Free Condoms: Instructions Not Included

No one told me it was going to be this hard.

How was I supposed to know what to do? I wasn’t prepared to make this choice.  But there I was, poised on the edge of a decision, with only my gut to guide me as the seconds ticked away.  And so I had to pick: Porn Star Pack or Rock Star Pack?

This was the dilemma facing me fall quarter of my freshman year.  My best friend and I had half-jokingly decided to visit the Sexual Health Peer Resource Center (SHPRC) in Vaden to claim our much publicized “12 Free Condoms.” My innocent frosh brain was buzzing with disbelief that the SHPRC would give us these for free, no questions asked.

Back then I passed off my feelings of shock and awe simply as a bi-product of my Catholic abstinence-only sex-education (a side dish, if you will, to the delicious entrée of rampant ignorance in all things sexual).  However, two years at Stanford later, I came to realize that I was by no means the only student to have entered our university inexperienced in the ways of sex and contraception.

According to data accumulated by Professor of Sociology, Paula England, thirty-four percent of Stanford freshman are virgins.  But four years later that number has dropped by fifteen percent, leaving only eighteen percent of graduating seniors with that same virgin status.

Now armed with the uncomfortable image of 15% of my freshman IHUM lecture going on a rampant sex-spree, I can’t help but wonder, would be they be prepared?  Would they be ready?  Or would they be stand before the SHPRC’s fishbowls of condoms with uncertainty weighing on their hearts?  And more importantly, would that uncertainty still be with them when they put those condoms to use?

Which brings me to my real question: should Stanford and its students be doing more to ensure the sexual education of its undergraduates? Perhaps the assumption is that sexual education is the domain of high schools, not universities, since most state laws dictate that sex-ed be part of the public high school curriculum.  But for a lot of us that meant a quick crash course freshman year.  And that doesn’t even take into account the varied sex-ed practices of private, international, and home schools.

I’m not saying that Stanford doesn’t have sexual education resources; in fact there are some excellent ones, including the books and personnel at the SHPRC and one-on-one sex-ed appointments with Wellness and Health Promotion Services (HPS) at Vaden.  But getting that education requires the student to take initiative – somehow with our hectic schedules and obligations it seems easy to never make the time do so.  Furthermore, for some students, insecurity over their own sexual ignorance is too high a hurdle to jump.

When I brought up to a friend my hypothesis that embarrassment could be keeping students from seeking proper sex-ed, she replied, “That’s what Google is for.”  Now not to downplay the wonders of Google, but are we going to entrust our sexual health to the Internet?  I’ve done enough frantic scrambling for sources the night before a paper is due to know that much of the information on the web is hardly reliable, and while I’ll risk the occasional poor grade, I would hesitate to treat my sexual health with the same nonchalance.

Ultimately, the real problem isn’t lack of sex-ed resources at Stanford – it’s the lack of publicity.  The SHPRC seems to focus its student outreach more on luring people in with cool, free stuff rather than promoting their educational services.  And who’s even heard of HPS and their one-on-one consultations?  When asking fellow residents if they knew of any sex-ed resources on campus, I was rewarded with lots of head-shaking and blank stares.  Now, when prompted with the phrase “Sexual Health Peer Resource Center,” there appeared a spark of recognition in their eyes; to my disappointment, that spark was repeatedly followed up with: “Oh right!  That place with the condoms.”

We all came to Stanford with varying degrees of sexual education: some well-versed, some misinformed, some wholly ignorant.  And with programs like HPS and the SHPRC, there is no reason that anyone should remain misinformed or ignorant, yet the information is not reaching those who truly need it.  Considering all the faulty material out there about sexual health, even those who had the fortune of more practical sex-ed courses in high school can only profit from help sorting the myth from reality.

Sexual education is not just about putting a condom on a banana; it encompasses the whole realm of information on STIs, HPV, pregnancy, HIV/AIDS, and hormonal and emotional responses.  The SHPRC would better serve students if it focused a little less on reminding them that it is “the place with the condoms” and a little more on its role as an educational resource that can and should be employed.

Andrea Freund is a writer for The Unofficial Stanford Blog (tusb.stanford.edu) and a product of thirteen years of Catholic education.

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