Minute Monday: Get to Know Your Sexual Health Educators

Ever wonder what you get at a sexual health appointment at UNC Student Wellness? Our Sexual Health Educators tell you here.

Students can make a free appointment with Student Wellness by calling (919) 962-WELL(9355).

Niranjani Radhakrishnan received her BSPH from the Gillings School of Global Public Health at UNC Chapel Hill in 2013. She is currently a Program Assistant for Health Promotion and Prevention Initiatives at Student Wellness. She is also in graduate school at UNC Chapel Hill pursuing two masters degrees: Health Behavior and City and Regional Planning with an emphasis in environmental justice, health equity, and spatial analysis using GIS.

Mary Koenig is a Program Assistant for Health Promotion & prevention Initiatives at Student Wellness and a first-year Masters in Social Work student at UNC. She is interested in sexual health, media literacy, and interpersonal violence and sexual assault prevention.

When a Friend Comes Out: Dos and Don’ts

The decision to “come out,” or disclose one’s sexual orientation, is an important part of an LGBTQ person’s path to self-acceptance. When a friend comes out to you, it shows they trust you and value your relationship. For heterosexual people who haven’t had the personal experience of coming out, it isn’t always easy to know what to say or do when a person comes out to you. Here are some dos and don’ts to help you respond in a supportive, loving way. While this list is not definitive, it is a good starting place. The UNC LGBTQ Center can provide additional resources, both online and in person.


  • Practice active listening. Respect the importance of the conversation, and be engaged.
  • Keep their confidence. Coming out can be a difficult process, and your friend has the right to control who they are out to and when. Sharing this information with you is a sign of trust – respect that. This does not mean you have to be burdened. If you need someone to talk to, Counseling and Psychological Services staff can provide a good outlet.
  • Respect your friend’s romantic relationships as legitimate. Their partner is not their “special friend.”
  • Support your friend’s decisions.
  • Assure your friend that you love them and that your friendship is not going to change.
  • Attend a Safe Zone training to educate yourself on issues facing LGBTQ communities and build skills to help you become a better ally.
  • Practice self-care. Hearing this news can bring up any number of feelings and it is perfectly okay to seek help, or do what you need to take care of yourself.


  • Offer unsolicited advice.
  • Expect your friend to conform to your idea of what constitutes proper sexuality.
  • Insist your moral stance regarding sexuality is the only valid one.
  • Assume your friend is interested in you romantically.
  • Ask prying questions about their sex life or HIV status.
  • Let your friend feel isolated. Include them in more of your plans to counteract any lost support.
  • Feel offended that your friend took so long to tell you.
  • Feel offended that your friend told other people before you.
  • Rush the conversation. Give your friend as much time as he/she/ze needs.
  • Tell them you always knew they weren’t heterosexual.
  • Minimize the importance of this step.
  • Make this a one-time conversation. Make it explicit that your door is always open for him/her/hir.

Keep in mind that it is never too late to apologize for something you said or did when a friend came out to you in the past. If you reacted poorly, you can still apologize and begin to rebuild the relationship.

Adapted from resources from PFLAG and Youth Pride Rhode Island

How is HIV different from AIDS?

This year marks 31 years since AIDS was first recognized by the CDC. News of the highly-fatal AIDS epidemic was initially met with profound concern, panic and confusion.  Still today, there are plenty of misconceptions about what HIV and AIDS are, and who is affected.  In honor of World AIDS Day (this Friday, December 1st), we’ll provide an abbreviated history of the discovery of HIV and AIDS, discuss how they’re different, and talk about how you can get tested for FREE!

AIDS and HIV: History

In 1981, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) received several reports of Karposi’s sarcoma, a rare cancer, among young gay men. This wave of cases was highly unusual as Karposi’s sarcoma was typically seen in those with severely comprised immune systems and the elderly. Suspecting that there may be other factors at-play, the CDC began an outbreak investigation. At this stage of the epidemic, there was no identifiable cause, transmission remained a mystery. There was also no single name for the phenomenon. Various organizations referred to it with different names, among them “gay-related immune deficiency” (GRID).  As the epidemic spread, it became clear that several groups were affected, including injection drug users, hemophiliacs and Haitians.  The CDC proposed using a unifying name for the condition, as there was mounting evidence that it was not limited to the gay community. In 1982, with over 400 cases reported globally, the CDC proposed the term “Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome” or (AIDS). At the same time, cases of mother-to-child transmissions of AIDS were reported, and a child who had received blood transfusions also appeared to have developed AIDS. Additionally, cases of AIDS among women who reported having sex with men were recorded. All of these cases provided evidence that an infectious agent was likely responsible for AIDS, and suggested several possible routes of transmission: through blood, breast milk, and sexual activity. After years of intense investigation and research, the idea that AIDS was transmitted through an infectious agent was still a theory, yet to be confirmed.

