My parents never gave me “the talk.” They didn’t have to; between 5th and 9th grade, I received what I now realize is an almost overwhelming amount of sexual education. My middle school health classes met three times a week and covered everything from healthy breakfasts to the stages of pregnancy—by high school, my class and I were watching, horrified, as our teacher stretched out a condom and put it over her head. Determined not to let Health & Wellness tank my GPA, I memorized the different types of STDs and how to treat them, had the address for Planned Parenthood written on an index card, and blushed my way through a unit on “How to Properly Use Protection.” My school district made sex an unavoidable topic.
So when I learned that, as part of the University of Pennsylvania’s New Student Orientation, I would have to sit through another sex talk, I rolled my eyes and joked about it. The truth, though, is that many of my classmates will not have had the gift of comprehensive sex ed—and Penn, and colleges across the nation, have a responsibility to fill that void.
Let’s face it: college students have sex. According to a Lifestyles Condom survey, 33% of 18-24 year old students polled said they have sex multiple times a week, while 12% reported they had sex several times per day. And while self-reported surveys might not provide the most accurate data, it’s no secret that some, if not most, kids our age hit the sheets as often as they hit the books. But according to a Alan Guttmacher Institute survey, 23% of US public schools teach abstinence-only sex education. Twenty-six states in the US currently require abstinence to be taught as “the best method.” That’s where colleges come in.
The statistics speak for themselves. Researchers at the University of Washington found that teenagers who received comprehensive sex education were 60% less likely to get pregnant or get someone else pregnant. The state with the highest teen pregnancy rate, Mississippi, hails abstinence-only education as its state standard. Meanwhile, the Center for Disease Control reports that nearly 10 million 15-24 year olds contract STDs per year, 1 in 4 of all HIV infections occur in young adults, and 39.8% of students did not use a condom the last time they had sex.
Colleges can shatter these statistics by truly educating their pupils; they can provide essential information at a time when students need it most. I’m not saying that the University of Pennsylvania is a perfect school (okay, maybe I’m a tad biased), but the 45 minute Sexual Education and Sexual Assault discussion model seems like it could work for all schools. And while Penn, unfortunately like most college campuses, has a problem with rape and assault, I have to think that including sex ed in orientation does something to curtail it. At the very least, it creates a dialogue that too many students will not have been exposed to before.
I didn’t realize it in middle school, but sex ed was a privilege. That shouldn’t be the case. As college students, we have the right to information; we deserve an education, for our minds and for our bodies. It’s time more colleges realized that.
Guidelines for Comprehensive Sexuality Education 3rd Edition National Guidelines Task Force, Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States 2004.
Learning to Live: Monitoring and Evaluating HIV/AIDS Programmes for Young People Save the Children Douglas Webb and Lyn Elliott, Abbreviated Version, 2002 With support from UNAIDS and DFID.