By tuli alexander
What is sexy? According to the AS ROP Sexual Awareness Center (SAC), safe is sexy. Sexy enough, even, to warrant its own campaign. The Safe is Sexy Campaign is an effort by the SAC to make Western’s campus more aware of STIs (Sexually Transmitted Infections).
SAC Coordinator Ashley Thomas and Assistant Coordinator Grace Wischerth table in Red Square on Fridays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., passing out pamphlets and supplies such as condoms, lube, gloves and dental dams, and will be talking to people about STIs.
Thomas said she wants to let people to know that the SAC, located in Viking Union 518, always has free supplies for students and the Safe is Sexy campaign is aimed to encourage people to use them.
“I wish more people were coming down here every day to get condoms, but they’re not, so that’s why we’re going to be in Red Square,” she said.
Another purpose of the Safe is Sexy Campaign is to encourage people on campus and in the community to get tested for STIs and HIV, Wischerth said.
“It’s also about getting people to know that oral sex can also transmit diseases and that vaginal and anal sex aren’t the only ways that STIs can be transmitted,” Wischerth said.
People also don’t realize that STIs can be transmitted manually too, she said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 19 million new STIs are contracted each year. Almost half of these are among people 15 to 24 years old.
During the campaign people will have the opportunity to make a pledge to always protect themselves from STIs.
“It’s a play off of the abstinence pledge that we all know didn’t work,” Wischerth said. On the pledges, there’s a blank section under the words, “I promise…” where people can define what protection looks like to them.
“People are committing to treating themselves well,” Wischerth said. “That’s where this all comes from is people at least thinking about their bodies and what they’re doing to them.”
One of the motivations behind the campaign is that there’s a lack of information. Many people don’t know that oral sex can transmit diseases, Wischerth said.
There’s also a lot of misinformation about STIs. Many people tend to think they’re totally protected against STIs when they use a condom, but condoms don’t protect against skin-to-skin diseases in areas that aren’t protected by a condom, she said.
A way to further protect against skin-to-skin contact is to cut a hole in a dental dam and put it around a condom or use a female condom in addition, Wischerth said.
A phenomenon that Wischerth often encounters is that when it comes to sex is that is the biggest fear many people have is pregnancy, not STIs. As a consequence, women are using the pill to protect themselves from pregnancy and often don’t use condoms, she said.
People are often too embarrassed to ask their would-be sexual partners if they’ve been tested mainly because they haven’t had the practice, Wischerth said.
It’s important to ask when you’re not already in an intimate situation because people are less likely to be honest and communication isn’t as clear when you’re in the heat of the moment, she said. It’s also important to ask respectfully. Asking people, “Have you been tested recently?” rather than, “Are you clean?” helps to clear up the ambiguity that the latter question can elicit, Wischerth said.
Wischerth also wants to stress the “Know Your Status” slogan.
“It’s something that can be updated,” she said. “It’s like your status on Facebook. It changes, and people have to know that.”
Something Wischerth believes is holding students back from being tested more regularly is that it seems like a big process to some people. Either they’re discouraged by the cost of getting tested or what they have to go through with their insurance companies in some cases, she said.
“It’s hard for people, especially if they want to update their status if they’re having unprotected sex,” Wischerth said.
But the campaign is a way to offer people solutions, she said. There will be contact information for Mount Baker Planned Parenthood as well as the Student Health Center.
Thomas and Wischerth came up with the idea of the campaign during Western AIDS Awareness Week last November as a way to take action.
They’re trying to be out every Friday, if not at a specific table in Red Square, then passing supplies and pamphlets out around campus, she said.
Thomas said they’re calling it a campaign because they’re trying to make sexual awareness more visible on campus.
“We people to know how serious it is, but also how sexy and goofy it can be too when talking about condoms, testing and STIs,” Thomas said.