With a Cupcake and a Condom (and a Lot More), an Educator Promotes HIV Prevention Among Young Black Women

Shawna Edgerson, M.P.H., modeling her workshop t-shirt
Shawna Edgerson, M.P.H., modeling her workshop t-shirt
Candace Y.A. Montague

Shawna Edgerson, M.P.H., a prevention specialist with KC CARE (Care Access Research Education) in Kansas City, Missouri, has a passion for making sure that young black women get the message about safer sex with men. And she does it with a sweet treat.

Edgerson's Represent Your Cupcake workshop is popular among youth and young adult groups. It's "where a sex toy party meets a sex education class," said Edgerson, who talked about her program at the 2017 U.S. Conference on AIDS (USCA) in Washington, D.C., last month.

Edgerson had heard about large-scale cupcakes-and-condoms events to teach women about safer sex options, but when considering how to adapt the idea, she wanted to focus specifically on black women and execute the program on a smaller, more personal scale. "I wanted to do a more intimate workshop, make it about [both] being sexy and making sure you get tested," she explained.

"In my workshop, I cover both male and female condoms for cisgender and transgender women," Edgerson said. "We have hands-on demonstrations. We cover condom negotiation. I usually tie the female condom conversation in with sexual violence and PrEP [pre-exposure prophylaxis]/PEP [post-exposure prophylaxis]. My main message is for them to protect themselves. Save your life."

Edgerson receives requests to present her Represent Your Cupcake prevention workshop via email, Facebook and phone. Most of the requests come from schools, churches and organizers of social events. She brings cupcakes, condoms, dildos for male condom practice, vagina models for female condom practice and loads of information. The workshop agenda consists of teaching methods that include role-playing and open discussions about sex and sex toys.

Participants are free to ask questions. "I will ask, 'What are some things you've heard people say in regards to HIV testing?'' explained Edgerson. "Usually it'll be something like, 'I love you' or 'Don't you love me?' We talk about what to say in those situations. And then, they'll do a role-play. If she gets lost for words during the role-play, we help her. We talk about getting what you want from him while respecting him at the same time."

The open-dialogue portion of the workshop is a learning experience for her, as well as for the women. "I talked to a girl who wanted to know if she would taste sweeter if she drank pineapple juice," said Edgerson. In response, Edgerson engaged the girl in a brief discussion about the beliefs and myths of certain foods and drinks affecting the smell or taste of a woman's bodily fluids. Edgerson also stressed the importance of a healthy diet for overall wellness.

"I had another girl tell me that her boyfriend wanted to light her pubes on fire and then put it out with his cum," Edgerson recalls. This time, the girls' classmates chimed in, offering that the risk for HIV from this sexual act was the least of her worries. Edgerson agreed: She used the point as a teachable moment to explain that putting one's life in danger for someone else's pleasure is never a good idea. "It gets real in there," she said. "But that's what I want."

After the workshops have concluded, Edgerson said, participants report feeling much more confident in using condoms and having discussions with their partners about safer sex. She said she hopes to expand the sex toy portion of her presentation so she can further increase awareness of the array of options available to black women.