Do colleges and universities teach students about sex?
Yes. Programming on sexual health and safety is typically a standard part of freshman orientation and often continues throughout the academic year in the student’s dormitory hall or advising group. This programming usually focuses on risks of sexual assault and on how to have “safe sex.”
What is Safe Sex?
“Safe Sex” is a term used to refer to sex acts made “safer” through the exchange of consent, the use of contraceptive devices, and/or the option of alternative sexual practices that fall just short of intercourse.
Is “safe sex” really safe?
The only sexual behavior that keeps men and women safe from sexually transmitted diseases and avoids the risk of unintended pregnancy is abstinence from sexual activity. Contraceptive devices protect against some sexually transmitted diseases, but not all. Some, like HPV and Herpes, can spread from skin to skin contact. This means that even sexually intimate behavior that falls short of intercourse still puts men and women at risk physically. Additionally, while the proper and consistent use of contraceptives helps prevent conception, these devices and medications have been known to fail. Safe sex education minimizes the physical risks that accompany safe sex practices and often completely fails to discuss the emotional and social risks of being sexually active. For example, sexually intimate behavior is accompanied by the release of the hormone oxytocin in the brain (particularly in women), and produces feelings of attachment. Feelings of attachment are very healthy and good when sex occurs within the context of marriage. However, such feelings can be confusing and distressing when they occur outside of the stable, committed context of marriage. This is particularly true in the hookup culture, where sexual intimacy is supposed to be casual, with no expectation of a relationship or even contact after the hookup happens. There are also the social risks of sexually active behavior. For example, there is an association between the number of sexual partners one has prior to marriage and the risk of divorce. Most men and women want to marry someday and want to avoid divorce. Saving sexual intimacy for one’s spouse best disposes men and women to achieve this goal of a happy and stable marriage.
How do university programs present safe sex materials?
Programming differs from school to school, however many programs try to make sex education humorous and fun. Unfortunately, the humor used is typically crude and explicit. This effectually degrades the beauty and meaning of sex, insults the dignity of men and women, and ignores the gravity of sexual assault and the real risks that are associated with sexual activity. Safe sex instruction often amounts to little more than educating students in the how-tos of promiscuous and risky sexual behavior. Although contraception is already easily accessible through most university health centers, condoms are often widely distributed as part of the sexual health programming. This is problematic because it sends the wrong message about health. Pushing contraception at young men and women actually encourages more sex and abets the casual sexual culture. Studies show that increased levels of sexual partners and sexual activity increase health risks. Handing out contraception on a mass scale is counter-productive to the goals of sexual health and safety.
How can colleges and universities do a better job of educating on sexual health and safety?
Collegiate sexual health programming should treat sexual health and safety in a respectful manner, equipping young men and women with accurate information about the potential physical, emotional, and social risks of sexual activity, especially of casual sex. It can do this in the following ways:
Consider the health of the whole person: Young men and women should be made aware of the physical and emotional risks of casual sex, and the biological realities of the hormones released during sex and their effect on human emotions and attachment.
Be honest that sex has consequences: Not only can sexual activity affect men and women physically and emotionally, it is also associated with the quality of future relationships. Most young men and women want to be married someday and want to enjoy a happy and stable marriage. However, sex with one or more people other than one’s future spouse increases the risk of divorce, and this risk is made more acute as the number of sexual partners increases. Casual sex is bad practice for a healthy and happy future marriage.
Show the connection between the hookup culture and sexual assault: The hookup culture jeopardizes sexual health and safety. It creates an expectation for casual sexual encounters and is facilitated by inebriation. In short, the hookup culture creates an environment of increased risk for sexual assault on college campuses.
Encourage relationships, not just consent: Consent is certainly a necessary part of sexual health and safety, but universities should aim higher than this low standard. Discussions of sexual health and safety should encourage respect between the sexes and relationships built on friendship and trust.
What is Sex Week?
Sex Week is a week of explicit talks, workshops, and activities that explore sex, sexuality, relationships, and sexual diversity. Sex Week programming typically includes sessions on sexual experimentation and expression, maximizing sexual pleasure, “safe” practices for deviant sexual practices, and questions of sexual identity and exploration. Sex Week programming abets the casual sexual culture by encouraging sexual experimentation and defending libertine sexual norms.
Why is Sex Week problematic?
Sex Week is problematic for all the reasons that sexual health and safety programming is typically problematic. It normalizes casual sex, provides pornographic instruction on libertine and deviant sexual behavior, and encourages sexual risk taking. Sex Week programming offends the sensibilities of those who value the conjugal meaning and purpose of sex and who strive for sexual chastity.
How can I prepare my child for the explicit sexual health programming on campus?
Try to find out what is included in the sex programming at your child’s college. This information may be online, or you could contact a current student, dean, or staff member for more information. Your child should understand what is good about this programming and what parts are problematic and should be confident in his/her reasons for disagreeing with those problematic parts.
Should I tell my child to simply not attend?
The sexual health and safety programs that are part of freshman orientation are often mandatory. If your child chooses not to attend, he/she should be prepared to give the reasons for not attending and should be able to articulate an understanding of sexual health and safety practices so as to demonstrate that participation in the school’s program is unnecessary. If your child chooses to attend, he/she should feel free to walk out if the material offends their sensibilities.
What alternative is there to the typical sexual health programming on campus? Where can my child find better resources on sexual health and safety and relationships?
Unfortunately, it is rare that universities offer alternatives to their standard sexual health and safety programs. Seeking out other resources is left to the initiative of the student. The Love and Fidelity Network strives to connect young men and women to such resources via our website and conferences. For those young men and women who want to share these resources on campus and offer alternative intellectual and social opportunities to their peers, we also offer a Student Fellows Program whereby we train and coach students to be leaders on campus for sexual integrity.