Spotlights

Let’s Talk about Sex… or PASH Will

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What started as junior Riyanka Ganguly’s independent study project has quickly turned into the Duke Student Government initiative and campus-wide organization known as PASH, aimed at providing answers to those with questions about sexual health.

Sex—it’s the one of the few things that unites all of us, and yet it is a topic that we all avoid. And that needs to change. Sex, in all of its variations and complications, should be talked about. When you think about it,  how often do we have conversations about safe sex? Unsafe sex? STI’s? Assault? The short answer: not too often.

Peer Advocacy for Sexual Health, or PASH, aims to change that. PASH is a student-run organization that provides resources and information to students with questions about sexual health. The goal is to create a space where people can ask any and all questions about sex and sexual health, be it where to find resources for pleasurable encounters, how to deal with assault, to coming out and exploring sexuality in different ways.

While similar information can also be found through the Student Wellness Center, PASH goes about delivering said information in quite a different way–rather than through adults, it is student peers who provide all information to students.  In this way, PASH hopes to make the conversation about sex less intimidating.

IMG_4667PASH founder, junior Riyanka Ganguly, recognized that Duke’s campus needed more open conversation amongst peers about sex-related topics, with the hope that the more communal environment would encourage students to become more informed.  

“It blew my mind because I’ve done [sexual advocacy] work for a while, that my best friend could get a 99% on her chemistry test but not know that you can get the most common STIs through oral intercourse,” said Ganguly.

Ganguly has been passionate about sexual health topics for quite some time. She did an independent study during her freshman year at Duke regarding sexual health issues, and applied for funding to visit and study at Stanford University’s sexual health peer resource center during the summer after her freshman year.

“It blew my mind because I’ve done [sexual advocacy] work for a while, that my best friend could get a 99% on her chemistry test but not know that you can get the most common STIs through oral intercourse,” said Ganguly.

After shadowing Stanford’s resource center operations, Ganguly returned to Duke and applied for Duke specific funding for just such a similar organization. During her sophomore year she worked with the Wellness Center and Dean Sue to create a curriculum for a house course called “Condoms and Counseling: Sex Peer Ed“ which focused on training students to work for the newfound PASH. In the class, students learned not only how to be leaders, but how to lead nonjudgmental and open conversations. The house course began in the spring of 2016, and taught the first 15 PASH workers. Currently, the course’s third set of 13 students is being trained.

IMG_4624Ganguly took the lessons she learned at Stanford, the information she taught in her “Condoms and Counseling” course and her own focus on sexual education and turned PASH into Duke’s newfound peer run sexual health resource center. In short, PASH’s main role on campus is to spread awareness and knowledge about all of the facets of sex, and to create a comfortable space for open conversation. PASH opened in the fall in Craven quad and will be relocating to  the Oasis on East Campus starting March 6th, with goals to also have space in the new Wellness Center near Penn Pavilion. As of right now however, PASH is providing safer sex supplies at their current mobile location at the West Campus bus stop which operates on Tuesdays and Fridays from three to six p.m.  

“We make it very clear we’re not doctors or trained medical professionals. We don’t really give advice, we listen and if needed help redirect to professionals already on campus that students just don’t know about –we are here to talk things out and explain things,” said Ganguly.

One of the main issues in society that PASH tries to address is the lack of knowledge about sexual health and the negative stigma attached to open discussion about sexual topics.

“What we don’t talk about is how a healthy, consensual relationship involves pleasure and involves encounters that both people enjoy,” said Ganguly. “Sex is literally the way that we are all here on this planet–it’s the one thing that connects us to genuinely every other creature. It is the one way that we are able to procreate as a species–yet, it’s the one thing we never talk about.”

Ganguly believes that encouraging open conversation about sexual health is important because having even one more person aware about things like sexually transmitted diseases could catalyze the spread of the information and its attendant benefits. She believes that change can start small and spread quickly—friends will tell friends and the knowledge will spread.

“We make it very clear we’re not doctors or trained medical professionals. We don’t really give advice, we listen and if needed help redirect to professionals already on campus that students just don’t know about –we are here to talk things out and explain things,” said Ganguly.

IMG_4682Another important aspect of PASH is that the knowledge the organization disseminates is trustworthy and well-researched. Although students certainly have the option of asking their questions on the internet, PASH seeks to answer those same questions with thorough well-informed and well-researched responses that are hard to come by on the web.

“The internet doesn’t really help because it’s just so condensed with information that is not always true. And a lot of the stereotypes and myths are perpetuated through rumors that don’t foster an environment for healthy relationships on campus,” explained Ganguly.

“What we don’t talk about is how a healthy, consensual relationship involves pleasure and involves encounters that both people enjoy,” said Ganguly. “Sex is literally the way that we are all here on this planet–it’s the one thing that connects us to genuinely every other creature. It is the one way that we are able to procreate as a species–yet, it’s the one thing we never talk about.”

Looking beyond Duke’s campus, PASH seems especially important now as large changes occur rapid-pace in America’s health care system–especially those that deal with reproductive issues. Birth control prices are rising, and students are already reaching out to PASH regarding questions about finding affordable methods of contraception.

“Different PASH members have been getting lots of messages from people about birth control and I think we’re going to play an active role in helping people find resources because it will get harder for people to get these resources, especially financially,” said Ganguly.

IMG_4632PASH has gained a lot of attention on Duke’s campus since its opening event last spring on Craven Quad.

“I remember I made a flyer for it and posted in the All Duke Facebook group and got a ton of net IDs because people were so interested. When we did our pilot of the program in Craven Quad, we had an average of eight visitors a day,” said Ganguly.

While Ganguly loves being a part of PASH, and originally taught the house course, she is removing herself from her role as its leader in order to ensure that PASH will be sustainable without her presence.

“I’m giving it off so that I will have a mentorship role. If people need me I will be there, but I want to see that other people can do it, and that way I have a year on campus that I can help,” said Ganguly.

“With us, our big mission is that we want to increase understanding, increase education and we want to fight whatever fight there is regarding sexual health through conversation.”

Two new students have taken over teaching the house course, Whitney Hazard and Adam Bullock. Ganguly wants PASH to  not only foster conversations about sex, but to foster leadership in Duke students. She believes that with PASH there is plenty of room to grow.

Overall, Ganguly believes that it’s important to incentivize open conversation about sexual health to generate more understanding. She believes that we see a lot of fear and hate toward SOGIE (Sexual Orientation Gender Identity and Expression) minorities and that comes from a lack of understanding.     

“If we lived in a world where we just talked more about these issues more honestly, we would be opening up the conversation and include the perspective of  more than half of our population that are, through the system of not talking about it, oppressed in different ways,” said Ganguly. “With us, our big mission is that we want to increase understanding, increase education and we want to fight whatever fight there is regarding sexual health through conversation.”

 

Writers: Claire Meyer, Anna Reilly

Editors: Emilie Padgett, Vivian Zhang

Photographer: Marissa Michaels

Web: Noa Saint-Marc

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