Safer Sex

For many Reedies, being in college and living away from home provides a chance to experiment with the responsibilities and privileges that come with being an adult. Reed’s unique culture encourages self-exploration and individuality among our students—the unofficial motto is, “Communism, Atheism, Free Love,” after all.

A lot of this newfound independence means students are exploring their sexuality, and require on-campus resources to help them do so in a safe and supported way. Student groups such as the Safer Sex Society (SSS) and Reedies for Sexual Health Awareness (RSHA) work to provide Reedies with contraceptives and prophylactics so that they can explore their sexualities in a safe and healthy way.

The Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program (SAPR) helps students by providing them with the knowledge to help them make safe and informed decisions about their sexual partners and activity. However, Reed devotes few resources to ensuring the sexual health of consenting adults. SAPR works primarily on issues of consent education, rather than sex education or the distribution of safer sex supplies.

The Health and Counseling Center (HCC) should fill this role and yet plays a relatively minor part in this aspect of students’ lives. Most of the condoms and other prophylactics on Reed’s campus are provided for students by students, and even then the students tasked with this are few. SSS has as its signator, head, and condom fairy, only one industrious — and safe-sex-minded — individual, Eileen Vinton ’16. She is in charge of distributing condoms to all the frisky Reedies across campus, from the fishbowl in the Paradox to giving the House Advisors of the dorms condoms and other prophylactics to put in the residences’ bathrooms. It seems unfair that one Reedie should be responsible for the sexual health of 1,400 students.

Vinton became involved with the Safer Sex Society in 2012 during her freshman year at Reed, when she and several other students in MacNaughton started “DeliveReed,” a group that delivered food to dorms all over campus. They wanted to have a bonus item to deliver with the food as an incentive to use their service, and they chose to deliver condoms in cooperation with the SSS. She contacted Erin McAllester ’14 who was running the Society at the time. Leadership was then passed on to Vinton when McAllester entered her senior yeasr. While Vinton does not know exactly when the SSS was founded, she mentions that some of the plastic tubs that are put in the dorms “have really old stickers. . . that say things like ‘Congratulations you’ve just had safer sex!’” and are straight out of the ’90s.

Looking forward, Vinton says she “thought that maybe we could get to a point where it didn’t exist anymore because the Health Center would take everything up.” However, this does not seem as if it will be a possibility in the near future. Vinton comments that students prefer the condoms provided by the SSS to the condoms available in the HCC which may be one reason that the SSS continues to be needed campus. However, a larger concern may be that the HCC is provided with only a small budget for safer sex supplies so it cannot financially support the SSS.

With this in mind, the HCC does quite a bit to provide students with safer sex supplies, as well as to make available resources to students who are in need of reproductive health care. This includes basic contraceptives: traditional external condoms, internal condoms, and dental dams. They also offer tests and counseling for pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Kate Smith, director of the HCC and Anne Kimberly, a nurse practitioner there have been two of the most actively involved in safer sex and harm reduction initiatives on campus. They explain the different STI testing the HCC offers to students. The HCC can test for some STIs but depending on the diagnosis students may also need to go to an off-campus center, something that Kimberly can give referrals for. Kimberly says that,“depending on the student’s behaviors and concerns and symptoms” she and the student “pick an individualized panel of what should be tested.” This panel can include tests such as those for gonorrhea and chlamydia which are sent off by the HCC, or self-administered vaginal swabs. Additionally Reed has an on-campus LabCorp facility next to the HCC where the staff can send blood samples. The HCC can also test for herpes viruses 1 and 2, and although there is some controversy in medical communities as to whether or not Herpes should be treated as an STI, Kimberly believes it’s a good idea for students who are concerned to get tested. Several years ago, a group of Reed students compiled a list of different locations for students to get both STI tests and medical procedures administered, along with a price list for all of the options listed. Kimberly keeps a binder with all of these resources available in her office for students to look at while they are discussing their sexual health with her.

In terms of reproductive health, the HCC provides prescriptions for a variety of hormonal birth control pills which can be filled at Safeway or Walgreens. Students can also get the Depo-Provera birth control shot, and referrals to off-campus locations where they can have intrauterine devices (IUDs) placed. Emergency contraceptive (Plan B) and pregnancy tests are available through the HCC as well, the first at a heavily discounted rate and the second covered by Reed’s health insurance. All of the services at the HCC are confidential and most of them are covered by Reed’s health insurance as well as many private health insurance providers. Even students who are on their parents’ insurance may be tested confidentially by the HCC. In addition to the clinical support that the HCC offers, the counselors are trained to talk to students about their sexual health. Limiting the multitude of resources that the HCC provides, however, are its location on campus as well as its 9–5 Monday through Friday hours. Further preventing access is that only one practitioner —  Kimberly — specializes in sexual and reproductive health.

Students engaging in sexual activity outside of these hours are unable to access the contraceptives that the HCC provides. Clearly there is a need for more campus-wide resources. SSS fills this need by giving students constant access to condoms both in their own homes — the dorms — and in strategic locations around campus. Without continued funding and staffing of the SSS, students could be placed in a situation where contraceptives are not readily available and instances unprotected sex on campus could increase.

Ideally, the College would cover this aspect of student health by providing condoms as it provides toilet paper and mattresses—constantly, and without question.