GV hosts first-ever Sex Ed Week

Jacob DeWeerd, Laker Life Editor

Grand Valley State University held its first-ever Sex Ed Week series of events last week. The event was a joint collaboration between the Recreation and Wellness (RecWell) Department, the Center for Women and Gender Equity (CWGE) and the Ottawa County Department of Public Health.

As universities around the country have adopted an increased focus on sexual-health education in recent years, Sex Ed Week is the culmination of smaller events that were once GVSU’s sex ed programming. As inspiration for the weeklong series of 13 events, the planning committee looked at programs at other universities to see what they were doing differently.

“I went to a conference down in New Orleans and Tulane University has an entire sex ed week,” said Student Health Promotions Coordinator Katie Jourdan. “We met with their peer educators and I was like, you know what, we could do that.”

Sex Ed Week included both serious and lighthearted events to ensure students had opportunities to learn a lot about sexual education and could have fun doing so. Events like “LGBTQ+ Sexual Health”, “What We Wish Sex Ed Taught Us” and “Reclaiming Consent” focused on vital sexual education topics. On the other side of the spectrum, “Condompalooza”, “Find Your Feel Good Yoga” and “Are you Smarter than a Sex Educator?” were sex-themed games to play and prizes to earn.

Deciding what information to include in Sex Ed Week was a challenge for the committee for multiple reasons. They had to consider what levels of sexual education GVSU students already had and choose topics that would be good starting points for discussions on sexual health. The starting points were especially important due to Allendale being a historically conservative area.

“We just started basic with conversations that any human would need around sexual health,” Jourdan said. “The fact of the matter is we have data from the National College Health Assessment and upwards of 74% of students are engaging in sexual activity, so they should be able to take on their own sexual health.”

The committee wanted to emphasize that students should be able to make choices for themselves regarding their sexual health without stigma or shame. Not being afraid to talk about sexual practices, consent and even violence opens the door to many helpful opportunities around those topics.

“Most students at Grand Valley report wishing their sex education classes were more informative and that they didn’t feel adequately prepared for real life situations concerning sexual health issues,” said student and wellness information team peer educator Beck Lukins. “This displays a need for this kind of material to be taught, both at the college level and earlier for the betterment of holistic student wellness.”

Even though the vast majority of college students engage in sexual activity, talking about those topics in public is still taboo at many campuses across the country. For that reason, events dedicated to sexual education typically have low-turnout numbers compared to other on-campus events.

“Coming with a bunch of strangers to talk about sex can be a bit awkward,” Jourdan said. “For us, it was about creating a culture of seeing the image of something that says sex ed and seeing different things on the events calendar.”

To help combat the awkwardness and to stay safe in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, some Sex Ed Week events were held virtually or in a hybrid format so attendees could join from the comfort of their home. For sensitive topics like violence prevention and sexual consent, being able to learn in a comfortable environment can make a huge difference in the number of students that attend those discussions.

“If you’re a survivor of any form of gender-based violence, being able to attend workshops with information that could potentially be triggering in the comfort of your own home, where you can care for yourself has just opened the door for accessibility on so many levels,” said CWGE Violence Prevention and Education Coordinator Leah Short.

Overall, Sex Ed Week was very successful in terms of turnout numbers and how smoothly each event ran. Some were even more popular than expected; one of the STI testing events ran out of supplies, which Alberda said almost never happens.

“It was all great,” Jourdan said. “I think for a first year and kick off, I think everyone deserves lots of snaps and lots of good pats on the backs.”

Student feedback so far has been stellar. While the official feedback surveys have not been sent out yet, Jourdan said talking with students after various events yielded positive reactions.

“They were saying everything was great and that they didn’t know about it before this week,” Jourdan said. “Someone said if this was around when they took out INT 100, they would have gone to all of the events. Someone also asked why more people weren’t here.”

In the future, the planning committee wants to do more to advertise in as many areas as possible and to incorporate more student organizations. While turnout numbers were solid this year, Alberta said the committee knows there is still room for improvement. 

“We want to collaborate with more of the professors that came through,” said Ottawa County Department of Public Health Sexuality Educator Heather Alberda. “We want to do a better job of reaching some of those majors and minors that would benefit from this, and reaching out to Greek life and having them encourage their people to come.”

Even though Sex Ed Week is over, GVSU students can keep up with sexual education events by visiting the Student Wellness section of the RecWell website. The website contains links to sexual health facts and other resources like monthly STI testing and ways to get free condoms through the mail. More information about future events and ways to become sexually educated can be found at www.gvsu.edu/studentwellness/.