About 80 people gathered in a Teachers College lecture hall Wednesday night to pose anonymous questions about sexual health.
"We did this last year, but the attendance wasn't as good and I thought it was important to have a second chance," Julie Sturek, a health educator and event organizer, said. "A lot of people just think of STDs and pregnancy when they think of sexual health, but it's so much more."
The event was part of Sexual Responsibility Week, five days of sexual health awareness recognized annually near Valentine's Day on college-campuses nationwide. It featured a panel of health experts and counselors that included Kent Bullis, a medical director of the Health Center, George Gaither, a professor of Ball State's psychology of sexual behavior course and three students who serve as peer health educators, as well as representatives from the Counseling Center and Victim Services.
Attendees submitted questions via text message, asking questions such as "How many sex partners is average for a 20-year-old in college?" and "Can you have a healthy sex relationship with someone you're not in love with?" Topics ranged from where to buy sex toys to shaving and douching to how to talk about sex without it being awkward.
Panelists weren't shy about answering even the most blunt questions, but consistently encouraged students to maintain open communication in all their relationships.
"In a relationship, it's not okay to pressure your partner to have sex," Erin Snyder, a psychologist at the Counseling Center, said in answer to a question about a students' reluctance to have anal sex. "Pressuring your partner to have sex is actually sexual coercion, and it doesn't happen in healthy relationships."
Michele Cole, a victim advocate and director of the Office of Victim Services at Ball State, echoed this sentiment in response to a later question.
"If you don't want a person to touch you in a certain way, you have a right to express that," she said. "You have personal sovereignty ... If you've expressed your limitations and your partner is still pressuring you ... it might be time to seek a new partner."
One of the students on the panel, Aaron Perry, who works as a peer health educator, said he appreciated being able to participate in the event.
"People think it's really taboo to ask questions [about sex,]" Perry, a sophomore traveling tourism major, said. "But you truly learn a lot of stuff. It opens your eyes to many different aspects of health. And it wasn't nearly as awkward as I expected it to be."
Sophomores Stephanie Kuhn and Joy Targgart said they attended the discussion because they thought it would be interesting and don't mind talking about sex.
"You shouldn't be shy about talking about stuff like that," Kuhn, a psychology major, said.
Targgart, a nursing major who said she learned a lot about sex before the event by taking Gaither's sex class in a previous semester, noted that having students text their questions seemed to be a really effective method of encouraging a candid conversation.
Sturek said that was one of the goals of the event.
"Students realize the question they're having — other people in the room are having the same questions," she said. "It makes them feel not as abnormal."
The Office of Health Education will wrap up its Sexual Responsibility Week activities with a "condom kiosk" tonight from 6 to 7 near America's Buffett at LaFollette.