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Sexual health gets emphasis today

“We’d like to get about a one-dollar donation, but people can take them,” says Kris Weltz, co-coordinator of Queers and Allies.

Weltz refers to the “safer sex” kits being offered by her group as a feature of the university’s weeklong observance of Sexual Health Awareness Month. She’ll be sitting at this table in the food court area until 5 p.m. today, encouraging anyone to take the kits.

Stuffed into popcorn bags, the kits feature such items as dental dams, rubber or non-latex gloves, condoms, literature on how to use a condom and where to find the Multnomah County STD clinic, which screens and gives treatment for sexually transmitted diseases.

Every year around Valentine’s Day, the Student Health Service and Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) organize a safer sex program. Now, both Queers and Allies and the Women’s Resource Center maintain a vested interest in sexual health and join the events with their own contributions.

A double program will engage participants today in the Smith Memorial Student Union commons area. From 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., viewers may see sex-education videos from the 1940s and 1950s. Those were the dark ages of sexual enlightenment, when unmarried pregnant women were shipped off to segregated residences until they delivered.

At the same time, there will be balloons, soda, candy and information. CAPS and the health-service staff will conduct a make-your-own-valentine table and be available to answer questions.

Sexual health involves more than disease prevention and cure. It also encompasses birth control, or, as some prefer to call it, family planning. It concerns the prevention of acquaintance rape. It examines the question of abstinence. It encompasses the sexual health not only of heterosexual couples but gay, transexual, transgender and intersexual persons.

The women’s resource centers of Portland State University and Portland Community College are staging performances of “The Vagina Monologues,” in which women tell of their experiences. The PSU performances are Feb. 20 and Feb. 21 at 6 p.m., and Feb. 23 at 11 a.m. in Room 355 of SMSU. Tickets are available at the resource center, Room 028 in the SMSU basement.

Since Tuesday, Smith Memorial Student Union has featured sandwich boards offering a variety of handouts on sexual health. One is located near the information booth.

A wide variety of similar handouts are available at the health service in the basement of Neuberger Hall and in a rack outside CAPS, Room 343 on the mezzanine of SMSU.

Paige Morrison, Internet tech manager for the Women’s Resource Center, says there is a variety of books at the center on women’s sexual health, as well as other women’s issues.

“People can borrow them for two weeks,” she said.

The health service has a self-assessment sheet by which students can assess their own health condition by answering yes or no to a series of questions.

The form emphasizes that safer sex is important to reduce chances of contracting HIV or more common sexually transmitted diseases such as herpes, chlamydia or human papilloma virus, commonly experienced as genital warts.

One prominent feature of the current safer-sex program is a bulletin board in SMSU with information about the programs. The board lists a description of new contraception methods offered by the health service in addition to the more familiar pills, Depo Provera, diaphragms and condoms.

One is the NuvaRing. This is a flexible ring that fits internally, similar to a diaphragm. It releases a steady stream of contraceptive hormones protecting against pregnancy around the clock. It needs to be replaced only once a month.

A second newcomer is Ortho Evra. This attaches directly to the skin and can be placed and removed by the user. It is small, thin and can be worn easily under clothes. It needs to be changed once a week, any time of day as long as it is the same day each week.

A third new product is Mirena. This is a hormone-releasing system placed in the uterus. It is designed to prevent pregnancy for up to five years. It is a T-shaped device that releases the hormone levonorgestral, a progestin.

The Health Service advises that any of these methods are 99 percent effective, the most effectiveness that can be assured.

Some of the informational handouts available at one or more sources include Man to Man, Sex Communication and Your Health, Natural Family Planning, Sexually Transmitted Infections, HPV, If You Are a Man – STD, Gonorrhea, Chlamydia, Herpes, Acquaintance Rape, Sexual Harassment, Coming Out, Drinking & STD, Portland Area HIV/AIDS Resources, Women and STDs, Abstinence and Using a Condom.