California: The UCLA Sex Squad Is Here to Help

A University of California-Los Angeles performance troupe's lighthearted, humorous and open approach to sexual health matters recently had a ninth-grade audience interacting and laughing. Unusually, no one was texting. The UCLA Sex Squad, part of the Art and Global Health Center's "AMP It Up!" project, regularly performs at local high schools, discussing safe sex and involving students in related art projects, including poetry, skits, and visual arts. An audition is required to join the Sex Squad.

The high-school performances include Sesame Street spoofs using condom puppets talking about the correct use of condoms, and discussions of physically and emotionally fulfilling sex, masturbation, orgasms, how alcohol can impair judgment, and informative personal stories about squad members' first-time sex experiences, as well as interactive songs about the ways HIV can be transmitted.

HIV testing increased more than three-fold, from 14 percent to 59 percent, among sexually active students offered screening during the AMP It UP! programs, one study found.

"That's what we want to see," said David Gere, the health center's founder and director, and brother of actor Richard Gere. "It indicates a belief that it's important to know your status."

Gere and center staffer Bobby Gordon recently hit the road to help bring the UCLA Sex Squad model to Southern high-school students. The two worked with Emory University in Atlanta and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill to create troupes that will be adapted to their local environments. Gere and Gordon are confident the program will succeed in other parts of the country.