'Man Up' Program initiates the conversation for safe sex

Everybody's doing it (and you know what "it" is).

Although plenty of SMC students are sexually active, many may not know how easily S-E-X can turn into S-T-D.

Eli Martinez of the "Man Up" program is looking to change this issue one student at a time. Martinez trains students on the ins and outs of STDs and prevention, while clearing up myths and misconceptions.

Martinez has completed two cycles of "Man Up" with the P.R.I.D.E. and GSA clubs on campus, and completes his third training cycle with the F.I.E.R.C.E. club this week.

"It's an ongoing learning process," says Martinez. "The educational process is three sessions, but is also left open for follow ups and revisits." Martinez says that any past participants may return at any time to participate, and even when a cycle is not in session, he'll check in with them on their journey.

Session one is getting to know the program's ultimate goal, what Martinez calls "HIV 101." Session two explains STD myths and misconceptions in language that students can relate to. In the third and final session, students implement what they have learned by conducting outreach and educating others.

The ultimate goal is to create public opinion leaders. These POLs teach the latest prevention techniques to their friends and family, raising awareness and reducing the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections and diseases. In the past, Martinez has taken POLs to events like the P.R.I.D.E. Festival in Long Beach and the LGBT Film Festival to conduct their outreach, keeping the program fun and interesting while spreading the word.

"Man Up" is the Westside Family Health Center's portion of a project that is already tried and true: Diffusion of Effective Behavioral Interventions, or DEBI.

The DEBI website touts that a personalized, behavioral intervention that is close to home is much more effective.

According to their website, the DEBI project is designed to bring "science-based, community, group, and individual-level HIV prevention interventions to community-based service providers and state and local health departments."

"They're going to listen to [me] before they listen to a billboard on Sunset," says Martinez, speaking of student preferences. This is why POLs are so vital to this program. Often outgoing individuals with a desire to help others, POLs share information they've learned with their friends and family, document these conversations and submit this documentation as part of the criteria for completing the program.

Martinez says that the "Man Up" program is directed toward men who identify themselves as gay, because they have been found to be the highest risk population. But Martinez says that now interest in the program has come from all corners of the LGBT community.

"We open it up so everyone can learn from it," says Martinez. Although men who have sex with men are the only "Man Up" participants who receive incentives for completing the program, Martinez also brings in items to raffle as perks for other participants.

During the first session of "Man Up", 22 participants signed up for the program and nine completed it. And although less than half finished, Martinez says that it is promising to have nine more educators spreading knowledge of sexual health.

Martinez has received positive responses from the SMC students he's worked with thus far. "It gives them a sense of belonging to the bigger picture," says Martinez. "Instead of being students who wander in and out and don't make connections, it gives them something to be a part of."

George Carnero, a member of the SMC P.R.I.D.E. club and a theater major, completed the latest cycle of the "Man Up" session. He particularly felt that the "challenge exercises," where participants of the program approach people and talk about STDs, was an interesting and helpful experience.

"It teaches you to play it safe, to have confidence when in an uncomfortable situation with the person you are having sex with," he said. "I recommend students to go through this program. It's not only for gay people, but for everyone."