Did you know the average male has 27 erections per day? At Sex in the Dark, you would learn this and much, much (maybe too much) more.
By Sex in the Dark, we\’re not talking about stumbling into your buddy’s dorm room on a Friday night to see something you wish you hadn’t, but rather a program offered to students through Olin\’s Center for Sexual Health Promotion. The Big Green sat down with Nicolle Stec, a health educator and the HIV counseling-testing coordinator at Olin Health Center.
The Big Green: How long have you been here at Olin?[sex]
Nicolle Stec: A little over a year now, since last September. We have other health educators that look at other topics, but we also work together to inform students about the different types of things [such as] alcohol, drugs, nutrition and fitness. We all work together on the data collection and doing our own thing to support each other.
TBG: Who are the health advocates? Students, professors, people at Olin?
NS: The people that are health advocates are students. Usually in the fall, what we’ll do is [begin recruiting] and we’ll have a session for students just to come in and find out about the program. [Students] register in the fall for classes, find out about it, [and] can register for the class in the spring. They get trained in all different topical areas for the first half of the semester. The second half is basically team-specific. …but none of the four health educators that are here are professors. We’re just health educators. We’re also on the radio! We do SEXposure on Tuesdays on the Impact [89 FM].
TBG: How does the program work?
NS: People run things all different ways. One way of doing it is turning the lights off. Sometimes we separate them by gender. We’ve only done Sex in the Dark once this year, mainly because we have a new group of advocates that came in. …We’ve been doing a lot of Sex Jeopardy more than anything else. Sex Jeopardy is essentially just a program that we can take around to all the residence halls or student groups that want us to do the program. I think there\’s somewhere around 30-35 questions [in Q&A format]. They get to ask and it\’s like a game show type thing.
Sex Jeopardy and Sex in the Dark are two programs right now that we really focus on that are more set programs. We always try to change the questions to make them a little different, a little more up-to-date. It’s not just something that someone found on the Internet and thought was interesting. Everything is based on fact. When doing education, it’s necessary. It’s something we pride ourselves on here [at Olin], generally.
TBG: How accepting are students of Sex in the Dark?
NS: I would say that students have all different levels of comfort, depending on the questions that are asked, and depending on if it was a mandatory program. Generally speaking, some students are very talkative. A lot of times it evokes different emotions [from] them, whether it be disbelief, excitement or just general, run-of-the-mill, “Yeah, those are things I know” reaffirmation.
TBG: How interconnected is Sex Jeopardy, Sex in the Dark and the In Your Face theatre troupe in covering ideas?
NS: We are trying to reach students. We do that here with training our advocate program to [send advocates to] go out into the community and be resources, to serve as referrals, to talk to students, and to give educated and informed opinions. If someone said they want to do Sex in the Dark just on pleasure, we could make a program for that. …We just kind of help them to form what they want from the program.
Sex in the Dark can be as general or specific as you want it to be. I’ve done Sex in the Dark with just pleasure and sex toys before. Just talking about how to be safe, how to keep your sex toys clean, how to utilize them with yourself, your partners, do you need sex toys, what are the benefits and what are the risks of sex toys. I think that there’s a lot of different ways that the program can go, and a lot of it is guided by the questions students have.
TBG: How often do students ask for personal experience examples from the health advocates?
NS: I’d say sometimes. Where that might happen more [often] would be with Sex in the Dark and a lot of times the students are able to guide the questions.
Last year, we had four students who had been advocates in the past and they came back as mentors, which is a little bit different term here then it is in the residence halls. They came back just as experienced members of the advocate program to guide new members through the process. They went out and did Sex in the Dark and they were really good at talking about different things and really asking those pointed questions to find those teachable moments within the situation. You can get around the question by asking another question too, because a really personal experience, while valuable in some settings, in educational time like that it is not really necessary to delve into intimately personal details of your life because you are not someone else.
TBG: What are some of the most common questions that you get from students?
