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To Turn Undergrads On To Sex-Ed: Phallic Name Tags And Orgasm Trivia

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By Sascha Garrey
Guest contributor

How do you get busy undergrads to focus on their sexual health? Try penis name tags.

That was among the many strategies deployed this week at a sex-themed trivia night organized by the Boston University Health and Wellness Office.

Diners who went to the Sunset Cantina just for the Mexican food on a recent evening were in for a surprise. Amidst the usual busy hum of this popular night spot, the thunderstorm of phrases like “female orgasm” and “pus-like discharge” booming continually across the restaurant may have shocked some into choking on their tacos.

The Cantina played host to BU's sex-ed evening, "Sex at the Sunset": students sporting comical penis-shaped name tags were spread around the venue, talking excitedly and sipping drinks from pink, labia-inspired straws.

A team of peer-health educators, known as the BU Student Health Ambassadors (SHAs), partnered with Bedsider — a pro-sex health outreach organization that advocates for the responsible use of birth control — to bring this racy, but informative, event aimed at BU students as a casual and amusing opportunity to learn and talk about sex.

Meilyn Santamaria, a senior at BU majoring in health sciences and one of the SHAs, helped organize the event and was also the mastermind behind the mood enhancing playlist -- hot, throwback tunes like “Sexual Healing” and “Like a Virgin” were thumping all night.

Santamaria has learned a thing or two as a peer-health educator. For instance, she says, approaches to sex-ed like this light, fun-filled evening are important because they engage kids on a different level; and they sure beat those dry, awkward gym class lectures on hygiene.

“You actually get to interact with the material,” says Santamaria. “It’s exciting, it’s fun, it’s a safe environment that is a less intimidating way for people to learn this kind of important information about sex.”

The trivia questions blended saucy with scientific, public health with pop culture and were just as entertaining as they were educational. Still, questions like, “How long does the average female orgasm last?” are potentially blush-inducing (particularly when they're blasted over a loudspeaker in a highly populated, public space). “I’m kind of shocked by some of the questions,” said one undergraduate student at the event.  “I would never think that someone would say stuff like this in such a big room to so many people.”

Even if some were made slightly uncomfortable, the event was at full capacity, with about 80 students participating enthusiastically, cheering and applauding after answers were revealed. This type of reception to a sex-ed event is encouraging given the current statistics for young, sexually active Americans. According to the CDC, young people aged 15 to 24 make up 27 percent of the sexually active population, but account for fully half of the 20 million new sexually transmitted infections in the United States each year.

This approach to sexual health education embodies what may be a shift towards messages that are sex-positive and pleasure-centered. The idea here is to accept that young people are having sex; and the goal is to teach sexual health practices that will maximize safety — and fun.

Labia-shaped straw and other sex-ed swag. (Photo: Sascha Garrey)
Labia-shaped straw and other sex-ed swag. (Photo: Sascha Garrey)

It's a far cry from many of the scare-tactics used in more traditional sex-ed models, some of which promote abstinence-only when it comes to birth control. “I’m from a small rural farming community in Iowa and sex was just not talked about,” said a graduate student. “In sex-ed, we had to do really off-putting stuff like wearing a really heavy pregnancy belly and trying not to break our egg children that we were supposed to care for. It led me to believe as I grew up that sex was just something you can’t talk about. I think that if I had had this approach to sex ed in high-school, it would have changed my whole perspective.”

Sure, some of the "Sex at the Sunset" attendees were more about the free food than the educational elements. “It’s a lot of fun. But I’m probably not going to take anything away from this,” said one male sophomore. “I don’t think that knowing how long the average male penis is will really affect my life.”

Regardless, as the night progressed many of the table conversations turned almost uniformly to heartfelt and heated discussions on safe sex. Lines of dialogue such as, “Wow! I cannot believe that 70 percent of Americans already have herpes!” were heard. Particularly striking was a frank and thoughtful conversation buzzing from from a table of beer-drinking, baggy-pants-wearing college guys: “The average female orgasm is 28 seconds? How long would you say your climax is, man?” to which his backwards-capped buddy responded, “You know, dude, it really depends on how aroused I am. But I’ve never really thought about it until now.”

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