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Products like vibrators and dildos sit on the shelves at Wink Wink for curious customers to touch and learn about in October 2018. // Photo by Harrison Amelang


By Michelle McDaniel

This week, I learned that WinkWink, a sex shop in Bellingham, sells sex toys that can be controlled remotely through someone’s phone. 

“That’s been fun right now for people, to have one person who has a vibrator and their partner across town is controlling it,” Jenn Mason, owner of WinkWink, said over the phone.

It can be really challenging for couples who are living apart to stay connected during the COVID-19 pandemic, Mason said.

“There’s all kinds of creative ways right now where people can maintain their sex lives while quarantined with their partner, but also even when they are apart,” Mason said.

Fostering a sex-positive culture has been a big part of Western, but since Gov. Inslee’s stay-at-home order has everyone indoors, the community is missing out. Students don’t have the opportunity right now to stop at tables in Red Square when walking between classes to get information or pick up free condoms. It’s important that we continue to create safe spaces where we can openly talk about sexual wellness, no matter where we are.

An illustration of a condom encourages safe sex practices and offers services through Western. // Image Courtesy of Western Prevention and Wellness Services

Mason said she has been thinking a lot about the way we as a society are talking about exposing ourselves to the risks of COVID-19 and that there are a lot of parallels to the way that we talk about sexually transmitted diseases.  

“We’re deciding for ourselves what amount of exposure feels safe for us by having conversations with the people we live with, friends and the people we’re connected with,” Mason said. “We all are a little bit more open about our own health and what risks we’re willing to take.”

  Hopefully we can learn from some of these COVID-19 lessons in the way that we talk about STDs by being able to feel open to ask people who they have been exposing themselves to and then deciding what our comfort is with their risk level, Mason said.

“A lot of people feel really uncomfortable asking about STD status and asking about have you been tested, have you exposed yourself, what protections have you taken and have you had unprotected sex recently,” Mason said. “I think those are really hard questions to ask and I also think they are super necessary.”

Spring quarter is normally when Prevention and Wellness Services at Western promotes STD testing, said Tracy Dahlstedt-Rienstra, a health educator and peer sexual health education coordinator at Western. Students can still get tested for STDs, largely from the comfort of their home. The health center will help them to know what test they need and where they can go and get tested, Dahlstedt-Rienstra said. 

“COVID-19 is not the only bug out there, it’s just the most popular one right now,” Dahlstedt-Rienstra said.

Students can find additional resources on Western’s website about Sexual Health Promotion. In addition, “current Western students can submit an online request for a personal supply of condoms or other safe sex products” according to the Prevention and Wellness Services’ “Be Well” weekly newsletter. Prevention and Wellness Services will mail them to you according to their newsletter. Within the last few weeks, they have received about 40 orders, according to Dahlstedt-Rienstra. 

An illustration of a condom encourages safe sex practices and offers services through Western. // Image Courtesy of Western Prevention and Wellness Services

“That’s been a really fun way to be interacting and it feels like a really useful way that we can be supporting students with their sexual health during this time,” Dahlstedt-Rienstra said.

Paul Cocke, director of Communications and Marketing at Western, said that he has heard no discussions regarding any budget cuts due to COVID-19 that would prevent Western from continuing to provide sexual wellness resources for students.  

“I’m almost positive that they’re [Western] not cutting anything having to do with Prevention and Wellness Services and if anything, they [Western] are probably ramping up support,” Cocke said.

Planned Parenthood has a great online resource to learn about COVID-19 and Your Sexual Health. They have included some good information such as if someone can get COVID-19 from having sex, how to safely have sex during the COVID-19 pandemic, how to connect with your partner while socially distancing and how to stay safe while staying at home if you are in an abusive relationship.

It’s important that we all stay safe and healthy during this difficult time, but that doesn’t mean we have to neglect one of our basic human needs and wants, sexual pleasure.

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