Recently, I was on the Red Line wearing my “REAL sex ed. saves lives” shirt when a fellow student read it, made a face and said, “Do we really want to encourage stupid teenagers to have sex?” At which point the sex education activist in me imploded in sheer shock.
I really shouldn’t have been so surprised — my experience on this campus has been that many, many students have had terrible sex education, and are completely fine with that fact. The thing is, they really shouldn’t be. UR is a well-respected university, and I think just about everyone here would agree that we have an exceptionally bright student body. However, in three years as an activist on campus, hosting events and providing demonstrations, I have yet to meet a single person at these events (outside of very specific groups, such as Women’s Caucus or the Feminism, Gender and Health class) who immediately knew how to put a condom on correctly.
They put it on upside down. They forget to pinch the tip. They carry it around in their wallets/purses. All of these reduce the effectiveness of the condom. It’s physically excruciating to me to witness the leaders of tomorrow fumble with what should be basic knowledge. And seriously guys, condoms in the wallets? Still? Buy a freaking Altoids tin, clean it out and keep them in there — your non-existent accidental children will thank you.
Honestly, it’s a little ridiculous. Condoms are everywhere on this campus — in University Health Services, in Resident Advisors’ rooms, even in vending machines for crying out loud — and no one’s taking the time to learn how to use them properly. Not to mention the fact that almost no one’s even heard of a dental dam. If you haven’t, Google it. No, seriously. I’ll wait. Yes, you should be using that. Just like a guy should be wearing a condom for oral sex. These are basic concepts for those of us who deal with these questions day in and day out, but are often completely foreign ideas to anyone else.
But this is more than just a frustration — it’s a real problem. One in four adults in the United States has a sexually transmitted infection (STI), and the rates are often worse for younger demographics. That’s just at this exact moment. Over half the population will have an STI at some point in their lives. And not only does this campus struggle with condoms, very few people I talk to get tested regularly. And no, getting tested only when you think you might have something doesn’t count. A lot can go undetected, so you should be tested annually, even if you don’t think you have an STI.
But back to the issue of sex education as a whole. I’ll say here what I said to the girl on the bus — I don’t think it has anything to do with encouraging people to have sex or not. I think it has everything to do with the fact that the general population, especially teens and young adults, is having sex, and needs to know how to protect themselves against infection. Abstinence-only education doesn’t work. That’s not just “it’s less effective than comprehensive sex education.” That’s saying that it actually does nothing.
In a study paid for by the U..S. Department of Health and Human Services, research showed that students who had abstinence-only education began having sex, had the same number of sexual partners and used contraception (or didn’t use it) as often as students who had no sex education whatsoever. So when teachers tell their class, “don’t have sex until you’re married,” they’re literally wasting their breath.
The U.S. has some of the worst statistics in the Western world for teen pregnancy, dissatisfaction with a teen’s first time and STI rates. It’s hard to believe that the problem doesn’t stem from our terrible sexual education programs and the fact that we keep perpetuating these programs despite the clear evidence that they don’t work. As far as current sex education in the U.S. is concerned, only 13 states require that information presented on sex and HIV be medically accurate. Only nine require the information to be culturally appropriate and unbiased. Nine are also inclusive about homosexuality; in fact, in Utah, a bill recently passed that made it illegal to mention. Think this is old information? It’s from April 1, 2012.
Sex education is a big deal — if it was better in high school, it wouldn’t be so problematic once students got to college. But it is problematic. So, if you’re not 100 percent sure you know how to properly use a condom, please find out. Or be prepared to watch my head explode with aggravation. Either way.
Howard is a member of the class of 2013.