Safer Sex Patrol volunteers educate students to prevent the spread of STIs
Sexually transmitted infections aren’t usually a hot topic of conversation during a night out at the bar, but for the volunteers of Safer Sex Patrol (SSP), it’s a conversation starter.
SSP volunteers dedicate a few nights in the semester to visit local bars, where they hand out candy, condoms, dental dams, abstinence information and a few other tools to help prevent the spread of STIs. This semester, SSP started bringing that conversation to football tailgates as well.
Sault Ste. Marie senior, Emma Harrington, has been a member of SSP for four years and is now the student coordinator. She said people usually respond positively toward the group and appreciate receiving free contraceptives.
SSP promotes the prevention of STIs while working to debunk the stigma associated with them.
“Having an STI is not a bad thing," Harrington said. It happens, and the good thing is that you learn from it."
Holidays and on-campus events create situations where there's a greater risk of contracting an STI.
“It’s Halloween weekend, so I think it’s a good time to hand out condoms, because people might be making decisions this weekend,” Harrington said. “I don’t know if statistically there is an increased risk (of contracting STIs) or anything like that, but I think it’s a good time to push information.”
In preparation for their bar patrol Thursday night, SSP facilitators and volunteers met in the Bovee University Center Wednesday to wrap condoms and dental dams in informational tags.
Muskegon sophomore, Julia Wood, came out to the "kit stuffing" to earn volunteer hours, and she was surprised to learn new information about sexual health at the meeting.
"It's just become sort of a thing to not wear condoms, and I don't know why," Wood said as her perspective on sexual culture.
SSP also provides presentations on sex education for Greek Life and residence halls. Harrington said these interactions with SSP may be the first and only sexual education students receive.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, Michigan is one of 21 states that doesn’t mandate sex education, and the Michigan programs that do exist are required to stress abstinence. Abstinence is the only way to fully prevent STIs and pregnancy, but abstinence-only education programs often lack information on how to have safe sex and avoid contracting STIs.
Sex education is arguably important for the college demographic. While people aged 15 to 24 only amount to 27 percent of the sexually active population, they account for roughly 50 percent of the 20 million new STIs that are contracted each year in the United States, Harrington said.
Fife Lake freshman, Mikaylah Horn, joined SSP at the start of the semester, and as a result has learned more about sexual health. She uses her public speaking skills to advocate for safe sex, and always has a good time on bar patrols.
“I think the stigma (about STIs) mostly is just that we are safer than we actually are,” Horn said. “And it’s kind of scary."
In 2015 Isabella County had 218 reported cases of chlamydia, 20 cases of gonorrhea, and 2 cases of syphilis according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.