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Shag Shop reopens at McGill to service students

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The Shag Shop, Healthy McGill’s sexual and reproductive health store, has reopened as of Oct 1. Students can now order contraceptives, sex toys, and menstrual products online and pick them up at the Brown Student Services building. Daneese Rao, U3 History and Lead Peer Educator at Healthy McGill, encourages students to take advantage of their easy and discreet ordering process.

“We know that university students have sex,” Rao said.

Rao is right: McGill students are having sex. In a survey conducted in 2016 by McGill Student Services, over ¾ of students responded that they were sexually active. However, the same survey found that roughly 20 per cent of those students were using ineffective means of contraception, like the pull-out  method. Rao believes that the Shag Shop is a space for these sexually active students to discuss their options.

“Sexual health is relevant to students, because there’s so much that we don’t know,” Rao said. “When we start talking about things that are kind of taboo, [Shag Shop employees] will try to talk about these things in a friendly, anti-oppressive, and non-directional way. We want people to know that this is a safe space to come and talk about these products, and to order and try out these things.”

The physical shop closed down in 2014 to allow for the construction of an accessible entrance to the First Peoples’ House. Since then, Emily Shallhorn, Associate Director of Student Services (Wellness and Outreach) at McGill, has tried to make the online ordering process as easy and discreet as possible.

“Students can pick up their items at the Brown Building […where] they’ll receive a nondescript brown bag and they pay for it,” Shallhorn said. “The person that’s ringing up the payment never sees what’s in the bag, and the items aren’t listed on the invoice. If they pay using Visa or Mastercard, their statement will only read ‘McGill Student Services.’”

To preserve buyer anonymity, Healthy McGill was unable to tell The McGill Tribune where exactly students can pick up their orders.

The Shag Shop stocks both sexual and reproductive health products that may be hard to find elsewhere, such as a wide selection of condom sizes and eco-friendly menstrual products. Because the store is not-for-profit, their merchandise is sold at near-warehouse prices. For example, a $99 strap-on toy is currently being sold at the Shag Shop for only $20.

While the Shop hopes to attract as many students as possible, their pick-up only delivery model makes their store inaccessible to some. Fortunately, the new Rossy Student Wellness Hub will include a physical storefront. The Rossy Hub is currently under-construction and is scheduled to be completed by Fall 2019.

According to Janice Ireland, Senior Administrative Coordinator at Healthy McGill, the plans to reopen a brick-and-mortar location have been in the making since the closure in 2014.

“It’s always been on the table to reopen the space online to replace the physical space,” Ireland said. “We recognize that this is a service that students appreciate and often need. With the survey, [students] suggested the idea of pop-up shops to fill in the gap until we get a permanent space [….] We’re trying to make that happen.”

The Rossy Hub hopes to promote the roles of prevention and awareness in student well-being, and peer health educators like Rao believe that the Shag Shop will play a crucial role by teaching students about safer sex practices.

“Part of what we do at the Shag Shop is normalize that there are different kinds of sex and sexuality,” Rao said. “Sex doesn’t just mean heterosexual sex with two cisgendered partners. Sex can be solo, same-sex, polyamorous; we want to cater to a broad audience and to make sure everyone is represented in these products.”

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