The Caped Crusader of Sexual Health
Originally Published: June 6, 2008
Revised: November 2, 2012
Free Condoms! Like a paperboy, I shouted the phrase to young people over and over, hoping that either the statement or my cape peppered with small condom packages would attract attention. And they did. When someone would come up, I would quiz them on a variety of sexual health topics. How effective are condoms at preventing sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)? Name three different methods of birth control. How effective are condoms at preventing pregnancy? My goal was to have each person leave with more knowledge—and of course, some condoms.
I am a volunteer for Planned Parenthood, a leading reproductive health care provider. My mother has worked for the South Central Michigan branch since before I was born, and the organization has been a major part of my life. Even today, Planned Parenthood employees will stop me and say, “I remember you when you were this tall.” Of course, with such a long history with Planned Parenthood, volunteering came naturally to me.
I started three years ago, when I was 14, at “Bronco Bash”—Western Michigan University’s back-to-school event. At this annual gathering, merchants and organizations set up booths and give away items or distribute information. I was part of a Planned Parenthood street team that distributed condoms and quizzed teens.
Volunteering was a lot of fun, but many of the college students I spoke with were frighteningly unaware. When asked to demonstrate how to put on a condom, several students did not know where to look for the expiration date or why to check for air in the package. It didn’t seem right that I—a high school student—knew more about sexual health than college students.
Even more than unaware, some were unconvinced that condoms are essential. Many guys I spoke with said they did not use condoms. And some of the girls seemed too embarrassed to even look at me, let alone discuss the proper way to use a condom.
After this experience, I went back to my high school hopeful that it would be more receptive to providing information about sexual health to students. I thought perhaps if students learned more before they reached college—or even more importantly, before they became sexually active—there would be fewer uninformed teens like the ones I met at Bronco Bash.
But my school was not receptive. The administration told me not to wear my Planned Parenthood T-shirt. I occasionally wore it anyway, and kept a keychain supporting safer sex on my purse. I continued to volunteer at Planned Parenthood. And with time, students’ sarcastic jokes were replaced with serious questions about sexual health. I even saw classmates at the next event I volunteered at.
At my second Bronco Bash, I got a much better response from people. I wore my cape with condoms on it, and I was far more energetic. Occasionally, I distributed condoms with a guy who was giving out invites to a poker party. Our catchphrase was, “If you go to a party, go protected.” Students were very amused, and as a result, receptive. We got a lot of attention.
By the end of the day, people were talking about “the condom fairy.” The boys of Western Michigan’s fishing club ran a booth near Planned Parenthood’s, and they would yell for people to come visit us. The “I Love Planned Parenthood” tote bags we were giving away were a hot commodity. I had a lot of fun, and perhaps more importantly, when the bash was over, I felt a sense of accomplishment.
In the years that I have volunteered for Planned Parenthood, I’ve made some great friends. I have learned so much about sexual health, and because of that, I’ve been able to provide correct information to those who ask for it. Everyone has, or will have, times when they need to know something about sexual health, and it makes me feel great to be able to provide that help for even one person.
Are you interested in volunteering with Planned Parenthood? All you have to do is go to the Planned Parenthood in your city to find volunteer opportunities near you.
You can also sign up for the Planned Parenthood Action Network to receive updates about congressional issues relating to reproductive health, sexual health and family planning.
Marissa King is a Sex, Etc. contributor who lives in Michigan.
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