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The GW Hatchet


The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

Meet the graduate student bolstering GW’s sexual wellness resources

Courtesy of Emily Htway
Emily Htway, a graduate student in the Milken Institute School of Public Health, established the “GW Love Hub” in the University Student Center’s Student Support Center.

A graduate student is strengthening the Office of Health Promotion and Education’s sexual education resources as GW’s first-ever sexual health specialist after noticing a sex-related stigma on campus after her first few months at the University.

Emily Htway, a graduate student in the Milken Institute School of Public Health, established the “GW Love Hub” in the University Student Center’s Student Support Center, which offers free safe-sex products like condoms, dental dams, lubricant and pregnancy tests to GW community members. She said she hopes to use her new position to create a campus community where students feel comfortable learning about and discussing sexual wellness at GW, where she’s noticed a lack of awareness and acceptance toward sexual health compared to her undergraduate school, the University of California, Davis.

Htway said some GW students come from communities or households that “demonize” sex, ingraining taboos. She said she’s met GW students who had never seen a condom before and seen students taunt their friends for seeking sexual health resources.

“Students at UCD were usually pretty willing to ask questions and explore resources, but GW students on the whole have a lot more hesitancy,” Htway said. “I hope to understand this difference more and more as I spend more time here.”

Htway said OHPE staff have distributed more than 3,000 products since the “GW Love Hub” opened in mid-September.

She said she has also created a website with educational guides and resources for HIV and STI testing, consent, birth control and emergency contraception, communication and pleasure, and masturbation. She said by the end of the semester, she will add guides for menstrual health, navigating abortion and pelvic health — or the functioning of the bladder, bowel and reproductive organs.

“You can’t deny talking about sex all day is way more fun than your average 9 to 5,” Htway said.

Htway said she noticed a lack of sexual well-being support from the University when she first came to GW, particularly in the availability of sexual well-being knowledge and products. She said the sexual health environment at GW contrasted from her undergraduate university, UC Davis, where she worked as a sexual well-being coordinator with their Health Education and Promotion.

Htway said she had a strong understanding of how to institute a “robust, sustainable” sexual well-being program at a university level because of her role at UC Davis, where she wrote and developed sex education programming and sexual well-being guides. She said GW students are more “averse” to conversations about sexual well-being, unlike students at UC Davis, likely because California is one of few states with comprehensive sex education and an “open culture around sex/sexuality.”

“When I got to GW, I was pretty quickly able to identify two big areas for intervention: access to knowledge and access to harm reduction resources,” Htway said. “Taking inspiration from what worked at UC Davis, I started working on filling those gaps.”

She said sex education for college students is consequential for their sexual health, referencing a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that half of sexually active people will get a sexually transmitted infection by age 25 and won’t know because they will be asymptomatic. Htway added that many college students, including many GW students, did not learn sexual education or lived in states that taught abstinence-only sex education.

“I am grateful for the opportunities I have, and my hope is that I can make lasting impacts to improve the sexual well-being of our campus community and beyond,” Htway said.

Mallory McPherson-Wehan, the assistant director of Health Promotion and Education, said the office annually employs two graduate students, this year Htway and Raegan Persful, a substance use specialist. Last year, both graduate students were focused on substance use on campus, she said.

McPherson-Wehan, in consultation with Program Associate Dylan Precourt, said she was open to one graduate student focusing on a topic other than substance use this year. When Htway reached out to them for the position, they let her create the position of sexual health specialist because of her extensive experience on the subject, she said.

“Emily emailed us during the summer, and we interviewed her, and we’re like, ‘She’s incredible,’” McPherson-Wehan said. “So we were pretty fine with her kind of making that grad position her own, which has been very sexual well-being focused.”

McPherson-Wehan said the OHPE did provide sexual health resources when she was an undergraduate and graduate student at GW. She said due to staff turnover, the OHPE eliminated these offerings around the 2018-19 academic year.

“I feel like one of my goals in Emily’s time at GW, whether that’s two years or longer, is to make sure that the things that she’s creating are sustainable for our office to continue doing,” McPherson-Wehan said.

Precourt said OHPE staff have seen excitement among students around the new offerings. He said Htway has worked with the Student Health Center to better understand what services the center offers and advise students on what is available.

“She’s done a lot of work with the nurse practitioners and the other medical staff from the health center in terms of making those resources more well known and understanding the process of obtaining them,” Precourt said.

Precourt said Htway’s website is a great resource for students and added that the feedback form found on the front page of the website will help improve their offerings going forward.

Along with the two graduate students, the OHPE also employs five undergraduate students who work as well-being student coordinators, Precourt said. He said the coordinators work in the office with a variety of responsibilities, including assisting Htway on the development of sexual health resources.

Maddie Dostal, a senior and a wellbeing student coordinator, said she saw room for improvement in the sexual health resources that had been offered on campus. She said campus organizations were focused on reproductive health, but GW lacked focus on the “wider aspects” of sexual health education.

“I viewed campus as having a gap when it came to things like general sexual health things, sex education and consent conversations that are taught and initiated by students rather than in a professional context,” Dostal said.

She said that peer health education, like the tabling the OHPE has done over the past months, can bolster more engagement from the student body.

Nicole Dimock, a senior well-being student coordinator, said she wrote a fact sheet on medication abortion with Htway’s guidance to help in the conversation about access to medical abortion on campus.

“She’s also just been a great supporter for all of us, like student well-being coordinators, [she] has been very on top of things and has a bunch of great ideas like the medication abortion stuff, that was her idea and I was totally on board with it,” Dimock said.

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About the Contributor
Rory Quealy, Assistant News Editor
Rory Quealy is a sophomore majoring in journalism and mass communications from La Grange, Illinois. She is the 2023-2024 assistant news editor for the Health and Research beat.
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