[Editor’s note: This is a continuation of last week’s “Let’s talk about sex” article. Part 1 addressed Concordia’s approach sexual safety accessibility compared to area colleges.]
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America issued a sexuality statement in August 2009 about what the church believes is right.
Under the commitment and sexuality section, it states that sex should only occur between husband and wife. The statement also opposes non-monogamous casual sexual relationships citing they weaken human integrity.
According to Mark Wilhelm, director for educational partnerships for the ELCA, this statement is not a set of rules that every affiliated school needs to abide by.
“We ask that colleges and universities carry out the substance and spirit of this statement,” he said. “We used broad language because this isn’t something that is mandated.”
The ELCA also has no influence over the curriculum of each school. Wilhelm said that the church encourages the schools to teach their students moral discourse.
In addition, Wilhelm said that schools should provide information about both the emotional and physical components that come with sexual health along with the moral discourse.
At Concordia, the information provided by the Kjos Health Center is one that asks about the person’s moral decision about sex. The center does not give information pertaining to sexual health.
At Gustavus Adolphus College, an ELCA-affiliated school in St. Peter, Minn., sexual health information is available to the school’s 2,500 students. Sex is not a topic that should be taken lightly, said Heather Dale, director of the health service and physician’s assistant at the women’s clinic on Gustavus’s campus.
“It is a serious topic that has social, emotional and physical affects,” she said. “It is important to provide accurate information.”
According to Dale, there is a health program that has created a positive buzz around campus about sexual health called My Plan. My Plan is set up through the Minnesota Family Planning Program, sponsored by Planned Parenthood.
The women’s clinic on Gustavus’ campus provides contraceptives of all forms to students and noticed an unnerving trend: the young women that were coming in did not have accurate information about birth control.
This encouraged the college during the 2008-2009 academic year to look at other avenues for providing sexual health education.
“We have our emergency contraceptive, Plan B,” Dale said. “We saw that we were passing out a number of them. As we had conversations we found that the increase use of Plan B was because girls thought [birth control] wasn’t affordable.”
During the 2009-2010 academic year, the school received a state-funded grant and began to provide students, not just the women, with information about sex and birth control.
“There are posters around campus that say ‘My plan is to remain abstinent until marriage. What’s yours?’ or ‘My plan is to use birth control’,” Dale said. The posters say that if students have any questions, they can go to the health clinic or speak with a peer assistant.
At the Gustavus clinic, there is bowl of condoms in the waiting room. Students can grab one or more with no questions asked. The condoms are received through the state-funded grant, but the school also buys them in bulk, which comes to be around six-cents a condom.
“There are dispensers in the laundry rooms and also peer assistants have them [if they cannot get to the health center],” Dale said. “The RAs don’t have condoms available to students.”
There is an ELCA-affiliated college where the RAs and Wellness Program offer condoms and sexual health information to students.
Laura Paakh, a junior at Concordia and a transfer student from California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, Cali., an ELCA-affiliated school, said that CLU was free of the stigma that comes from being sexually active.
“Being sexually active was more accepted out there than it is here [at Concordia],” she said. “The college knew that students were going to have sex. They had ‘Sex in the Dark’ [educational] sessions and the Vagina Monologues performed on campus.”
The Wellness Program on CLU’s campus, which provides information to its nearly 2,000 students, drove students’ health education, Paakh said. There are bulletin boards and booths around campus by the wellness program about sex, drugs and alcohol.
“I think it is beneficial to be open about sex,” Paakh said. “If you’re not talking about it, and you are uncomfortable or awkward talking about it, you won’t find out anything about it.”
At CLU, students were open about their sexual activity, which made Paakh, who is originally from Detroit Lakes, Minn., slightly uncomfortable. After a while, she realized it wasn’t uncommon for students to sit in a dorm room and talk about their sexual experiences.
“I could never imagine doing that with my roommates here [at Concordia],” Paakh said.
Paakh transferred from CLU to Concordia at the beginning of this school year and immediately saw a difference between the colleges and how they approached the topic of sex.
“Here there seems to be more Christian morals instilled in people,” she said. “You really don’t hear people talking about sex or other stuff.”
While CLU had posters about how to have safe sex, Concordia instead has posters about alternatives to drinking on a rainy day. Even pamphlets at the colleges differ, according to Paakh.
