A Safe Place to Discuss Safe Sex

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As national condom week approaches from Feb. 10 through Feb. 14, Student Health Outreach and Promotion’s (SHOP’s) condom co-op aims to arouse sexually active students to commit to safe sex. Alongside the condom co-op, SHOP — a compartment of UC Santa Cruz’s Student Health Center — provides a variety of other resources and services in order to cater to the diverse situations college students experience.

Year-round, SHOP offers STD testing, HIV testing, male and female condoms and pregnancy tests. Other services include assistance from highly trained student volunteers and the counsel of professionals such as senior health educator, Ali Hayes.

“SHOP is all about safe spaces, meeting students right where they’re at — whether that’s sexual health, drugs and alcohol, dealing with sexual violence in a relationship or stalking,” Hayes said. “We’re going to give you a safe space to explore. We’ll give you resources and information, but ultimately we want you to figure out how to live the authentic life you want to live and reduce harm.”

Hayes is considered a secondary resource at SHOP. If student volunteers are not able to help, they refer clients in need of greater sexual health awareness to Hayes’ openly supportive office.

Hayes mentions even though she and her health education colleagues are available “if someone needs a little higher support or information,” about 80 percent of SHOP’s work involves peer-to-peer discussion.

“It’s hard for some students to buy condoms and a pregnancy test,” Hayes said. “When they buy them from a peer who is totally cool about it, it’s just such a relief.”

Interning as SHOP’s condom co-op coordinator this year, Alec Small said he was initially inspired to join SHOP during his first year when he noticed the condom co-op tabling outside of the Cowell/Stevenson Dining Hall.

Small didn’t expect to become a facilitator at SHOP, but he helped the condom co-op grow in correlation with his level of involvement.

It’s a “first step” for a student who wants to get involved on campus, because the commitment can be as little as one hour a week to many shifts a week, during which you sell condoms somewhere on campus.

As condom co-op coordinator, Small designates places around campus to pass out condoms and assigns volunteers to each of the tables. Small, Hayes and other experienced SHOP members train their volunteers to ensure student-to-student conversation about sexual health is informative and effective.

The training is two hours, consisting of etiquette like using respectful language, how to hold the position of a student resource and the basics of selling condoms, which directly translates to tabling with the condom co-op.

“Folks are coming to the table with all different levels of information and experience about condoms,” Hayes said. “Some students may have never touched a condom, while other students buy them every third day.”

Small compared the cost of buying condoms on campus with convenience store purchases, stating that it’s $12.99 for eight Trojans at CVS, and it’s $1 for eight Trojans on campus.

“It’s the best bang for your buck,” Small said.

Amanda Timoney, a second year volunteer at SHOP for HIV testing, said she gained valuable clinical experience as she aspires to be a physician’s assistant after college. Timoney echoed the privilege of a safe, student-centered space, which Hayes said is the main aspect of SHOP’s work.

“People are so grateful when you take the 20 minutes to counsel them and answer questions that maybe they haven’t felt comfortable asking before,” Timoney said. “You give them this safe space, and then you give them their results — most of the time it’s non-reactive for HIV — but in the 20 minute process they’re free to ask anything.”

SHOP’s continuous efforts to pass out contraceptives throughout the student body is a message to students to habitually practice protected sex in order to decrease potentially harmful behavior and ultimately stave off contracting HIV and other STD’s.

One major misconception regarding sexual interaction that many students have is that the “pulling out” method is an effective way of avoiding STD’s and other unwanted sexual consequences.

“I think of our sexually active student body, 20 percent use the withdrawal method, or pulling out,” Small said. “That’s a really key demographic to reach out to.”

Not only can resorting to the “withdrawal method” lead to contracting HIV and other STD’s, but unplanned pregnancy is a possible repercussion as well.

“We do have a percentage of students who are doing the best they can with limited information. They might believe pulling out is going to protect them way more from pregnancy than it actually will,” Hayes said.

SHOP’s office doors remain open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. — Monday through Friday, with the exception of Tuesdays, when it opens at 9:30 am — where student volunteers like Amanda Timoney can assist with HIV and STD testing, and accommodate students with any other health-related desires.

“We’ll meet you right where you’re at. We don’t have an agenda other than to empower you to live the life you want to live,” Hayes said.