The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention suggests adolescents keep six things in mind when starting college. One of the six items is how to prevent sexually transmitted infections.
At MU, a peer education group, Sexual Health Advocate Peer Education, takes on the responsibility of teaching comprehensive sexual education to students.
SHAPE first makes itself visible to incoming freshmen at Summer Welcome each year. They put on skits in order to inform incoming freshmen about the resources available to them on campus regarding sexual health.
The presentations are roughly an hour long and include information about where students can get free contraceptives and get tested for STIs.
SHAPE member Sophie McDevitt said the several different organizations start planning the skits about a month in advance before Summer Welcome.
She said SHAPE takes the light-hearted and humorous approach to get the audience laughing, a tactic to get the students to listen to the information.
“We try to put humor into (our skits) because we figure that most students who have had sexual education have been sat down and told what’s right and what’s wrong or not told anything at all,” McDevitt said. “We want to make it less scary for students to be introduced to a potentially scary topic.”
SHAPE President Sarah Billingsly said she believes the peer-to-peer approach is much more effective than talking to incoming students.
“The way we best reach our population is by acknowledging that we are one of their peers, and it’s OK to talk about things with your peers,” she said. “It makes the presentation light-hearted and fun because you’re talking about sex with your peers. It really helps the incoming freshmen receive us better.”
Billingsly said the skits do aim to make the audience laugh, but the main goal is to inform students and make sex education something they take seriously.
“I’ve heard stories of students being really excited (about the skits), but I’ve heard of some really negative experiences also,” Billingsly said. “Regardless of whether they liked the skits or not, at the end of the day, I think everybody walks away more informed, and everyone walks away knowing more about the resources that are available to them as students.”
The skits typically have a positive turnout.
However, SHAPE member Katie Millar said she once received an insult from the audience during a skit when she asked, “I heard that Mizzou gives out free condoms,” as a planted question.
“We really want freshmen, and really all students, to know and understand that sexual health is important and should not be frowned upon,” Millar said. “No one should be called a slut because they choose to take precautions that keep them from getting pregnant or from getting an STI. This is why we provide male and female condoms, free STI testing and free information to keep Mizzou students knowledgeable and safe.”
This semester, SHAPE will be attending classes, residence halls and campus groups to give several peer-to-peer presentations, as well as hosting several other campus events.
Coming up in September is the huge back to school Get Yourself Tested event, and in October is the annual Sextacular event on Lowry Mall where SHAPE gives out free shirts, hosts games and educates the community.
“Our overall goal is to just destigmatize sexual health because there is so much stigma attached to talking about sex in general and we want to eliminate that,” Billingsly said. “Our goal is to talk about it, get people talking, and get people to be proactive about taking their sexual health seriously.”