She went to the Kjos Health Center and was surprised that the only pamphlets that are available in the waiting room are about remaining abstinent.
“Concordia thinks that nobody has sex,” Paakh said. “The school seems to be naïve about how sexually active their students are, and everyone is embarrassed to talk about it.”
Paakh was surprised when she found out that condoms were available at the health center.
Alumna Beth Yokom, who graduated in 1982, was not aware that condoms were available at the health center for the last couple of years. She admitted that she felt a little relieved that Concordia offers them, but she questions the way in which the condoms are given. Students need more information than is given during the pre-condom discussion at the health center, Yokom said.
“Giving students condoms [with] more education is not a bad idea,” she said. “It is not bad to bring up the emotional aspect of having sex, but just giving that information is incomplete.”
Yokom said she recognizes that other alumni believe giving condoms and other forms of birth control to students is encouraging students to have sex. However, she said, she believes that not providing birth control and condoms creates barriers for students.
“It is a health risk,” she said. “Having unprotected sex can lead to STDs and unwanted pregnancies that could affect the college student’s future.”
While Yokom believes that it is beneficial for the college to provide condoms to the students upon request, some students do not share that opinion.
Hannah Due, a senior at Concordia, believes that premarital sex is not something that should be encouraged by anyone, including the college. Providing information about how to use birth control affectively is encouraging sex, she said.
“It is the same as if one of my friends said that she wants to do drugs,” Due said. “I am not going to show her how to use a clean needle and insert it into the vein correctly to get the proper high—or committing suicide, I am not going to show her how to properly tie the knot and string it up to the chandelier above the dining room table.”
Due said sex is an intimate and meaningful act that only occurs between a husband and wife.
“No matter what people do,” she said. “Whether it be doing drugs or having sex outside of marriage, I will love them, but I cannot support their decisions.”
Sexual activity, regardless of whether it is supported by the college, is a topic the Concordia needs to address, according senior Desiree Norden.
Norden, who hopes to become an OB/GYN, believes that the college needs to be more understanding to those who are sexually active.
“I don’t think it is right when health services lecture students about sex,” she said. “Giving them that parent lecture will deter them from going to the health center. No health care provider or anyone should choose your morality about sex.”
She said that at Concordia, people are judged about their sexuality, which makes sexually active people ashamed, and when students are ashamed, they don’t seek help.
According to Bruce Vieweg, interim dean of students, there needs to be a discussion about sexual health amongst all people at the college.
“People are having sex around here,” he said. “If people are closing their eyes to this, they need to open their eyes and face reality.”
The reality of the situation is that sexual health is important issue even on the administrative side, Vieweg said.
“There should be an ongoing discussion,” Vieweg said. “But it has to be done in a way that’s meaningful for all students.”
Finding a way to discuss this is not the only issue the college faces. Finding the resources and the funds to do so is another challenge in itself.
One way Norden thinks that the college could step away from this stigmatism of shaming the sexually active would be to provide pamphlets about sexual activity in the health center waiting room.
“I can understand why condoms are behind the counter,” she said, “but the receptionist should be able to give out the condoms and not just the nurse.”
Another suggestion she had would be to introduce sexual education in the wellness classes.
“Everyone is required to take a wellness class freshman year,” she said. “Maybe there is a way to dedicate one day or a week to safe sex practices and not just abstinence. This way, students will receive the information they need in order to make informed decisions.”
While the wellness course at Concordia is only one credit and a lot of information is crammed into this course, Kristen Hetland, assistant professor in the department of physical education and health, introduced sexual health information into last fall’s wellness course.
According to Hetland, she spent four days with her classes talking about abstinence, sexual activity, different types of sexually transmitted infections, contraceptives, date/acquaintance rape and healthy relationships.
“We really want people to be safe and talking about sex is more personal to some than it is to other people,” she said.
Not only is this difficult because of the time and resources it would require, Hetland said, but it is also difficult to find an approach wellness professors can take to speak to students who are uncomfortable talking about sex.
For the time being, she is taking her experiences and feedback from last fall to create a wellness curriculum that informs students about sexual health in the allotted time that is provided by the school.
“Everyone should be working together,” she said. “There is no one right way to talk about this stuff. However, everyone should have accurate information.”