by Michelle Rainer
Does the birth control pill cause cancer? Can you pee while wearing the female condom? And how effective is the contraceptive sponge, anyway?
In these sex-savvy times, it's easy to think we know everything we need to about protecting ourselves from pregnancy and STDs, but as Sex Sense, a book designed by Concordia students, shows, there's more to contraception than what you learned in high school.
"I feel like such an expert now," said Natasha Vairo, one of seven Design Art students who helped design the book. She now has plenty of advice for her friends. "I'm saying things like, 'Have you heard of the Lea contraceptive?'"
Sex Sense is the brainchild of local communication consultant Elke Henneberg, who was com missioned to create a contraception guide for the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada. As the book's author, Henneberg says, who better to design the book than some of the 14- to 25-year-olds it was meant for?
"The subject of sex and contraception and protection against sexual infections is very much a concern for young people, and I didn't want to create a book with no input from the target audience," said Henneberg. "The Design Department of Concordia has a very good reputation, so I approached Lydia Sharman, Chair of the Design Art Deparment."
The project was too big to be done in a single class, so under the direction of assistant professor Michael Longford, a handful of students was asked to participate. Fourteen months of hard work later, the result is Canada's first extensive resource on contraception for young people.
But it was also a learning experience for everyone involved. "I oversaw the project, but there was a real effort to try and work as collectively as possible," Longford said. He selected students with strong design skills who were doing well in class and could afford to spend so much time on an outside project.
The students dealt with every aspect of production, from choosing photographers to giving advice on how to make the text accessible to people their age. As paid contractors, they also learned a bit about negotiating a contract and had regular meetings with Henneberg to talk about their progress.
Kajin Goh, a student who worked on the book, says the countless nights spent at the studio -- often until 3 or 4 a.m. -- were all worth it. "The main thing is that it's no longer academic; it's not just theoretical," he said. "It actually gets distributed."
"It's just a major confidence-booster," Vairo added. "Talk about preparing you for the industry -- that's it. Long hours of craziness."
None of that craziness shows in the final product, which is smoothly professional. The book features original illustrations and photography (also done by Concordia students), and can be read cover to cover or looked at in sections as a quick reference guide. Each chapter is introduced with a 'nutshell' summary, and icons and colour-coding are used to make it easy to find what you're looking for.
Henneberg has high hopes that the students will win prizes for the design and layout. "It's extremely beautiful," she said. "It's out of this world."
Sex Sense will be distributed through pharmaceutical companies to doctors, who will pass it on to their patients. Although it won't be available in bookstores until June when the French translation is ready, an English version is now available at the Concordia bookstore for $12.95.
Photo: Professor Michael Langford and students Natasha Vario and Kajin Goh stretch out on a matress to leaf through their handiwork.
Copyright 2000 Concordia's Thursday Report.