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Healthy Sexuality and Relationship Fair draws about 200 participants

(WARRENSBURG, Mo.) – Sex is a highly stigmatized activity, and that stigma can further, or even create, issues for people.

To counter that stigma, several groups recently worked together to create an interactive and informative event. The first Healthy Sexuality and Relationship Fair took place Tuesday in the Elliott Student Union.

April Roller, victim advocate with the office of Mentoring, Advocacy and Peer Support, and Sammy Jurado, sexual assault victim advocate at the Survival Adult Abuse Center, said they worked together to create the program because they felt there were gaps in the sexual education that people were receiving.

They also collaborated with UCM’s Title IX Office, Advocacy and Outreach Services, and UCM Student Engagement and Experience.

“We wanted to create something that was super interactive that students would actually want to be a part of and engage in and make it be educational and empowering for them,” Jurado said.

More than 200 people participated in the fair, according to the MAPS Facebook page.

The event featured informational booths, keynote speakers and roundtable discussions aimed at providing varied information delivered in different ways to reach as many people as possible.

Joyce Chang, professor of child and family development at UCM, delivered the speech “No Strings Attached? Research Update on Hooking Up,” which addressed uncommitted sexual encounters. Matthew Huffman, prevention director at the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, delivered the speech “Safe, Sober, & Consensual,” which addressed the assumption of consent when drugs or alcohol are involved and how students and administrators can more comfortably talk about the issue.

Roller said there were also several roundtable discussions, which were conducted at round tables to encourage interactivity and reduce feelings of intimidation.

The topic covered at the roundtable discussions addressed an array of topics, including healthy relationships, individual sexual identities and the balance of morality and sexuality.

There were boxes at each table where participants could submit anonymous questions about any aspect of sexuality. The questions could then be read aloud and discussed in the open discussion, which was held in the fair’s final hour.

Outside of the ballroom were informational tables organized by groups both on and off campus, providing information about relationships and sexuality and providing contact information for supporting victims.

“Some of those are staffed and some aren’t,” Roller said. “We didn’t want someone to be intimidated. ‘Oh look, there’s Whitman Air Force Base. If I go up and get their hotline information, they’re going to know because I’m an airman.’ We wanted to allow everyone the freedom to do what they like.”

Some of the information provided at the fair was developed by students. They were given a topic and a short description, and the students took it from there.

“The whole point of having students develop the activities and take charge of those was giving them the opportunity to learn,” Jurado said. “But it also makes this a peer thing, so it’s not just some professor coming up with an activity. Students are more likely to engage with their peers and participate.”

This event relied heavily on collaboration. Roller and Jurado said part of the idea behind having so many groups and agencies involved was to show people there are many places from which to get information and help.

“If they go to one person, that agency might not be able to help them, but know that they can refer them to a different agency that can,” Jurado said.

Another goal of this event was to educate people about more than just assault.

“The focus of this fair isn’t necessarily sexual assault,” Jurado said. “It’s really about educating people about how to have conversations, and how to be in healthy relationships and how to have healthy sexuality.”

She said sexuality is more than simply the act of having sex.

“We had some speakers who specifically spoke about new relationships and how to talk about the act of sex,” Roller said, “and how to even be comfortable initiating that conversation because it can be scary.”

She said one of the most popular tables at the fair was the discussion about the role of spirituality in sexuality.

Even though this was the first event, Roller said the plan is to make the Healthy Sexuality and Relationship Fair an annual event. She said the space has already been secured for 2018 and 2019.

Roller said she hopes it continues to develop and adapt to suit the needs of everyone.

“It’s a learning process, which is beautiful because we can definitely improve on it next year,” she said.

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