I’m in College! Where did Sex Ed Go?

Four graduation parties, three shopping trips, two nervous breakdowns and one awkward conversation with my future roommates later, I was finally ready to pack my car and start the next chapter of my life—I was going to college. It was a liberating feeling of being able to live on my own and (finally) be independent. The only thing that stood in the way was the pre-orientation online classes that my college had put in place for all incoming freshman. Intended to help acclimate students to the college’s norms and policies and provide other general health and safety tips, the classes provided students with strategies to manage common problems. While the classes were informative and helpful, they had no information on sexual education, which was rather disconcerting. As the festivities of college orientation started and eventually came to an end, I kept thinking that, while topics like stress reduction and time management were extensively covered, a comprehensive sex education lesson wasn’t.

It seemed bizarre to me that when my classmates and I were newly independent and in an explorative stage, we were given no resources on safer sex or birth control. For orientation programs, colleges often have to make certain assumptions to figure out which topics to discuss. Assuming that incoming students will experiment with newfound freedom and illicit substances, they run programs that inform students of the problems associated with certain risky behaviors and attempt to teach them how manage risks. At my college, all students attended a mandatory assembly and took an online lesson about drinking. Even though it was illegal for most of the (still underage) freshmen to drink, they taught us about the potential risks anyways. Why are the same lessons not being taught for sexual health education? Are these other topics more important?  With the consequences of getting pregnant and having a child in college being so detrimental to a student’s education, as well as the student’s overall wellbeing, not to mention the risks of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), I am baffled that my college was doing little to inform us about the risks of unprotected sex. Why is there a lack of conversation occurring on college campuses on how to have safe sex? Is the topic of sex taboo? Or are colleges leaving the responsibility to parents, prior teachers, or even the teens themselves?

If colleges are assuming that students have a prior understanding of comprehensive sex education, major adjustments need to be made. The last time I had sex education was my freshman year of high school when, for 45 minutes, I learned about abstinence because my teacher was not legally allowed to discuss any other forms of birth control. Other than the fact that it is difficult to retain content over four years, what I learned wasn’t applicable at that point in my life.  Above all else, sex education programs are different in every school system and lacking in many, meaning that lots of incoming freshman either have only a limited exposure to sex ed or have received zero education.

With the vast amount of resources available today, colleges can teach students comprehensive sexual education lessons in little time with little to no money spent. The National Campaign has both an online birth control resource for teens 13-17 (StayTeen.org), one for young people 18-29 (Bedsider.org), and lessons designed specifically for college students that provide comprehensive information about sex and birth control. If colleges made these free resources available to students as sex education and pre-orientation online programs, it could alleviate a majority of these issues. There are a variety of easy, fast solutions that will provide students the knowledge needed to make well informed decisions, but the solutions are there, now we need them to be implemented.

Providing students with sexual education needs to be viewed as an imperative discussion that needs to start sooner rather than later. Rather than ignoring the topic or making assumptions about students’ awareness, it is vital that we take the adequate steps forward and provide them with the resources necessary.  Getting students through college with the least amount of distractions should be a major priority for schools and will make a major difference in the students’ lives.

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