NS: We get a lot of questions about condoms, and condom use and why they break. We get a lot of questions about birth control; about the different methods and how they work, how does it affect your body, the good, bad and different. With all of the new things that have been coming up in the news with the HPV vaccine, [and] with Seasonale. Seasonale is just a new take on birth control. It\’s just taking birth control pills for a longer amount of time. Instead of having a 24-day cycle, you have a longer cycle. So you have less periods is what it comes down to. You have like four periods a year. It sparks a lot of questions for a lot of people because it\’s in the media now and people see it. Instead of it just being something that was perhaps just talked about in a doctor\’s office, it\’s come into their homes now, so they’re curious about it.
…We get a lot of questions about permission. “Is it OK that I do this? Is that normal? Is this something that I should or shouldn’t be doing?”
Talking about partners and communication is also another huge issue. Just talking to someone, talking about how [someone] brings up that [he or she] wants to be tested for HIV because getting tested for HIV has gotten stigmatized. It\’s like “Well, I don’t need to get tested.” The thing is just establishing a baseline of going in and doing it. Not that you have to have had a certain number of partners or certain risks. I mean, you can go in and get tested once, and establish that baseline.
TBG: How in depth are the answers that most of the students get for something like \”What makes condoms break?\”
NS: There are a lot of reasons that condoms break. Proven, time tested, research has shown that the most common reason for condom failure is user misuse and not even knowing how to put a condom on. A lot of times, depending on how the session is going, we have a thing called Condom Cards that the students can use. They’re a set of cards on the set of steps that one would need to know to put a condom on.
You need to make sure that there’s no air in the condom when you hold the tip. You need to make sure that when you take it out, you’re rolling it down the right way. There’s a lot of different steps, so we kind of just play it by ear, we do it by feeling and go by the audience. Students learn by the audience what they need and what they want out of it. We’ll talk about lube and how using lube can reduce friction, increase pleasure and also decrease condom failure if it\’s used correctly.
Showing them why not to use an oil-based lube is another way you can take it too. If you use an oil-based lube, it can cause micro tears in the condom, which will allow different STDs to be transmitted. We can actually demonstrate that.
With Sex Jeopardy, there are questions that enable students to integrate that in there. Sex in the Dark is the same thing. They can talk about the different reasons that something happens and stem the other questions from that.
TBG: What are some of the weirdest questions advocates have been asked by students?
NS: Personal sex toys can be interesting because a lot of people do things where they have an idea and they try it out, and it may not be the best one, in terms of safety. I don’t like thinking of questions as weird too much only because it puts it into a box, and it pegs it as something someone is doing isn’t OK or that it\’s not normal. Some questions might catch me off guard, or catch the students off guard, or be a new question. As soon as you judge someone based on what they’ve done, you are disabling them from asking questions in the future. We always try to make sure that we answer the question to the best of our ability, and if we don’t know the answer, that’s OK. We can find someone that can answer it.
TBG: What are the most interesting sex toy questions you have gotten?[sex2]
NS: A lot of times people want to know different sex toys. They want to know what it is about anal beads that people like. “How do you use them?” It\’s not something that everyone uses and it\’s not something that is in the media often. I mean, you can find it on the Internet, but it\’s just questions like how to use things and how to experiment and find new ways of increasing pleasure. I think those are some of the most interesting questions that students have because they generally are interested in having positive, pleasurable, sexual experiences that don’t necessarily have to do with intercourse. I think those are some of the most interesting questions because, then, students have the opportunity to find out how they can [satisfy] themselves better, with or without a partner.
TBG: Anything else students should know about the Sex in the Dark program?
NS: …We want to make sure that everything that we’re doing is to facilitate healthy lifestyles. We always have different kinds of prizes and games, and we make condoms and dental dams available if they want that. We give blow pops away. We give students incentives to get in sexual discussions with us.
One of the other things that we have as a service is HIV counseling. We do free and anonymous HIV counseling. A lot of students are like “Oh, [Olin] doesn’t have anything for free.” It really is free! You can come in and the point of it being anonymous is that it\’s not tied to your medical record. So, you can come in, go through counseling and find out your status. We try to make it a process where students are comfortable and they have a safe space to be able to talk about whatever questions that they have. We always have free condoms available and HIV counseling and pamphlets.
We’re always trying to do new programs, come up with new ideas, so hopefully we’ll have a new couple of programs next semester that we’ll be able to look at and see. We always give students the opportunity to look at and see, and have the student voice be heard, so that’s what we try to do.

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