Health Education and Promotion student assistants, volunteers discuss Love Lab safe-sex resources
It’s 6 p.m. on a Thursday evening at the Activity and Recreations Center (ARC). Midterms are over, and academically-exhausted students are rushing in for their evening workouts. In full view of visitors to the gym is a small cart with a lab-coated volunteer in attendance. Stocked with free pamphlets, condoms, dental dams and lubricant packets, the Love Lab is ready for a night on the job.
The Love Lab is a mobile cart housed on the third floor of the Student Health and Wellness Center (SHWC) inside the Health Education and Promotion office (HEP) that has visited the ARC weekly since its inception in 2007. It is open on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. to provide students with safe-sex products. Internal and external condoms, dental dams and informational pamphlets on safe sex are all available for visitors.
“We get a trickle of people coming in [the HEP office] during the week to visit the Love Lab,” said Meera Madra, fourth-year global disease biology major and sexual health student assistant at HEP. “People who know about the cart usually come into the Student Health and Wellness Center.”
The Love Lab is primarily run by HEP volunteers like Madra and Darren Frank, a HEP volunteer, who move the cart down to the ARC from the Student Health and Wellness building on Thursday evenings, weather permitting. Madra and Frank are tasked with manning the cart, answering any questions about safe sex and providing demonstrations on how to use the products offered.
“People are usually going into the ARC to exercise and not […] to pick up condoms,” Frank said. “The first night [this quarter] we got about 130 people, but [that number] goes up and down depending on how busy that week is and how many people actually go into the ARC.”
According to Frank, the students who are already familiar with the cart will take what they want while people that are seeing for the first time often take a longer time looking at the different products that are available. No matter what, watching the expressions on student’s faces approaching the cart never gets old, and each night looks different for the Love Lab.
“You get two reactions,” Frank said. “One is like ‘oh’ and [the student] will laugh and get this blushed face […] and leave. Or they’ll be like ‘that’s cool!’ and we will talk about it. Eventually, we will give [a visitor] a bag and they will pick out the condoms or buttons and information that we have.”
Once a student approaches the cart, volunteers offer to show them three different demonstrations, one for each type of condom that the Love Lab has. These demonstrations are interactive, as volunteers use a wooden dildo named “Woody” and a plastic vagina named “Gigi” to demonstrate how to properly use the condoms.
“At first [giving demos] was a little weird, and you still get [lubricant] on your hands –– it’s really gross,” Frank said. “[But] it’s nice, because depending on which one you do, it’s informative, and it’s nice to see how much they knew beforehand. You want to know the specifics about what to do.”
Students can win prizes by learning how to do the demonstrations themselves.
“We also have [the program] ‘Watch it, Teach it, Win It’,” said Chloe Tsudama, a fourth-year psychology major and HEP sexual health student assistant. “Volunteers teach students three [demonstrations] and [students] can come back to teach [the same demonstration] back once a week. If they can successfully teach all three back to the volunteers, they can get a free t-shirt.”
There are also videos of each demonstration on the Love Lab’s YouTube channel, for those who may prefer a less public learning experience. Along with these ‘How-To’ videos, the channel has other informational videos for safe sex practices. All of these resources reinforce the Love Lab’s focus on bringing its resources to students via mobile vehicles, rather than relying on visitors knowing where the Love Lab lives the rest of the week.
To increase visibility, the Love Lab also visits other sites on campus at least once a quarter. In previous years, the Love Lab has visited campus events like The Buzz, and soon, the Love Lab has a visit planned for the Student Community Center (SCC).
After two hours at the ARC with students learning, reiterating and practicing, it is time for the volunteers to roll the Love Lab back home. The evening was a success, as the students who often say hello took their usual products, and new visitors inquired on how to have safer sex. The Love Lab did its job and helped conveniently educate students about protecting themselves and others.
“With the Love Lab, we’re making sure that students have the knowledge to help themselves,” Frank said.
Written by: Amanda Cruz — firstname.lastname@example.org