Students have probably noticed the University Health Service Health Promotion Office’s “The Monthly InSTALLment” plastered in public bathrooms across campus. Students may have also noticed that the March 2007 “InSTALLment” is double-sided, with one side entitled “Wellness for UR Women” and the opposite side entitled “Men’s Health.” Both sides make a point of educating students on risks of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV to sexual and physical health. “Wellness for UR Women” notes that, “Abstinence is the best way to avoid an STI. This method is free and works each and every time!” A separate section, entitled “Reasons To Wait,” lists no fewer than nine motivations for abstinence. While condoms and dental dams are also listed as reducing the risk of STIs, females are not informed about the availability of those alternatives on campus. The “Men’s Health” issue makes no mention, implicit or explicit, of either abstinence or waiting. Rather, “Men’s Health” only directs males to where condoms can be found on campus. If abstinence is an important and effective alternative for sexual health, then why is the UHS Health Promotion Office not equally promoting this alternative to males? By this discrepancy, are we students to understand that female sexuality is socially unacceptable or that males are too hormonally overcharged to consider abstinence?
While promoting sexism and double standards was probably not the UHS Health Promotion Office’s objective in publishing this month’s “InSTALLment,” this disparate presentation to the sexes of a common heath issue produces both sexism and double standards. By categorizing abstinence as a female-only option, the Office is promoting the feminization of abstinence. The feminization of abstinence hurts both females and males by pushing the double standard that female sexuality is less socially acceptable than male sexuality and by creating a social expectation for males to be constantly sexually active. I’ve read students’ rants on double standards in the Campus Times time and time again; why is the UHS Health Promotion Office endorsing that same hurtful sexism?
If health education was the UHS Health Promotion Office’s objective in writing this month’s “InSTALLment,” then this disparate approach lacks even practicality. With the risk of sexually transmitted infection being as great as it is, surely the most logical approach is to educate both males and females on as many health precautions as are available. Females should also know where they can find condoms on campus and males, too, should know that abstinence is an option. To differentiate the accessibility of knowledge on the basis of sex is not only discriminatory, but in a case such as this one, dangerous. It saddens me that with so many members of the University community working to promote awareness of social inequality, the UHS Health Promotion Office is essentially promoting double standards and downright sexism.
What’s most disconcerting about this offensive material is that it comes from a source that community members are taught to trust. UHS generally hails is itself as an accessible, non-judgmental institution that creates an emotionally safe environment. When seeing reading materials authored by politically partisan groups, it’s only natural to approach them with a skeptical eye. To approach UHS materials with the same cynicism almost seems too ridiculous. So trusting was I of UHS that I initially believed myself ignorant of a huge disparity in the rate of infection between males and females. What else could explain why males need not consider abstinence? The NIH and CDC Web sites, however, show that college-age students of both sexes have very similar collective rates of infection.
Receiving biased health information from UHS is a violation of the community’s trust.
Metelitsa is a member of the class of 2007.