If there’s one thing that the Titanic (both the historical event and DiCaprio’s clearly-there’s-enough-room-Rose version), “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “Moby Dick” have all taught me, it’s that shipwrecks are bad. There just isn’t a way to see a glass-half-full situation when your boat is half-full of water, and you’re rapidly sinking to your death in the deep ocean.
That’s why I was confused when people said “shipwreck” but were actually referring to SHPRC, the Sexual Health Peer Resources Center. Honestly, I thought it was horrible marketing. Being lost at sea, drowning and other forms of impending doom didn’t seem to be the most inviting images to associate with healthy sexuality on campus.
When talking about it with my friends, I found that most of the time the concept of SHPRC itself caused confusion. Coming from backgrounds where topics involving sex and sexuality were too taboo to discuss openly and also lacking personal experience, we thought it was crazy that Stanford has a place to specifically buy items like condoms, lube and vibrators, at subsidized prices. On top of SHPRC’s existence, we were shocked to find out that we each had $3 per quarter to spend there. For research purposes and the good of all virgins on campus, we had to investigate.
One bright Thursday afternoon, a few sexually-uninitiated male friends and I headed out to Vaden Health Center to find SHPRC and see for ourselves what this fabled location was really all about.
Our first reaction? Small. SHPRC, which lives on the second floor of the Health Center, is not like a store or a pharmacy. It’s a tiny office (practically a cubicle) in the corner of the hallway, packed with a desk, iMac, lots of stickers and two bookshelves filled with a wide array of mostly condoms, lube and yes, even books. We all crammed into the room, awkwardly greeted the counselor and started to take a look around. Each shelf had small baskets and little placards detailing the items, their costs and the differences between them.
We first looked at the condoms. Almost all 10 cents each, they made up the bulk of SHPRC’s inventory, and there was a decent amount of variety — lubricated, non-lubricated, flavored, studded, extra-long and even glow-in-the-dark. These brought up a few questions, and we murmured to each other for a few minutes before building up the courage to ask the counselor at the desk.
“So… what’s the deal with flavored condoms?”
The primary purpose is STD prevention during oral sex, but that doesn’t mean the experience can’t be tasty, too. We even got a recommendation: mint tasted the best, while the cola flavor was the most wack. If chocolate or otherwise flavored condoms aren’t for you, there were also unflavored and non-lubricated thinner condoms that also work well.
We found that many of the condoms were novelty items (like the glow-in-the-dark condoms) and also that many of the condom options were really not that different from each other. There was a brand claiming to have vegan condoms, even though all of them were latex. Some baskets had basically the same condoms, except with different designs on the packaging. Even the studded condoms seemed relatively mild, not the deadly armored weaponry we’d imagined.
Underneath the condoms, there were female condoms and dental dams. I’d never heard of either of these before. Female condoms go into the vagina and provide a physical barrier to sperm, while dental dams are used to practice safe oral sex, covering the vagina.
From there we moved on to the various lubes available, both in small packets and bottles. There were several water and silicon-based lubes, and even a demo unit that could be tried out. We asked about lubrication, why it’s important, and the difference between the kinds of lube. The counselor responded that friction was not fun, and then pointed us to the labels on the back of the bottles.
At this point, there was a shift switch with the counselors, and my friends also had to head out for class. We briefly looked at the sex toys, including the dildos and vibrators, puzzled over the bizarre male masturbatory contraption known as the Tenga Egg, and then brushed over the books on sex and sexual health on the top of the bookshelves . Unsure of what to purchase, my friends took baskets and loaded them up with condoms. I took a basket and then loaded it up with the ultimate power move — SHPRC’s subsidized batteries, $1.00 for two AAs.
During checkout we never had to identify ourselves, but we did have to give our ID numbers. My friends got their goods handed back to them in a small black bag. When it was my time to buy, I casually stepped up and slid my batteries onto the table.
“Excuse me, but you need to buy a toy that uses batteries in order to buy the batteries.”
Oh. So much for my power move; the toys, subsidized or not, were far above the $3 credit I had, and the cost benefit analysis just didn’t quite seem to work out. To all the finessers who’ve heard about SHPRC’s low battery prices, I can personally tell you it doesn’t work out that easily. I sheepishly returned the batteries, and we left after about 20 minutes of browsing.
When looking for a way to sum up our experience, my friends and I settled on a few words. Small, for starters.. Although there might be a debate on whether size matters, it certainly was the first thing we noticed walking into SHPRC and shopping around. For all of the allure around SHPRC and the services it provides, the actual location can’t get much more discreet or cramped. In line with this observation, we found the whole experience mildly underwhelming. There was nothing really crazy or bizarre about SHPRC or the products it carried, and it felt more like a doctor’s clinic room than an adult sex store. Rather than being a rejuvenating experience, or feeling like a place dedicated to healthy sexuality on the Stanford campus, it was practically the same as checking out condoms from your local CVS, except free.
Finally, we all agreed that the whole experience, despite our best efforts, had been incredibly awkward. SHPRC seemed best suited to a grab-your-needs-and-go situation, not to a bunch of guys trying to make heads or tails out of sexuality in college. The awkward questions, confusing responses and long, long pauses doomed all discussions to sinking quickly. Instead, I spent most of my time at SHPRC munching on the M&Ms and KitKats they had, or puzzling over the labels on the items.
SHPRC is definitely worth at least one visit, whether you’re a virgin or not. It’s important to familiarize yourself with the health resources on campus, and I genuinely do think my friends and I learned some valuable information about STD protection, as well as the resources Vaden offers in general, such as STD testing. The $3 credit resets every quarter, so using it never hurts either — you can always give spare condoms to RAs for your dorm. But if you’re looking to learn more about sexual health or sexuality in general, and not really looking for a condom and lube buffet contained in a office cubicle, then maybe also look elsewhere. SHPRC has plenty for those swimming in the oceans of sexuality in college, but for those of us treading water or just learning how to swim, it’s probably best to start with some floaties, maybe somewhere with a less daunting acronym.
Contact Ayush Pandit at apandit ‘at’ stanford.edu.