The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

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Sex, STIs and responsibility

It’s two in the morning, and Christine is cold. She walks into a Dallas 24-hour CVS, her heels clicking against the linoleum floor. She goes back to the pharmacy area, grabs a purple box of “Her Pleasure” Trojans and heads to the checkout. She adds a small bag of Cheetos at the last minute.

“You’ll never believe what I just had to do,” the 19-year-old business major said once back inside her car and on her cell phone, fuming to her best friend. “My boyfriend just made me go buy condoms.”

Students at SMU have sex. It’s a fact. In dorm rooms, cars, Greek houses and apartments. There are the legendary tales of liaisons in Fondren Library and rumors about the front steps of Dallas Hall. There’s no denying it; students know a lot about “doing it.”

But while sex may be popular, Christine and the other students interviewed for this story refused to speak about it without a promise of anonymity. Their reasons included fear of sorority repercussions, a clash with religious views and a belief that sex is a personal topic. In lieu of their full names, middle names, ages and majors have been used to identify them.

SMU Health Educator Megan Knapp says this hesitation to talk translates into an overall naivety about the real consequences of sexual relations – something that SMU is looking to address with more accessible, relatable sexual education efforts.

“I think we create a naive group of men and women if we’re not training them and letting them know what the risks are,” Knapp said. “It’s real, it’s here, it’s now. It’s not in some, for lack of a better term, whorehouse in Dallas.”

But despite years of drilling some form of sexual education down Generation Y’s throats, be it pro-abstinence programs or safe-sex seminars, one key component seems to have been lost in the shuffle. Who is supposed to take responsibility for staying safe – the man or the woman? And in college, how do students learn about safe sex? How do they communicate with one another about it?

Up until recently, the university’s Memorial Health Center Web site led students to believe that sex is a woman’s issue. The site listed all information related to sexual intercourse under the “Women’s Health” link. Facts on Herpes, HIV, Chlamydia and Gonorrhea – all sexually transmitted infections (STIs) contracted and transmitted by women and men – were couched on the site titled for females.

“I am shocked to know this,” Knapp said upon learning of the Web site’s title. “I mean, women are more likely to contract STIs just because of their anatomy, but there’s no reason it should be just a women’s issue.”

The health center, when notified of the discrepancy, changed the link on its main page from “Women’s Health” to “Sexual Health.”

An online survey of 156 sexually active undergraduates shows that an overwhelming 96 percent believe both partners should take responsibility for staying safe, including avoiding STIs and impregnation.

Why did Christine go to CVS alone?

“Basically, my boyfriend didn’t care,” she said. “He’d tell me if we’re having sex, it’s my responsibility to be on birth control and my responsibility to get the condoms.”

James, a junior engineering major, says although he used to be “pretty lax” about sexual precautions, he now believes “if you’re not taking responsibility, you can’t expect someone else to.”

And, yet, he says his typical sexual encounter goes something like this:

“If a girl lets you start having sex with her, she’s usually on the pill. Like when we’re in the middle, I’ll ask if she’s on the pill, and if she says she’s not, I’m like ‘What’s wrong with you?’ And then I’ll go and put a condom on or something.”

The 20-year-old says he picked up on the negative repercussions of unprotected sex after talking with some guy friends, rather than through sexual education provided by the university.

“We realized that if you get an STD, the next time you hook up with a girl, before you do anything you have to be like, ‘Oh, by the way, I have Gonorrhea,’ and you know she’d be like, ‘Umm, we’re not hooking up anymore.’ So, I’m trying to get more into wearing condoms.”

Students at other colleges learn such lessons through the institution they pay to educate them. Take the University of Texas at Austin. Its student health site contains a page dedicated solely to sexual health with categories including women’s health, men’s health, sex tips and birth control methods.

“Our site is great because it allows students to get reliable and credible sexual health information whenever and wherever they are,” Sandi Cleveland, manager of UT’s Health Promotion Resource Center said in a telephone interview.

Cleveland says after the university updated its Web site to include a wider range of educational resources, visitors jumped from 20,000 per month to the current 60,000 to 70,000.

