Safe is sexy
“Did you know there are at least 16 different ways to prevent sexually transmitted infections?”
Health promotion specialist Gaby Szabo asked students this question at last weekend's Condom Convention — an event organized by resident assistants (RAs) in collaboration with Concordia’s Health Services, the Dean of Students Office, community organizations and retailers.
Getting tested is just one of many preventive measures, as Szabo pointed out. But “generally, people who are sexually active should be tested every six to 12 months.”
STI testing where students live and study
“People have no problem saying they’re going to the grocery store, but they’re hesitant to admit to getting tested,” said Szabo, noting that STIs such as chlamydia and gonorrhoea are on the rise in Quebec, especially among university students.
“Getting tested is an important part of taking care of your health, like getting your vaccines or brushing your teeth.”
One way to do this is to offer this type of outreach where students live and study.
Gaya Arasaratnam, director of Concordia's Campus Wellness and Support Services (CWSS), says her office is working closely with partners on community-centred interventions.
"We're pushing the envelope on how we deliver care. I’m delighted to see this pilot take place, and am eager to apply lessons learned as we deliver care in a next-generation university.
"The pilot offers innovative opportunities to try new methods of delivery. However, all students at Concordia are able to access the same type of health counselling and testing at Health Services."
Cookies, condoms and cucumbers
Nurses and resident assistants (RAs) were also on hand at the convention to answer students' questions.
Mallory Vigier, an anthropology student and RA, volunteered for the event because she believes it’s important to open up conversations on safe sex in relaxed, non-judgmental environments.
“We’re trying to push the importance of being tested regularly,” she said. “An STI can happen to anybody at any time, if they aren’t safe enough. Most people are going to be having sex, so they might as well be doing it safely.”
Vigier pointed out that the event also sought to diversify the conversation surrounding sex.
“There isn’t just one way to have sex. There are various types of sex and sexual relations that a person can engage in and we need to talk about all of it. Talking openly about certain sexual acts and how to be safe while doing them shouldn’t be taboo.”
“Another message we're trying to get across is that prevention is key,” added Mohammed Alnaggar, a fourth-year mechanical engineering student who is also an RA.
He manned a condom and cookie station where students were asked to try listing all the steps involved in properly using a condom. If they succeeded they won a cookie; if they didn’t they had to practice putting a condom onto a cucumber.
“It’s a fun game and it highlights the fact that a lot of people don’t actually know how to use condoms properly. They forget to check the expiry date, or check for damage,” said Alnaggar.
Sexuality-themed trivia games
The Condom Convention also included healthy sexuality-themed trivia games. Participants had chances to win prizes, including safer sex supplies and dining dollars from Food Services.
Concordia's Sexual Assault Resource Centre was on site to provide information about consent and their services. Many of the volunteers were handing out free condoms, and representative from Health Services were promoting the Condom Boutique, where students can buy a variety of condoms at prices much lower than at the pharmacy.
Romance Boutique offered lube tasting and promoted safe sex-toy use and proper cleaning procedures.
“I think it's very important to know that the people around you understand what safe sex is,” said Brando Kobernick, a first-year finance student living at Grey Nuns.
“The onsite STI screening is good because a lot people have never done it before, so it’s an accessible way to get that experience, and it’s free. Personally, I liked the safer sex game. It was fun, and I learned a lot.”
Learn more about Concordia's Health Services.