There are a number of articles out there now that are discussing how “awful” college sex weeks are, how sex education is “infecting” college campuses, how Yale giving out 14,000 condoms is a travesty. I’m not going to do them the service of linking to these ridiculous articles, as some of them take some pot shots at other sex educators, at student groups putting on sexuality education workshop, etc. However, in my humble opinion, most of these articles are poorly researched and full of hooey.
Now, it’s true. I am a sex educator, more particularly, a sex educator who presents on college campuses, so defending sex education at colleges and universities is obviously in my best interest. So let it be said that you should take what I say with a grain of salt.
However, I chose this field because it is incredibly important. In 2003, I met an 18 year old college student who had never learned how to use a condom, despite 6 of her friends from high school having had children. In 2007, I met college students who told me that the withdrawal method “must work” because they’d used it for a year and never gotten pregnant (despite some of their cohorts leaving school/take a leave of absence due to their pregnancies). I’ve met numerous students who didn’t know how to balance their identities, many of which they hadn’t taken pride in until they got to college. I’ve met dozens of depressed students who were scared to come out to their roommates/college friends/hall mates/RAs/professors because of the overall view of LGBTQ identities on campus. All of these people were helped in some way by sexuality education, whether it was through me, through a school sponsored event, through a school group providing sex ed.
Sex education is helpful to people of all ages, but is crucial to people in their teens and early twenties, when they are developing their identities, making decisions about sexual activity. Getting sex education does NOT encourage anyone to be sexually active. In fact, many people who get comprehensive sexuality education in high school and middle school have better self image, are more comfortable in setting boundaries, know ow to say know, choose not to be sexually active as early, and/or choose not to be sexually active while under the influence of other substances. Almost everyone will have the ability to make healthier choices regarding safer sex, pregnancy prevention, and more.
Most sex weeks (as well as other sexuality education workshop) on college and university campuses are put together by students. Student who want information about sexuality; about anatomy, about identity, about safer sex, about pleasure, about communication, about relationships, and more. Clearly, there is a need for this education, because if it doesn’t come from sexuality educators, it comes from word of mouth (which can often provide incorrect information), or from the internet, or from trial and error. They are going to get this information from somewhere — I’d rather they get it from a trained sexuality educator (whether myself or someone else) who is trained in correct information, in counseling students, in talking about such a fraught topic, etc.
For the most part, sexuality education supports all choices, including abstinence as a choice. I know that all of my classes welcome people of all genders, orientations, backgrounds, etc, regardless of whether students are sexually active. I’m sorry, but given that about 99.9% of society features on the mainstream and the majority (white, straight/heterosexual, cisgender, traditionally able bodied, vanilla relationships), I feel it is completely valid for colleges and universities to bring in classes that talk about sexual minorities, as well as other workshops (like intersecting identities and relationship communication discussions) that appeal to people of ALL identities. Very few students need to know what sexuality looks like for a traditionally able bodied person; how many have been asked to think about people with disabilities, and how their sexuality looks and occurs, and how to make all of their campus accessible, more than just physically.
Denying that college age students are thinking about their sexuality (whether or not they are sexually active) is like an ostrich sticking its head in its the sand. Let’s please support them in their desire for knowledge and to learn more about their sexual identities, and how to make healthy choices, rather than just pretend that its not happening. And let’s also not throw negativity at the schools that are in fact fulfilling their promise to support students’ ENTIRE education, and at the educators who are helping these knowledge hungry students to learn more about themselves. It’s just rude.
That’s what I’ve got to say on this issue.
However, Dr. Charlie Glickman, a respected sex educator, also has something to say about this, more specifically about Margaret Brooks’ anti Brown Sex Week article (in interest of full disclosure, I spoke at Brown’s Sex Week, including on Sexuality and Disability, and on Relationships and Communication). His post is much less based on emotional than mine, and takes on her article bit by bit. I highly suggest reading it.
For anyone still interesting in bringing sexuality education to their campus, I’m still booking for 2010-2011. I’d love to come help college students learn and grow.