“One of the most searched topics on our site is the ‘squeeze technique,'” Cleveland said. “It’s used by men to delay an orgasm. Also, genital piercing is a commonly searched subject.”

Head a mere 200 miles north, and such candor isn’t the norm. With a religious foundation, SMU does not speak as liberally about matters like sexual climaxes and penile rings.

“I was on the phone with another school’s health educator the other day and he was telling me they do courses on how to increase your sexual pleasure,” health educator Knapp said. “Could you see that going over here at SMU? No. We do have a conservative campus and as a result I think sexual education does get a little hidden.”

Knapp, who started working for the university last summer, says she plans on developing a health site based on peer education where students can request specific sexual health information at their convenience. She says the department has been thinking of updating the Web site for some time but “just hasn’t gotten around to it.”

Making up for the lack of information on the university’s Web site is the controversial gossip site JuicyCampus.com. It provides students with the anonymity they desire when speaking about sexual relations.

One presumably male contributor, calling himself “The Wondering SMU Gigolo,” spoke his mind in the following excerpt from his Feb. 24 post entitled “Sex Without a Condom”:

Having sex w/o a condom feels fantastic…. I love it

But lately, every girl I sleep with has said i dont need a condom. (5 this school year)

At first I was was like hell yea….but now ….

Im thinking girls need to start asking guys to wrap it up. I haven´t caught anything I just think I want to be able to sleep with my wife down the line w/o a condom and not catch something from my loved one. all these girls not requiring condoms is going to spread the gross stuff.

The post had been viewed 1,090 times by April 1. Over the same period, the Health Center’s Web site was viewed 421 times.

The “Wondering Male Gigolo” has a point. Sexual intercourse without a condom helps create startling statistics like these: one- third of patients in Dallas County infected with STIs are under the age of 25; one in five Americans currently has a STI; more than 80 percent of sexually active college students in the United States will contract some form of HPV before they graduate.

More than half of SMU respondents to the online survey said they had never been tested for a STI before. Of the ones who had been tested, 48 percent said they don’t get tested between partners.

In defense of his decision not to get tested, one 21-year-old male survey respondent had this to say: “I have asked three different doctors [about STI testing] and they ask me, ‘For what?’ And they all say they never test unless the guy has symptoms of an STD.”

Health educator Knapp says this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Many STIs are asymptomatic, meaning men or women may never see physical signs until it’s too late. An untreated STI can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, cervical and testicular cancer, sterility, ectopic pregnancy, birth defects and death.

“Of course if your partner has a gaping herpes sore you’re going to know they have an STI,” Knapp said. “But that’s the problem – most of the time you’ll never know if they have something unless you both talk about it beforehand.”

She adds that the only foolproof safe sex is no sex, but if students choose to be sexually active “you should always use protection.”

The online survey reveals that, for the most part, male and female students believe they are being responsible when it comes to sex. Nearly all participants reported utilizing at least one of the following: condoms, birth control methods like the pill or a diaphragm and the “pull out” early technique.

It took 20-year-old Rachel five years and more than 10 partners to learn the real meaning of sexual responsibility. The junior advertising major said she was once accused of having an STI when she asked her partner to wear a condom. “From then on, I felt bad for even asking a guy for fear of making it seem like I was the one with a problem,” she said.

She has since had two serious relationships, both with guys who “more than willingly” offered to wear condoms. “It wasn’t even a question to them; they just automatically got a condom, and I know it sounds stupid, but it made me feel like they really cared about me. It made those two relationships that much better.”

For the now-single Christine, she, too, has had to learn this lesson in respect the hard way. Nearing the end of her freshman year, the not-so-naive coed has had a lot of firsts this year-college parties, final exams, sex and a pregnancy scare.

“I have to take a pill every single day at the exact same time just out of respect for myself and for him,” she said. “I don’t want to have a kid; I don’t want STDs. Why couldn’t he [my ex-boyfriend] just grow up and run a five-minute errand to the store?”

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