Chlamydia, gonorrhea and HPV — or, rather, two-foot inflatable bowling pins with the names of sexually transmitted diseases taped to the front — faced students holding a three-foot-wide inflatable bowling ball, ready to strike them down.
Caroline Da Silva and Jess Rinosa oversaw the STD bowling game, waiting for pins to fall before giving students fun facts about the diseases they knocked over.
“It's kind of taboo to start talking about it or to bring it up with your friends or your partner,” Da Silva said. “But I feel like it's really important for us to know what can actually happen if you're not being protected.”
Da Silva and Rinosa, both UF health education and behavior juniors, volunteered at the circus-themed “Sextravaganza,” hosted by the UF Student Health Care Center and health education honors society Eta Sigma Gamma Tuesday night.
The annual Sex in the Swamp event featured games, booths and a panel of “sexperts” — professionals in sexual health, therapy and advocacy — who spoke about all things sex to a crowd of about 50.
STD bowling was only one of many interactive games and booths, most of which were decorated by red and white balloons and matching tablecloths. A ticket booth and popcorn machine greeted students at the entrance — the more booths they visited, the more points they could redeem at the prize table for a t-shirt.
Emily Battan, a 22-year-old UF health education and behavior senior and ESG member, manned a booth promoting sex positivity.
“Sex is a very important part of being a human,” Battan said. “It's good for your health. It has so many benefits, and I think people are kind of afraid to see it that way.”
Conversations surrounding sex can be difficult because they’re intimate and personal, she said. But she stressed the importance of healthy communication in a sexual relationship — a sentiment echoed by other volunteers and panelists.
Another ESG booth featured a propped-up mirror covered in hand-written sticky notes, each with a message promoting body positivity. One read, “I like that my body lets me climb trees.” Another: “I love my lips,” with a smiley face drawn next to it.
While ESG set up about half of the booths, other organizations also tabled, handed out contraceptives, like condoms and dental dams, and educated students on everything from sexuality to menstruation.
Micaela Brena, a 22-year-old UF public health senior, represented Well Florida, an organization that promotes HIV testing and awareness. She talked to students about being more open to testing and sought to destigmatize sex, she said.
“It's not something that's dirty,” she said. “It's very important for people to realize that it is a normal part of life.”
Sex in the Swamp also included conversations about sex and sexuality in the LGBTQ community.
Regina Livingston, one of five panelists, spoke on the importance of helping transgender youth and encouraging students to embrace their identities. As founder of the Unspoken Treasure Society, a transgender advocacy group, Livingston made clear the LGBTQ community should be protected and included in conversations on sex.
“There are so many marginalized individuals that are sometimes overlooked, or they can be sitting right in your face and you don't realize it,” she said. “For that one person that may be sitting in the audience that is scared to speak up or speak out, I always want to be that guide for that one person.”
Laurie Mintz, a UF psychology professor and sex therapist on the panel, gave students tips on having better, more communicative sex. She often yelled into her microphone, at one point declaring, “Just like that, don’t stop!” as an example of telling a partner how you feel during sex.
“Communication is the bedrock to make your bed rock,” she said during the panel.
Collecting her t-shirt after touring booths and games, 21-year-old UF biology and anthropology junior Irina Staszewski said she and two friends stumbled across Sex in the Swamp after being denied entry to a different event in the Reitz Union.
“We walked in as a joke, but actually it was really insightful,” she said.
Lauren Mask, president of ESG, said she hoped the about 200 students who stopped by were encouraged to have more comfortable conversations on sexual health.
“I would love to destigmatize sexual health talk,” she said. “It's something that is super stigmatized, difficult to talk about, but it's so, so important.”
For the first time in its more than 20-year-long history, Sex in the Swamp upgraded from its previous home in the Florida Gym to the larger Reitz Union Rion Ballroom. Mask said getting to play with the ballroom’s space was one of her favorite parts of planning.
“It was like a kid in the candy shop, thinking about all the fun things we can do,” she said. “It really is a fun event that I love.”
As Sex in the Swamp 2023 came to a close, Mask said she was happy with how it went, particularly after two years of virtual conventions in 2020 and 2021.
“Having so many people who were excited to help and seeing people line up at the door waiting for the event to start was really cool,” she said. “It was a million times better than what I had anticipated.”
Contact Alissa at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @AlissaGary1.
Alissa Gary is a journalism freshman and university administration reporter at The Alligator. Aside from writing, she loves spending time with her cats, catching up on Jeopardy, and seeing the latest movies.