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Davis, California

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

UC Davis’s Love Lab is here to remind students of the importance of sexual well-being

Through comprehensive education, the Love Lab is advocating for sexual health on campus

By UMAIMA EJAZ — features@theaggie.org 

The UC Davis Love Lab, founded in 2007 and located on the third floor of the Student Health and Counseling Services (SHCS) building, is a mobile cart that offers educational materials, provides information about birth control and other services offered by SHCS, and gives out free safe sex products such as condoms and free swag for students. They also collaborate with the LGBTQIARC to make rapid HIV testing kits available there. But the Love Lab does much more than supply students with condoms and coveted stickers, according to Blake Flaugher, a sexual well-being specialist in the Health Education and Promotion (HEP) Department at SHCS.

“Our work is about life and death and not just throwing condoms at people,” Flaugher said.

It’s true, Flaugher’s work is a lot more than just selling students commonly available products — it involves frequent collaboration with other student groups to create awareness around sexual health initiatives for students. This includes educating students about reproductive health, consent, communication, sexual violence prevention and safer sex.

Flaugher has been working at UC Davis SHCS for six years and said that he thinks sex education is “more important than ever” since Roe v. Wade, a Supreme Court case that legalized abortion nationwide in the United States, was overturned in 2022, according to Planned Parenthood. But despite the importance of the topic, he thinks that because of the stigma surrounding sex, many people undermine the seriousness of sexual and reproductive health work. 

Stephanie Ha, a fourth-year human development major and student coordinator with the sexual well-being team of the HEP, said that while presenting at residence halls, the team sometimes faces behavior from students that is disrespectful or otherwise conveys a lack of interest in the presentation.

“Educating them is our goal,” Ha said. “If they ask us something that they think is funny or disrespectful, we answer it very seriously to give them the best care that we can provide. And that usually that kind of makes them and the people around them realize that we are a resource, and we are here to support them. [Student coordinators] make sure that, if anything does get a bit too out of hand at the forefront, they handle it, and we only deliver a presentation if we are comfortable.”

Allyson Kahn, who, like Ha, is a fourth-year human development major and student coordinator with the sexual well-being team, said that talking about sex can be difficult. She said that because sexual activity is such a personal matter, tackling a project centered around sexual health in a respectful way can be challenging. 

Every quarter, the students involved with the Love Lab read books and articles and discuss different aspects of sexual health in order to become better equipped to provide information to students.

“We are in charge of reading ‘Sexual Citizens: A Landmark Study of Sex, Power, and Assault on Campus,’ [which is] a book by Jennifer S. Hirsch and Shamus Khan,” Kahn said. “It’s a chapter a week. Then, we discuss it at the end of the week at our weekly meeting. In the past, […] we were each in charge of bringing in an article to the meeting […] It definitely changes quarter to quarter, but we’re making sure that we have some way of taking in material about sexual health while we’re doing the work.”

The Love Lab team also gets a lot of feedback and information from the students that they serve. 

“We’re always doing a survey, a focus group, putting polls on our Instagram stories,” Flaughter said. “We really try to get a lot of student feedback so that it is student-centered, and so that we can tailor information and resources that way.” 

But it isn’t all serious conversations. The Love Lab acknowledges that sex is supposed to be fun. They hold Kahoot game nights at residential halls to engage with students and educate them on sexual health and safety in fun ways as well. 

Flaughter said students are often so under-educated about sexual health on campus that they have no idea what is covered by their insurance and what is not. According to Kahn, this is when SCHS jumps in. 

“The services that the Student Health and Wellness Center provide are covered by UC SHIP for students who have it, so they don’t pay anything when they come to the Student Health Center,” Kahn said. “But then we have more than half of the students we see not having UC SHIP, and they have to pay a $15 visit fee, plus $10 per test. It’d be great to provide free testing.” 

Everyone has a different relationship with sex and approaches it in a different manner. Flaughter said that while some people will accept new information provided by sexual education organizations, others may outright reject the information based on their own views and beliefs or deflect from their own discomfort with humor and irreverence. The Love Lab tries to meet these students where they are in a respectful manner, toeing the line between providing serious information and having fun with the work they do. 

“I do think it is important for us to recognize no matter your beliefs, everyone needs sexual health support,” Flaugher said. “There are always going to be challenges in the work. I definitely think stigma is always going to exist in some form because everyone’s different — unanimous approval does not exist. That’s one reason why we try to focus so much on policy work, organizational development and campus-wide initiatives — we want to try to change the culture, not just educate stigma out of people. We want to really change policies, to make our work and discussions about sexual health more normal and approachable.”

Ha said it is vital to make sure you and your sexual partners are safe, but it can be a daunting task to learn how to acquire those skills. Thankfully, students don’t have to do this alone. Even when it may be uncomfortable to open up about specific concerns, the Love Lab is a safe place to do so. 

Written by: Umaima Ejaz — features@theaggie.org

Correction: A version of this article published in print incorrectly stated that the Love Lab provides birth control and rapid STI testing and sells products to students. The article has been updated to correct this error.