A breakthrough in research, Robert Gallo and Luc Montagnier isolated viruses thought to cause AIDS – initially named HTLV and LAV. In 1986, at least five years after AIDS cases were initially reported, the name for the virus that causes AIDS was born: “Human Immunodeficiency Virus”, or HIV.


The history of AIDS and HIV helps clarify how and why they’re different. AIDS refers to a syndrome, meaning the presence of clinical features or phenomena (example:  weakened immune system), and what was initially seen and reported. In contrast, HIV is the virus responsible for causing AIDS.  HIV is a necessary but not sufficient cause of AIDS. In other words, HIV infection always precedes AIDS, but HIV doesn’t always develop into AIDS. HIV can be detected with a variety of tests that identify either HIV itself or circulating HIV antibodies. AIDS diagnosis is more complicated, and requires the presence of certain signs and symptoms, such as decreased white blood cell count and certain  AIDS-defining illnesses.

HIV Testing

In honor of World AIDS Day, UNC Counseling and Wellness Services will host a FREE, walk-in HIV testing event in the Carolina Union from 11AM-5PM on November 30th! Please see our event page for more information. Additionally, at UNC Campus Health Services, we offer a rapid oral test (results available in about 20 minutes), and a blood test. More information about HIV testing at UNC is available on the Campus Health webpage; for more information about making an HIV appointment with the Sexual Wellness Specialists (formerly CHECS) by calling 919.966.3658.

Can I get an ‘Amen’ for hooking up?

And this is sin and this is good
Now lover don’t regress to shame
I know that god was with us girl,
I heard you call his name (Oh my god)

 – Bodies, Soul Miners’ Daughter

Some say that the higher power you pray to and hookups don’t mix.  Since many people define a “hookup” as a) random, b) racy, and c) often party-fueled, many religions and spiritual traditions understandably aren’t jumping on the hookup bandwagon too quickly.

Even the less random, less party-fueled, and less racy interactions – you know, good ol’ consensual sex, sometimes in the context of a loving relationship – and the  celibacy until marriage often condoned by religious traditions serve as two divergent aspirations. How do students reconcile these so-called angels and demons?

Sex and the Soul
Fritas’ book, Sex and the Soul

Donna Freitas, an associate professor of religious studies at Boston University, interviewed students at a variety of higher education institutions around the country for her book, “Sex and the Soul.” She came to the conclusion that students struggle with reconciling their faith and sexuality. The the sex-promoting messages from peers, media, and one’s own body result in feelings of shame and guilt on the spiritual side – a far cry from the positive feelings, the “Oh. My. God.,” and, for some, the spiritual connection that can be gained from sexual experiences.

The question, then, is whether it is possible to be spiritual or religious, be sexy and even sexual, and not regress to shame.

Perhaps we can start with thinking about it. So…

Step one – think about it. I started by thinking about the side of me that has faith and the side of me that has sex (it’s cool, I’m married – – and the fact that I felt the need to add that caveat exactly proves my point). I thought about where the two sides of me mix. You might consider having the same conversation with yourself.

Step two – talk about it. I started by talking about faith with my friends – and, when it felt safe, asking about sex in the context of faith. If you want to go further, you might even sit down with your spiritual leader or (gasp!) your family to have an open conversation about sex in your religious tradition.

Step three…well, that’s probably another post for another time.

What do you think? Can we reconcile our spiritual and sexual sides?

I linked to these above, but I gotta give some mad props.
To Soul Miner’s Daughter: for capturing the sweet sultriness of a spiritual hookup in song form via Bodies.
To Donna Freitas for diving into this question on a dissertation-sized scale.
And to the journalism students at UC Berkely for putting together an amazing website, Moral Compass, that shows what spiritual leaders from a variety of faith traditions teach on pre-marital sex, contraception, LGBTQ issues, women’s rights, and, yes, even abortion.