, were met with controversy, but Lori survived her debut unchallenged.
Each day of sexual responsibility week has a theme. Monday’s theme was sexual anatomy and Lori was the centerpiece. Tuesday was all about misconceptions regarding safe sex, featuring a game called “The Ins and Outs of Sexual Health.” The topic for Wednesday was gender identity and expression and had the “Genderbread Person,” a cardboard person displaying the differences between gender identity, sex, attraction, and gender expression.
Sexual responsibility week aims to educate students and encourage sex positive thinking in entertaining ways.
“Sexual health is one of those topics where it’s taboo, but we want to try to encourage sex positivity,” Werner said. “It’s natural, it’s healthy, done with mutual consent, we just want students, especially, to start talking about it so they can become educated.”
As with all forms of sexual education, students were welcome to ask whatever questions they may have.
“We want [students] to be able to come and ask their questions and know that they’re gonna get legitimate answers that they can feel confident about,” Charlotte West, a peer educator, said. “They don’t have to be embarrassed about their bodies, they don’t have to be embarrassed about the questions they have, that’s the whole purpose of it.”
Sex-positive sex education places emphasis on individual choice, whether it be the choice to have safe sex or the choice to abstain, and being comfortable with one’s own body. Everyone, regardless of gender, is taught the same thing: be safe, be responsible, be independent and make well-informed choices.
“We’re not trying to make them do a certain thing or believe in a certain value, we’re just trying to give them all the choices,” Werner said.
Although safe sex is the focus of every sexual responsibility week, the information and games covered gender, relationships, consent and how they interlap.
“Sexual health is that middle, but there’s tons of spokes that we talk about,” Werner said.
The booth tables were overflowing with free goodies, from pamphlets urging sexually active individuals to get tested on a regular basis to sexual anatomy charts to jars of condoms. “Safer sex kits,” small plastic bags filled with condoms, lubricant, and a fruit Lifesaver candy, are a staple of these events and are available at the monthly HIV/STI testing events. For those who prefer to abstain, “by choice” baggies contained Hershey Kisses and the office’s signature chapstick instead.
Peer educators encouraged participants to take whatever they wanted after they played the games. Monday and Tuesday had approximately 80 visitors, while Wednesday had about 30.
Most students responded to the displays with amusement and intrigue, prompting them to ask questions and participate. Others were taken aback by what they saw.
“I’m not really used to seeing somebody carry a big, blown-up penis around,” Heather Talsma said, referring to the inflatable toy penis that peer educators carried around. “It’s just some kind of out of the ordinary for me.”
The goal of each sexual responsibility week is to challenge students to step out of their comfort zones and consider what they may or may not know about sex, gender and relationships.
“Once you get out of your comfort zone you start talking about topics that make you uncomfortable and that is what makes you grow,” Werner said. “Sometimes students may think we’re being crude, and that’s not our intention at all.”
Students who learned something at the booths carry that information into the rest of their lives, impacting themselves and others.
“Education increases acceptance,” Sightes said.