Sex advice for Dal students all over the map

Dalhousie Peer Health offers students resources and advice on sexual health, but because they lack proper space on campus, students cannot take full advantage of the service

Krista Ali of the Dalhousie Student Union helps a student file a health claim. The desk in the background is one of the few areas on campus set aside for Peer Health to meet and counsel students. (Photo: Anna Duckworth)

Many Dalhousie University students don’t know where to take a sexual query, seek out sexual advice or find a listening ear to talk about sex. Easy access to these services doesn't exist.

Dalhousie Peer Health is a student-run organization that offers free condoms, sexual health information, education and counselling to students. But it doesn't have adequate or clearly marked space on campus. And Peer Health organizers insist no amount of advertising gets the word out.

Sexual health is a major concern for students. The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada says young people aged 15 to 24 account for two-thirds of reported cases of chlamydia, a sexually transmitted infection. And according to the Canadian Federation for Sexual Health, Nova Scotia’s chlamydia rate has been rising since 1997.

Dalhousie Student Union president Courtney Larkin says space on campus is a problem that needs constant re-evaluation. As for a proper store-front for Peer Health, “like many university services, there's not enough room for them.”

Peer Health's budget of $87,000, including salaries for 16 staffers, leaves few alternatives.

Space is spread haphazardly around campus. Program director Derrick Enslow is hidden in a corner office of Howe Hall, a residence. Across campus, the student union has allocated desk space inside the Health Plan office for Peer Health advisors.

Enslow says the desk is central and accessible, but too public and students don't use the services enough. “We try to do the best we can with that space .... But there's no privacy at all.”

Health Plan administrator Krista Ali works beside this desk. She’s concerned about all the conversations she overhears at the Peer Health desk and vice versa. “I've seen uncomfortable situations unfold,” she says, and hopes Peer Health and Health Plan will each have private offices some day. 

Another “awful” space has been allocated, says Enslow, in the basement of Fountain Hall, “next to the dirty mop room.” Students without security swipe cards don't have access, so Peer Health abandoned it.

Dalhousie's director of student wellness, Marc Braithwaite, thinks McGill University has a good idea. The Shagalicious Sex Shop has many of the same services offered by Peer Health. The best part: the shop is in the McGill health clinic.

And the message is clear. Sex is a normal part of healthy life for McGill students.

Braithwaite and Enslow think a space like McGill's would do well at Dalhousie. But, says Enslow, “we're a little bit leery about the conservative nature of the Dalhousie campus.”

Executive director of the Halifax Sexual Health Centre, Rhonda Phillips, has similar concerns. “We like to think that sex isn't a taboo subject. But I think we still have a long way to go before we can say that it's a normal part of a person's health status.”

Enslow’s not optimistic in his estimations, saying it could be ten years before Peer Health gets the space it needs. But, Braithwaite says, “it's very much on the radar of the university.”

For now, only students prepared to embark on a treasure hunt will benefit from Peer Health’s services.

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