GVSU resource fair educates on safe, healthy sex

GVL / Courtesy - ourbodiesourselves.org

GVL / Courtesy – ourbodiesourselves.org

Theresa Mueller

Grand Valley State University held its first peer-led sexuality-education resource fair, “Get Sex(Ed),” on Monday, Dec. 6.

Over the course of the fall 2017 semester, students from LIB 326: Sexuality, Justice and Advocacy have been researching and planning for Get Sex(Ed), a sexual health and advocacy event allowing students to openly discuss sexual health. 

The event was held in the Kirkhof Center where students from the class set up multiple tables to present on various topics, including “kinks” and “fetishes,” benefits of sexting, contraception usage, sexual pleasure, health benefits of sex and more.

Jae Basiliere, GVSU professor of women, gender and sexuality studies, attended the event as a “sexpert” and expressed excitement about the students’ work. 

“It’s a great way to raise awareness and allow people to consider what the gaps in their knowledge might be,” Basiliere said. “Because it is student-run, it is very relaxing and non-threatening.” 

Each of the student groups presenting aimed to educate or clarify some misunderstanding related to sexuality.

Proper condom usage and its importance were discussed. A major issue the students were trying to address was the fact that many people tend to misuse condoms, which decreases their effectiveness. The students wanted to educate their peers on the proper usage to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted infections, or STIs.

Ashley Rapp, a GVSU senior, was one of the students educating on the health benefits of sex.

“We are trying to educate about the fun health benefits that can come out of having sex because a lot of the sexual education is ‘gloom and doom,’ so we want people to understand the benefits that can come out of it, too,” Rapp said.

The students leading the event were passionate about their topics and expressed their appreciation for the course.

“It’s very interesting; I actually look forward to coming to class, especially since it is very open and you can freely express yourself as long as you remain respectful,” said Tenasha Allen, who spoke about contraception usage. “You get all points of views, especially since everyone has a story to tell surrounding sexual orientation.” 

The semester course was taught and written by Marilyn Preston, assistant professor of liberal studies, who emphasized the effectiveness of relaying information through peer advocacy.

“The idea is that, on a personal level, students are able to talk to their friends or their roommates about sexuality in a healthy way so they’re spreading awareness,” Preston said. 

Preston thinks this approach to discussing sex and sexuality helps combat rape culture. 

“We have situations with sexual assault going on around campus and rape culture impacting our campus and students,” Preston said. “I think this is a good way to combat that without it being a dismal, punitive approach where everybody just gets scared about sex and thinks that they should never engage in sexual behavior.

“You should approach (the discussion) from a positive standpoint and say you can talk about (sex), and you can talk about (sex) in a really good way and fun way, and doing so helps eliminate that gray area that rape culture lives in.”

Students who attended the event enjoyed the opportunity to engage openly with their peers, play educational games and eat snacks.

“I feel like there is a lot of stuff they’re covering that is not talked about in sex-ed classes,” said Alivia Johanek, a freshman at GVSU. “Like, they have the female condom demonstration and talking about AIDS while feeding you food.”

The students thought the positive and open approach to discussing sexuality was more effective than the sex education they received in high school. 

“My school taught abstinence only, so this is so much better than that,” said Hannah Kelly, a freshman at GVSU. “It’s so much more informational.”

Additionally, representatives from the Ottawa County Department of Public Health, Planned Parenthood and The Grand Rapids Red Project were there to answer students’ questions. The Ottawa County Department of Public Health also offered free STI testing.

GVSU student Sean Foster, who helped plan the event as part of his senior capstone project, was excited about the turnout and hoped the event would spark more conversations around campus about healthy and safe sex.

“I hope they genuinely start having a dialogue about these things because it’s a natural thing,” Foster said. “Just start talking about it because that’s how we can change things. That’s how we can actually get better sex-education programs and better results.”