SHAPE: Light in the dark

“Is a penis breakable?” This question, asked by a member of the Sexual Health and Alcohol Peer Education program (SHAPE), served to break the ice Tuesday night at “Sex in the Dark,” a panel discussion on sex and the issues surrounding it.

The event, sponsored by SHAPE, was an opportunity for the approximately 20 students in attendance to anonymously ask five panel members questions they had regarding the subject, as well as give input on questions from audience members.

The panel consisted of Michael Doody, S.J., director of Campus Ministry, Nancy Delaney, M.D., a physician at the Student Health and Counseling Center, John Dages, Ph.D., psychologist and assistant director of the Student Health and Counseling Center, Sarah Dempsey, co-chair of SHAPE and Richard Strathmann, a senior pre-med/biology major. Dave Capretto, co-chair of SHAPE, mediated the event.

Many of the questions asked concerned the moral issues that surround sex, from coming out as gay as a Christian to premarital sex to the use of emergency contraceptive in the case of a rape.

In response to the question of coming out of the closet if it is against a person’s religion, Doody assured the audience that the Church is understanding in terms of sexuality and feelings of love that we have for other humans. “Our sexuality is a gift from God,” Doody said. “The Church teaches that homosexual acts are immoral, but there is an understanding that humans are not perfect.”

Strathmann spoke of his own experience of coming out as gay while considering himself a Presbyterian. “Who I am and what I am is not a choice,” Strathmann said. “I had to be honest with myself.” He also pointed out that there are many gay-friendly churches in the area.

Another hot topic was the use of contraceptives such as the morning-after pill and whether or not it is considered abortion.

Delaney explained that the pill sends a large amount of estrogen into the body, causing the uterine lining to abort the pregnancy, and can be considered a form of abortion. A further question asked if this was considered immoral by the Church, and whether or not the situation would change if the pill was taken by a rape victim.

Doody responded to the question saying that many of the area’s Catholic hospitals such as St. John’s, St. Mary’s and even Saint Louis University Hospital offer the pill to rape victims. He also said that it is a way to “cleanse” the body after a rape, however, the Church is still against it if it is used as merely a means to end a pregnancy.

Dempsey, who herself was raped in high school, continued the topic of rape by expressing the importance of going to the emergency room immediately after being raped to be checked for disease, evidence and to be given mental counseling.

A Public Safety officer in the audience added that the statistics on sexual assaults at SLU are made public through the Cleary Act and are available in the Department of Public Safety office.

Whether or not drugs, especially marijuana, can be used responsibly was also questioned, with Dages and Delaney both offering advice.

“There are so many side effects that it is hard to say that you’re using it responsibly,” Delaney said. She described the side effects of marijuana use as short-term memory loss and consequences on the reproductive system.

Dages compared the use of illegal drugs to alcohol, in saying that although alcohol can be deadly and abused, it is often a family drug, one that is almost a tradition.

“You’re not at home rolling Ecstasy on Thanksgiving, but might have a glass of wine,” Dages said. “However, marijuana can create a lot of psychological situations that are hard to deal with. It can be psychologically addictive.”

Among other various question was one that came as no surprise. “Is it immoral to have premarital sex if you are in a long-term, loving relationship?”

Doody’s response: “Yes.”

The night ended with Capretto informing the audience of upcoming SHAPE events, such as sexual assault awareness week, which is Feb. 25 to March 1.

On Feb. 26 at 7 p.m. in the Saint Louis Room of the Busch Memorial Center, Katie Koestner and Brett Sokolow, two guest speakers, will put on “He Said, She Said,” a presentation on the male and female aspects of sexual assault. SHAPE will also present a movie night on Feb. 28 at 7 p.m. in Kelly Auditorium.