Wanted: better sexual health care on campus

Illustration by Hannah Stinson

Trying to locate sexual health resources on Ryerson’s campus feels like a wild goose chase.

It’s Valentine’s Day, so of course, lots of you might be having sex today. (Yay for you!) You’re paying exorbitant fees on top of your tuition every semester, so you might want to know if any of that money goes toward helping you have safer, better sex. You might ask: Where can you go to get free condoms on campus? Do Ryerson facilities offer testing for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or pregnancy? And if so, how much will it cost you? I did the legwork so you don’t have to do the research yourself. (You can thank me later.)

The AskMeRU InfoDesk seemed like a good place to start. Described on Ryerson’s website as a service that can “connect students to the appropriate service or department for their needs,” I figured they would know where to look on campus for STI testing, contraceptives or safer sex supplies. A bewildered-sounding rep at the InfoDesk told me she thinks there “might be nurses on campus” and that free condoms might be given out at the RSU building.

Free condoms, as it turns out, are available at a few different places on campus: the Ryerson Students’ Administrative Council desk in Jorgensen Hall, the AIDS Education Project office in Pitman Hall, the Student Campus Centre, all residence buildings and the medical centre, according to a couple of past Eyeopener reports.

Health Promotion program coordinator Juannittah Kamera told me that some of these locations give out lubricant too, and that the medical centre also offers dental dams “while supplies last.” Although it’s great to have them offered at all, there should be just as many dental dams available as condoms, and at the same number of locations on campus—because, after all, penises aren’t the only body part that can transmit and contract STIs. And latex gloves, necessary for safer fingering, weren’t mentioned at all by anyone I spoke to.

Ryerson’s Health Promotion website is a decent enough source of information, including step-by-step instructions for giving yourself a breast exam, the low-down on various kinds of contraception and a write-up on what to expect when being tested for STIs. But there is no actual information about where to go for tests or supplies; I had to contact Health Promotion reps and read student-compiled resource lists to find that out. General sex information is obviously important, but almost everything on Health Promotion’s site can be found elsewhere on the Internet. Presumably, if you’re on the Ryerson Health Promotion webpage, you’re looking for health info that’s, you know, local to Ryerson.

Next I called the on-campus medical centre, located in Kerr Hall West. Their services are almost all covered by OHIP, or UHIP if you’re an international student, and only require your health card and OneCard. A few sexual health services are not covered: emergency contraceptives cost up to $45, HPV vaccines up to $142 and pap tests cost $88 at Ryerson. All services are confidential.

Kamera told me only some tests can be done on-campus. Anything involving blood work, including many STI tests, must be referred to a lab elsewhere and the results forwarded back to the Ryerson clinic. Seems like it’d be quicker and more convenient to just go to a location that has its own lab on-site.

There’s no “speak to a real live person” option on the medical centre’s automated voicemail, but it did tell me to call the health and dental plan office if I had more questions. I did have more questions, so I called. The person who picked up was blunt, questioned whether I was actually writing for a publication, and said she wasn’t able to give me any information about the health plan except what’s already publicly available—namely: that it covers 80 per cent of the costs of prescribed contraceptives (hooray!). I understand that RSU employees are corralled by a notoriously restrictive media policy, but aren’t students entitled to answers about their own health options?

I phoned and emailed a few other RSU employees to ask about sexual health at Ryerson, and despite the RSU’s claim that they’re “happy to answer (students’) questions in person, by phone, email or other means of communication,” I hadn’t received responses from any of them at the time of writing this article.

Mental health is arguably part of sexual health, whether you’re dealing with sexual trauma or working through more minor hang-ups. Ryerson’s student health plan will cover up to $350 in psychologist fees per year – which, depending on the practitioner you choose, may pay for several sessions or just one or two (the Psychologists’ Association of Alberta recommends practitioners charge $180 per 50-minute appointment).

Ryerson has its own counselling centre, which offers free and confidential services for students; but a recent student survey revealed that these services aren’t widely known about. Of the students who had actually used Ryerson’s mental health resources, some reported that the wait times were months long and that the services were unhelpful to them.

I also wondered whether Ryerson’s sexual health services are LGBT-friendly. It’s common for LGBT-identified people to have less-than-ideal experiences with doctors and psychologists, due to lingering homophobic biases and insufficient medical education on queer and trans* sexuality. I phoned RyePride, which offers “education, advocacy and support of queer and trans* people on campus”—but their voicemail message said they were “closed for the summer.” Considering that it’s now February, this doesn’t bode well. Still, based on the multitude of events they hold on campus, catching up with them in person may be your best bet; with knowledgeable, young staff, RyePride should very well offer great information for the LGBT community on campus.

Frankly, Ryerson students seeking straightforward help with their sexual health should walk off campus and into the Hassle-Free Clinic at Church and Gerrard. It offers services by appointment or on a drop-in basis, including STI testing and treatment, birth control prescriptions and renewals, pap tests, sexual check-ups, safer-sex counselling, hepatitis vaccinations, emergency contraceptives, sexual assault crisis support, psychologist referrals and general sex education. The clinic is known for being LGBT-positive. There are separate entrances for women and men. And best of all, STI tests are confidential and totally free: no health card required.

Other good sexual health clinics in the city include the Bay Centre for Birth Control at College and Bay and the LGBT-friendly Sherbourne Health Centre at Sherbourne and Carlton, both of which also give out free condoms.

While Ryerson’s sexual health services may be hit-or-miss, we’re lucky enough to have some excellent sexual health clinics in our downtown area. Save yourself the trouble and go to one of them instead.