Clueless in Chicago: Lack of sexual health knowledge leads to questions

(Max Kleiner / The DePaulia)
(Max Kleiner / The DePaulia)

Students at DePaul can receive an extensive education on just about anything — they are able to choose from a long list of majors ranging from Costume Technology to Exercise Science and more. Students can double and even triple major in a plethora of diverse subjects with specific concentrations and can leave DePaul with a handle on how to transition from studies to real life careers. However, DePaul students never really learn about sex.   

STIsIn 2011, Trojan Brand Condoms published their annual ranking of sexual health resources at American colleges and universities and DePaul ranked dead last in the bottom 10 for sexual health. DePaul has improved since then, with the 2014 report ranking the university at No. 114. However, DePaul, the largest Catholic university in America, located in one of the largest metropolitan cities in America, still has less sexual health resources than universities in suburban and rural areas in the country with half the student body. 

A lack of sexual education on campus can lead to a serious health hazard amongst the student population. Being unable to identify the symptoms of a sexually transmitted disease or not knowing where or when to get tested can lead to a school wide and even citywide epidemic.

“This is a matter of student health and safety,” DePaul junior Laura Springman said. “Just like talking about flu shots or mental health, this is a health problem. The university is obligated to care about student’s health and safety and do all they can to ensure that. That means having contraception on campus, having information about these things that is more than abstinence only, and treating this realistically. Students are going to have sex. You can’t pretend they won’t.”

DePaul sophomore Shannon Rodeberg theorized that DePaul’s lack of providing students with a sexual education and resources has lead to higher rates of sexually transmitted infections and diseases.

“I think DePaul students are extremely uneducated on sexual health,” she said. “I’ve heard on numerous occasions that DePaul has a very high STI rate for our student population and I believe it.”

Students have equated DePaul’s decision not to provide contraception, sex education and resources to the fact that it is a Catholic university. This upholds the myth that Catholic universities do not provide this type of education and resources to students nationally. However, the University of San Francisco is a Jesuit Catholic school that, according to the university’s website, provides sexual health resources as a facet of their health promotion services. The Catholic university provides unplanned pregnancy and sexually transmitted infection resources under that umbrella.

clinicspreventionDePaul is a Catholic school with Vincentian values. That means that there is an importance stressed on community service and outreach programs. Bettering our community by taking care of the people in it is a positive attribute of the DePaul group. However, Vincentian values also seems to mean that the answer to any questions regarding a premarital sexual nature is always “don’t do it.” College students have real questions about the “taboo” topic that require real and informed responses. At a university that spends so much time and effort educating students about diversity for the health and safety of its student population, it appears that students feel that the university needs to make further efforts towards the protection of the health and safety of its students by the addition of education on sexual health and wellness and resource information.

Brian Burke, a senior at DePaul feels that DePaul should start the movement of teaching students about how they can take care of their bodies when they are sexually active. Burke believes that this education should begin freshman year. 

“We have the multicultural seminar which is great, but it’s not enough. There should be a sex and gender seminar requirement, preferably freshman year. Other colleges provide condoms. DePaul, for being tremendously liberal, should put that into effect to promote sex safety.”

Although some students are provided with a sexual health class in high school, many are not. Burke feels that the sexual health classes students may take before college don’t answer all the questions students may have in college, and that students may need a refresher course. Burke also wants fellow students to be able to know where they can go if they need to be tested or given support.

“Sex education classes have become trivial in high schools. DePaul should go out of its way to educate freshmen on sexual awareness, where to get help, and who they can talk to,” he said.

In 2013, Columbia University’s Q & A website Go Ask Alice, had this to say when asked about the commonality of sexually transmitted diseases among college students.

“Most college students are between the ages of 15 to 24 — most commonly 18 to 22 — which has been found to be the group that is most susceptible to new STI infections. In fact, people in this age group acquire almost half of all new STIs every year, with individuals between the ages of 20 to 24 accounting for the highest infection rates. This annual increase of new infections can be explained by many sociocultural phenomena, including lack of sex education.”

The website allows students to anonymously ask questions and receive knowledgeable and correct answers publicly for the benefit of everyone at the university and anyone online.

Dr. Lina Katz of West Hills Women’s Health Care in West Hills, California, sees patients who are also students daily and deals with many questions about sex and the body.

“They don’t always have a medical issue. Sometimes they just have questions. A lot of college age kids are embarrassed to ask mom and dad or friends. If they don’t have the resources at school, this is a good place to come for right answers,” Katz said. She advises that students should be informed about what they are doing and about their sexual partners before engaging in any act.

“Sexually active students need to be educated about what they are doing. Being sexually active is taking a risk.”