Inspire – Women of Dartmouth Stories

Le(s)t the Old Traditions Fail

Brita Reed, D'76, takes it upon herself to solve early issues of coeducation.

Spring, 1976:
Another Tuesday evening at Topliff Hall, and I’m running late for the seven o’clock summer sex clinic. My arms are overfilled with an oversized plastic yellow dishpan crammed beyond the brim with cookies, crackers, and contraceptives. As I attempt to pull open the heavy, wooden dormitory door with two free fingers, my ballast shifts. Chips-Ahoys, Lippes Loop IUDs, and sundry economy packs of thirty-six Trojan Enhanced Pleasure premium latex condoms –contour shaped for form fitting comfort-tumble together to the pavement.
A sophomore in faded Dartmouth green sweats, returning to his dorm after rugby practice, comes up behind me.
“Are all these yours?” he asks incredulously, and I nod sheepishly. He stoops and helps me retrieve several Color and Scents condoms – an assortment of strawberry, banana, and orange scents with colors that match – a veritable fruit-salad mélange on the pavement.
I use the opportunity to explain my purpose. That I’m the director of the Contraception Road Show which I implemented last spring. That, during my years at Dartmouth, I’ve been appalled at the rash of not only unwanted pregnancies, but also of the rise in sexually transmitted infections – especially herpes – which the College has experienced since September 1972, the first year of coeducation. I’ve witnessed the administration’s inertia –time and time again –to acknowledge and to respond to these issues. That I took it upon myself to address the situation and spent months training in peer education at Planned Parenthood of New Hampshire. And now, under the auspices of Dick’s House, I proudly carry my yellow dishpan to dormitories and fraternities such as Butterfield, Beta, Topliff and TriKap, to talk with any students who will listen about the dangers of unprotected sex.
As I speak, my voice becomes noticeably louder. Finally, I am almost shouting. There is exigency and stridency in my tone. He appears perplexed.
“Sort of how to have sex without getting screwed,” he mumbles softly, evidencing his understanding. As he hurries to pick up another errant Trojan Maxum XL –thirty percent larger than the standard condom –he promised, warily, to attend.
By now, it is ten minutes after seven. The din in the lounge subsides as I scurry among forty predominately male undergraduates and begin to distribute snacks. Some students have come specifically to see the only coed on campus who can, unabashedly, in the same breath, juxtapose the phrases “foam and jelly spermicide” with “more Fig Newtons?” Others have come solely for snacks. Junk food, any junk food, is essential to attract a student audience.
Seizing the moment, I place the videotape, “Hope is Not a Method,” into the lounge’s BetaMax. Although the film has a predictable plot, i.e., the crusade of cartoon figures representing tenacious, persistent sperm who are constantly seeking out chary, standoffish ova, but who are consistently thwarted by the heroic Dauntless Diaphragm –always used with jelly or foam, of course –it never fails to evoke a few chuckles among the group. But the more serious message of this film is not lost on the audience, namely, that unplanned and unwanted pregnancies, as well as myriad STDs, affect a  percentage of the Dartmouth student body each year. So, by the time that the Dauntless Diaphragm takes its final bow, the students are ready to accept the importance of my message.
As the discussion of the advantages and the failure rates of each method begins, I pass around pretty, pink packages of twenty-one Ovcon birth control pills –with seven green placebos –plus aerosol cans of nonoxyl-9, and Ultra Comfort extra-strength condoms. Packages are eagerly ripped open with an abundance of zeal and condoms, stretched to their limit, slingshot across the room. Over on the couches, several boys are playfully squirting spermicide down their roommates’ backs. And I smile, gratified that they are all learning. Who said hope is not a method….

7 thoughts on “Le(s)t the Old Traditions Fail”

  1. Sarah Lilja ‘82

    So great to learn that Brita is the creator of the Contraceptive Road Show. I remember it vividly from my freshman year. It was both shocking (no one in my family ever talked about any of these things) and enlightening. I was simply amazed, in a positive way, that such information was being shared with students because most of us sure weren’t having these conversations with our partners in 1979.

  2. I still think that abstinence combined with proactive hope in finding one’s soulmate for life is the best method of preventing STDs and such. I used this method successfully throughout my Dartmouth years + beyond and I intend to pass this message of hope to my kids. I do understand that the message might not be popular with enthusiasts of casual sex culture and many sex educators. 😉

  3. Ellen Meyer Shorb

    Wow. I had no idea. Thank goodness you had the courage, patience, and fortitude to push this conversation. You rock. Ellen Meyer Shorb ’78

  4. Dawn Green MacLaren

    Such courage – mixing strength, conviction, and commitment with humor and persistence!
    For helping all those students then, and all those who came after you over the many the years to come, thank you! Dawn Green MacLaren ‘89

  5. I still remember “Hope is not a method.” I’ve used it in a variety of contexts (many of them legal) in the ensuing forty-some-odd years. Christine Hughes ‘78 (J.D. UVA 1981)

  6. Ellen Sullivan Sen ‘77

    Brita, thank you for your courage and determination to reduce unplanned pregnancies and STD’s. 👏👏👏

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