Tackling Misconceptions about Contraception: Grace Mason and the Campus Contraceptive Initiative

Grace Mason, sophomore at the University of Utah used to write for Her Campus, so I knew her in the way that I saw her at weekly meetings and was deeply intimidated by her. She’s the kind of woman who has a cool-as-a-cucumber presence, holds herself like she’s a Serious Woman with Career Aspirations and inspires envy and awe. She recently chopped her hair into a short pixie cut, which only makes me more jealous of how cool she is, but I also think of course this cool chick who dedicates her life to people making smart sexual decisions would have a cool haircut.

When I met with her to discuss the Campus Contraceptive Initiative for this article, I found she was bubbly and effervescent, that she spoke casually and quickly, with endearing slang and endless optimism. She started the Campus Contraceptive Initiative, the kind of campus organization that there is an obvious need for, but you can also see why it just began recently. Grace and the CCI both epitomize this moment in time, where sexual health is understood and approached with less shame and hesitancy than has ever been seen before. Grace wants you to believe your body deserves better. We spoke about the CCI and sex ed in general in frank terms in an open coffee shop without shame or hesitancy. Like Grace, it was very cool.

Who are you and what do you do?

I’m Grace Mason (she/they pronouns) and I’m the founder of the Campus Contraceptive Initiative. It’s an interdisciplinary student organization on campus by students, faculty, administrators and many others. We work in collaboration to bring better sexual and reproductive access to students on campus.

When did you start this and what motivated you to begin this initiative?

This is a thought baby of mine, but also my boss as well. I do research with the Family Planning Division at the School of Medicine. I was talking with my boss, Kyl Myers, a total badass of a woman, she helped lead the HER Salt Lake Contraceptive Initiative in Utah. I thought it would be great to replicate on campus. For instance, if I want to go get an IUD I could go to Planned Parenthood, and I love Planned Parenthood, but a lot of women our age might not be comfortable going to Planned Parenthood or might not even have the access to do so. If they’re on campus, and they’re paying for the Student Health Center with their tuition, they should be able to access that and reap the benefits of that. So she (Kyl Myers) was like, “I want you to think on that.” so it brewed in my mind for a couple months in the fall of last year, and officially started in January. We did preliminary surveys of the student body to see if there was interest, or a need in this. We found that it didn’t matter if students were sexually active -- it turns out 73% of students, sexually active or not, wanted a greater access to contraceptive care and sexual health supplies.

What goals do you have for this organization going forward?

Our first goal is to get low-cost contraceptive access to the student health center. We’ve been partnered with them to find scales, like what students find to be a reasonable price for say, the pill or an IUD. We’re going to use that scale with the student health center—

(at this point someone outside the coffee shop almost rammed their car into another car and we both stared in terror and derailed the interview to talk about how scary it was. Please check your rearview mirrors before backing out of coffee shop parking lots so you don’t mess up other interviews. Thank you for your consideration.)

So. Reasonable costs.

So we work with the student health center to find their prices, and better staff the student health center. Our three two goals are to increase stock, like work with pharmaceutical companies to have them donate now so college students will be future customers to them later and so we have access. Second, we’re working to start free clinics for next spring, potentially throughout the whole year depending on funding. We want to supply free contraception and follow students to see how having access to free or minimal cost impacts their school year. Like look before, during, and at the end of the school year and see how stress levels were impacted, how could they focus more on schoolwork.

So did the student health center not have contraceptive supplies?

They did, but for pretty high prices. Before our intervention, there were about eight people working at the student health center and only about two able to supply IUDs, respectively. So, one of our advisors had a training so now all providers know how to insert [IUDs.]

So...what is Sex Ed Jenga?

Oh my god. So it’s like giant Jenga, and each piece when you pull it out it has like, a fun fact, like “define the word asexual” and you have ten seconds to figure it out. Or like “Oil-based lube is the best kind of lube, true or false?” and you’d say “False! Because it erodes condoms and can lead to condom failure.”

Wait, did you invent Sex Ed Jenga?

Oh, yeah! I made that. It’s super fun, all in my favorite font, Century Gothic.

You need to, like, patent that.

Century Gothic just needs this representation.

Okay, so how do you see CCI fitting into the University of Utah campus culture?

I see it fitting in as an inclusive health dialogue. We’re adults, and we deserve to be treated like adults in our healthcare. We get to make the awesome decisions, and that should be reflected in what we say and do on campus. Like we can talk to groups and host a sex ed discussion, and say that we all have things to learn about sexuality, no matter where you are. And know that better access for any one person means better access for everyone.

What misconception about contraception and sex ed in general do you come across the most? Or what misconception do you think even someone who considers themselves well-informed could fall for?

One big one is the idea that the pill and condom are extremely reliable. They are great, but there’s a lot of personal error can come with them. As someone who was on the pill, it doesn’t mean you’re a bad person if you forget to take it, but I know that I can’t take a pill on a schedule like that. I think for a lot of people, our information stops at the pill and condoms. Like, a lot of people don’t know about implants. Like, dudes won’t know their girlfriend has an implant in their arm. Or, another thing people don’t know is, you know how when you put on the condom, it can either be the cute lil’ sombrero or the baby bottle? Well if you accidentally make the baby bottle, you need to take it off and throw it away. Because there can already be bodily fluids, maybe not sperm, but it can be anything else, so if you’re trying to protect from STIs, you can’t use it. There’s a lot of basic information about condoms people don’t always know.

This is embarrassing but, I consider myself pretty knowledgeable about sexual health, and let me tell you, I’m still not sure how to use a condom. Like, at all.

Exactly! And that’s the problem. Personally, I would say, the thing for people who might already be like “I’m the sexpert” is to appreciate lubricant. Like, we love our bodies, and we should embrace it all, even the wet and sticky parts of the body that we don’t want to talk about. Lubricant makes it all a lot better, and more pleasurable for everyone. And it’s about getting to the nitty-gritty. Once we know the mechanics, we can move into what’s pleasurable.

How can people on campus take advantage of what you do?

We have a survey out! If you want to improve health care on campus, they can take our survey! And if people are interested in joining our team, we have a lot of different areas for research, so if someone has something in mind to research with sexual health or wants to see what it’s like to be an OBYGYN or a women’s health doctor, we have a lot to experience that process. We have meetings every other Tuesday in the Marriott Library Hoopes Seminar room at 3:30 or you can text @utahcci to 810-10 and that’s our reliable number to get info for our meetings or other info! 

Follow the Campus Contraceptive Initiative on Facebook, Twitter, and Insta

All images courtesy of Grace's Insta (@thegracemason) and the CCI Insta (@utahcci)